It is my belief that many gold coins from the New Orleans mint are undervalued. For the sake of brevity, I am going to focus on what I feel are the ten most undervalued issues. Had I wanted to, I could have made this a list of twenty or even twenty-five coins. More information on these coins (and on all other New Orleans gold issues) will be available in my forthcoming book “Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint, 1838-1909.” Please check back for more information regarding the availability of this book.
1. 1850-O Gold Dollar
The short-lived gold dollar denomination offers the collector some good overall value. This is the only pre-Civil War New Orleans gold that can be purchased in Uncirculated grades for less than $1,000. The 1850-O has always been my favorite date in the series. It has the lowest original mintage figure (14,000 coins) and is rare in Uncirculated with around two dozen known. Interestingly, this is a scarcer coin in MS63 or MS64 than the heralded 1855-O but it is priced considerably less. A smart collector would do well to put away nice MS61 and MS62 1850-O gold dollars at current levels (under $5,000).
2. 1845-O Quarter Eagle
The 1845-O is the unquestioned key of the New Orleans quarter eagle series. Only 4,000 were minted and around 65-75 pieces are known in all grades. In AU, the value of the 1845-O has shot up in the past few years but at less than $10,000 for a nice AU50 to AU53 example, this date seems like good value, especially given the fact that it is the key issue in a short, completable set. The 1845-O becomes extremely scarce in the higher AU grades and I very strongly recommend purchasing this date in any grade as it appears to have considerable upside.
3. 1856-O Quarter Eagle
The 1856-O is the third scarcest New Orleans quarter eagle in AU50 and better. It is still very affordable with nice AU pieces currently selling in the $1,500-3,500 range depending on quality. Unlike some of the other pieces on this list, the 1856-O is an issue that the collector can be particular when deciding what coin to buy. There are enough pieces around in AU that the collector should seek choice, original pieces with good color and luster. In Uncirculated, the 1856-O is extremely rare. I have only seen four to six in Uncirculated and none better than MS62.
4. 1840-O Half Eagle
The 1840-O half eagle isn’t the rarest coin on this list but it is an issue that I like because of its first-year status. It is not scarce in lower grades but it becomes very hard to find in AU and quite rare in Uncirculated. It has a current Trends value that is considerably lower in MS60 than many more available Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles of this era and I think it is an excellent value. The Broad Mill variety of this date is extremely scarce in all grades and has the potential to be a key to the New Orleans half eagle series some day if it is better publicized.
5. 1892-O Half Eagle
With Motto half eagles were struck at the New Orleans mint for only three years: 1892, 1893 and 1894. The 1892-O is by far the scarcest of these with an original mintage figure of just 10,000. This date is almost never seen in the lower grades but it is almost never seen above MS60/MS61. You can currently but a nice “slider” in the $2,500-3,500 range and a very decent Uncirculated piece for around $5,000. I think this is extremely reasonable in comparison to other New Orleans half eagles. Did you know that this is the third rarest New Orleans half eagle in terms of overall rarity?
6. 1841-O Eagle
This is among the more expensive coins on this list but I think it is still among the better values. New Orleans didn’t get around to producing their first Eagle until 1841 and then only 2,500 were struck. This date is seldom seen above VF20 to EF40 and most higher grade pieces are very heavily abraded. I don’t think that more than a half dozen AU pieces are known and most of these are in strongly held collections. Figure that a nice EF example is going to cost you $10,000 while an AU—if available—will run in the $20,000 to $30,000. Considering the fact that the 1841-O is the rarest No Motto New Orleans eagle in higher grades, I think these price levels are reasonable.
7. 1852-O Eagle
There are a number of New Orleans eagles struck during the 1850’s that I think are very underrated. I would have to put the 1852-O at the top of the list. It is the fifth rarest of twenty-one No Motto issues from this mint and it is the sixth rarest in higher grades. Despite this coin’s unquestioned rarity, it is still relatively affordable. EF examples still trade in the $3000 range and I recently sold a very nice AU55 for less than $7,000. When one considers that this coin is worth just a bit more than an 1852-O double eagle in the same grade, yet is many times scarcer, I think it is a great value. And don’t get me started about this coin in Uncirculated…
8. 1856-O Eagle
As much as I like the 1852-O eagle, I like the 1856-O even more. It is tied for fourth rarest New Orleans eagle in high grades but it is typically ignored by everyone other than specialists when offered for sale. There were 14,500 of which an estimated 80-90 are known today. I doubt if more than 14-18 are known in AU and in Uncirculated the 1856-O is unique. If higher grade pieces are out of your price range, consider an EF. There are around two dozen known in this range but prices are still under $4,000. I have tried to buy every single 1856-O eagle I could find in the past three to five years and I’m not sure that I’ve owned more than four or five pieces.
9. 1899-O Eagle
The 1899-O is the rarest eagle struck at the New Orleans mint after 1883. Unlike many of the issues from the 1890’s and early 1900’s, this date has not been found in large quantities in Europe. The 1899-O is fairly scarce in the lower Uncirculated grades and it becomes very scarce in MS62. Until a few years ago, I was able to buy MS62 examples for under $1,000 which seemed absurdly cheap. Today, this date has doubled in price but I still think it is a good value in MS62 and above. It is the key issue in the “late date” New Orleans eagle series and as this subset becomes more and more popular with collectors, it will bring a nice premium over the more common dates like the 1901-O and the 1903-O.
10. Late Date Eagles in MS64 and Above
In closing, I’m going with a group of coins that is very different than the other issues I have listed. Nearly every No Motto eagle from New Orleans is rare in Uncirculated and most dates are unknown above MS62 to MS63. Small numbers of common dates are known in MS64 and these can still be purchased for under $10,000. These coins are typically very pretty with excellent color and luster. And they are typically very scarce. Even the more common issues from the 20th century have populations of fewer than ten coins in MS64. An MS64 New Orleans eagle sells for a premium of around four times what a generic Liberty Head eagle is worth. Considering it is around fifty to one hundred times rarer makes it a great deal at its current price level.