If I had an unlimited budget and access to every surviving New Orleans gold coin, could I choose just ten that would be the core coins in my collection? I think this would be possible but it certainly wouldn’t be an easy choice. In fact, just to cover my bases, I’m not only going to list my Top Ten but have a second group of ten runners-up that I reserve the right to slide into the Top Ten at any point. Hey—it’s my article and I can make the rules. 1. The Brand 1845-O Quarter Eagle
The 1845-O quarter eagle is the rarest New Orleans issue of this denomination. Only 4,000 pieces were produced and most entered circulation and acquired a significant amount of wear. In Uncirculated, there are just three pieces known of which the finest is the Virgil Brand coin.
This coin is credited as being the discovery example of the date. This may or may not be true (the source of the information is B. Max Mehl who sometimes was prone to self-serving exaggeration…) but it is known that Brand purchased this coin in 1909 from J.C. Mitchelson for the then-princely sum of $150. This coin remained off the market and forgotten until 1983 when it appeared as Lot 110 in Bowers and Merena’s Brand collection sale. It brought just $8,800 and was offered a few years later in the 1987 ANA sale where this time it sold for a still-reasonable $14,300. The coin was later owned by specialist Ron Brown who considered it to be the single most important piece in his collection.
In the 1999 sale of his collection, this coin did not meet its reserve and went unsold. After the auction ended, I sold it to a collector and it has remained off the market since then.
This coin is currently graded MS63 by PCGS and also appears in the NGC census as an MS63 and in the PCGS Population Report as an MS62. It is clearly the finest known example of the rarest New Orleans quarter eagle and it is certainly one of the more important quarter eagles of any date that I have handled in my career.
2. The Pittman 1846-O Quarter Eagle
There were a lot of great coins in the Pittman collection but one of my absolute favorites was the 1846-O quarter eagle. At the time, I was representing Ron Brown, who was a leading specialist in the area of New Orleans gold. I remember excitedly calling him after I had viewed this coin and telling him that it was the single most perfect New Orleans quarter eagle that I had ever seen and that it might bring as much as $50,000. Ron immediately told me that my estimate was way too low and that he’d be willing to pay $100,000. I remember arguing back and forth about the price with me thinking he was crazy and Ron thinking I was too conservative.
When the lot came up for sale I figured that I’d buy this coin at a number close to mine and I’d “show Ron” just how smart I was. The next few minutes were a blur, but the coin quickly broke the $100,000 mark and wound-up selling for $132,000 to a well-known specialist. This, of course, proved just how smart I was…
Today, the Pittman 1846-O quarter eagle is in an NGC MS66 holder and it resides in the Stellar collection. This coin remains the single finest known New Orleans quarter eagle known of any date and it is one of the two or three finest gold coins from this mint that I have ever had the pleasure of viewing in person.
3. The Bass 1854-O Three Dollar Gold Piece
As part of the core holdings of the Bass Collection, a magnificent set of Three Dollar gold pieces is on display at the ANA Museum in Colorado Springs. When most people look at this set, they immediately search for the unique 1870-S which is, of course, the highlight. But there are a number of other amazing coins included, one of which is a choice Uncirculated 1854-O Three Dollar gold piece which is without a doubt the best I have seen.
I have never had the chance to examine this coin in my hands, just through museum glass. My best guess is that it grades at least MS63 and could possibly be a point or two finer. It is clearly the finest known example of this popular one-year type and it would sell for an incredible sum if it ever became available.
4. The Eliasberg 1842-O Half Eagle
The 1842-O half eagle is not a date that is very well known outside of the community of New Orleans gold coin collectors. It is quite rare in all grades and it becomes extremely rare in any level approaching Uncirculated. By far the finest known is an NGC MS63 example that is in the collection of a specialist. It is a lovely coin and it has a pedigree to match it. It was first seen in the Earle Sale and was purchased by John Clapp Sr. It then went through his son to Louis Eliasberg and it was sold as Lot 424 in the 1982 auction of this collection where it brought just $3,850. It was later owned by dealer Ed Milas and it was last sold in the Stack’s May 1995 auction of his collection of No Motto half eagles where it brought $31,900.
There are a total of three Uncirculated 1842-O half eagles and I have had the pleasure of selling two. A PCGS MS61 is located in the Pinnacle Collection and this coin was formerly owned by Harry Bass and the final piece was recently sold by me to a New England collector. It was graded MS60 by NGC.
Admittedly, this coin probably is a lot less glamorous then many other of the pieces included in this group. But it is a coin that I have always admired for its rarity and I hope to have the chance to handle it again someday.
5. The Milas 1847-O Half Eagle
The 1847-O half eagle, like the 1842-O, is a date that, unless you are familiar with this series, you probably do not realize is rare. It is, in fact, the single rarest New Orleans half eagle and it is among the rarest gold coins ever produced at this facility. In grades above EF45 it is an almost-impossible issue to locate. The Milas coin is unique in Uncirculated (although another has been graded MS61 by NGC) and it has exceptional eye appeal, surfaces and luster for the issue.
I first saw this coin in the May 1992 Mid-American sale where it was part of the Heck Dodson collection. I badly wanted to buy it but was outbid by dealer Ed Milas who paid a then-strong $22,000. It showed up three years later at the Stack’s sale that featured his collection where it sold very cheaply (not to me, unfortunately) for $20,900. It was purchased by a collector and has been off the market since then.
This coin was last graded AU58 by NGC but by today’s standards I would have to guess it would be at least an MS61 if not even better. Whatever the exact grade, it is far and away the finest known example of the rarest half eagle from this mint and it is a coin I hold in the highest regard.
6. The Parmelee Proof 1844-O Eagle
In 1844, a presentation set including a half eagle and eagle was produced at the New Orleans mint. It is not exactly known why these coins were struck but they were made using a spectacular brilliant proof finish. These coins were known to be together in the Parmelee and Woodin collections but sometime in the 20th century they parted company. The half eagle is now in a little-known private collection and was plated on the cover of my first New Orleans gold book. The eagle was rediscovered a few years ago and was recently sold by a dealer in the New Orleans area to a Florida collector for a figure reportedly in excess of $1 million.
This coin is graded PR66 CAM by NGC. It is a coin that really has to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. It is superb with remarkable overall eye appeal and the quality of manufacture that most people (myself included) would not associate with the New Orleans mint in the early years of its operations.
It is hard to understate the significance of this piece. It is the earliest known branch mint proof gold coin and the only verifiable proof issue from this mint. Its recent sale represents the highest price ever paid for a New Orleans coin of any date or denomination.
7. The James Stack 1848-O Eagle
The firm of Stack’s sold the gold coin collection formed by James Stack (no relation) in a series of sales in the mid-1990’s. These sales are not generally held with the same regard as the Norweb, Starr or Eliasberg auctions but they are of the same high caliber with magnificent runs of high quality, original early and Liberty head gold. One of the most memorable coins in the October 1994 auction was an 1848-O eagle that was one of the most perfect No Motto eagles of any date that I have ever seen.
The 1848-O eagle is a very rare coin in Uncirculated and most of the pieces that are known are in the MS60 to MS61 range. The Stack coin was nearly perfect with magnificent orange-gold color, thick, frosty luster and essentially perfect surfaces. All No Motto eagles are extremely rare in Gem Uncirculated but this 1848-O is one of probably no more than two or three New Orleans pieces that grade MS65 or better by today’s standards.
This coin sold for $154,000 in the James Stack auction and was off the market for nearly a decade until it was reoffered in the 2003 ANA sale. It was purchased by an investor and has appeared for sale in some odd places including on Ebay in 2005.
8. The Akers Auction ‘88 1904-O Eagle
Back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, it was not uncommon for amazing previously unheard-of coins to appear for sale at the ANA summer convention. In 1979, one of the most remarkable New Orleans gold coins of all time was uncovered and sold to dealer Marty Haber: a virtually perfect 1904-O eagle that was possibly struck for presentation purposes.
This coin was subsequently sold as Lot 847 in David Akers session of Auction ’88 where it realized $82,500 and a year later as Lot 1422 in his session of Auction ’89 where it brought $104,500. This remains a record price for any With Motto eagle from the New Orleans mint.
Accompanying this coin is an enigmatic piece of documentation that states it is the first gold coin struck at New Orleans in 1904. What makes this documentation especially intriguing is that it mention a 1904-O half eagle as well—an issue that does not exist (!). This coin is currently untraced and it has been graded MS68 by NGC and MS67 by PCGS.
9. The Specimen 1856-O Double Eagle
Another truly remarkable New Orleans gold coin that was uncovered in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s was a Choice Uncirculated 1856-O double eagle. This date is one of the two towering rarities in the New Orleans gold double eagle series along with the 1854-O. Until this coin was discovered, there were none known in Uncirculated and, to this day, this coin remains unique in Mint State.
This coin first traded privately in excess of a quarter of a million dollars in 1979/80 and came back on the market in January 2002 when it brought $310,500 in a Heritage sale. I purchased it for a client who held it a bit over two years and then sold it in the Heritage June 2004 sale where it realized $542,800. There’s a funny story that goes with this last sale. I knew I wasn’t going to purchase it in the June 2004 auction but wanted to see who would buy it. A few lots before the coin went off, a youngish, casually dressed man came into the auction room, took a seat at the front and waited. He then proceeded to purchase the coin and left immediately afterwards. I later learned that this was the very first coin this gentleman had ever purchased and he hadn’t even had his credit pre-approved by Heritage. It turned-out that he was a very successful businessman who had seen the coin on-line, thought it looked interesting and decided to begin his collection with it.
I am certain this coin would bring well over $1 million if offered today and it is certainly the most desirable New Orleans double eagle in existence.
10. The Dallas Bank Collection 1879-O Double Eagle
When it was announced in the summer of 2001 that the legendary Dallas Bank collection was going to be sold, one of the coins that excited me the most was the 1879-O double eagle. This coin had been plated in David Akers’ book on double eagles and, from the picture, it looked like a fabulous coin. When I finally got to see it in person, I was not disappointed. It had magnificent surfaces and color and was by far the finest of the three or four Uncirculated examples of this date that I was aware of.
I knew there would be a lot of interest in this coin when it was going to be sold and I had a pretty good idea of who my competition was going to be. I don’t remember the exact amount it opened at, but I do remember that bidding jumped quickly and I found myself in a long, drawn-out battle with a prominent Midwestern specialist who, as I had predicted, was going to try and buy this amazing coin no matter what. I finally dropped out as the coin hit the $100,000 mark and he wound-up buying it for $115,000 including the buyer’s charge. At the time, it seemed like a ton of money for this coin but, in retrospect, it was a superb purchase and a price that actually seems very cheap today.
This coin was later graded MS63 by NGC. It is easily the finest known example of the only Type Three double eagle struck at the New Orleans mint and it certainly ranks as one of my all-time favorite double eagles of any date.
And Ten Runners Up…
The Bass 1840-O Quarter Eagle, Graded MS65 by NGC
The Pittman/Pinnacle 1840-0 Half Eagle, Graded MS63 by PCGS
The Bass/Gilhousen 1845-O Half Eagle, Graded MS63 by PCGS
The Eliasberg 1909-O Half Eagle, Graded MS65 by PCGS
The Bass 1846-O Eagle, Graded MS64 by PCGS
The Eliasberg 1850-O Eagle, Graded MS65 by PCGS
The S.S. Republic 1859-O Eagle, Graded MS63 by NGC
The Eliasberg 1899-O Eagle, Graded MS68 by PCGS
The Bass 1858-O Double Eagle, Graded MS63 by PCGS
The Akers Plate 1859-O Double Eagle, Graded MS61 by NGC