New Orleans Double Eagles: An Update

As double eagles are clearly the most popular and highest priced gold coins produced at the New Orleans mint, I thought it would be interesting to update each issue and see what has transpired since the publication of my book "Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint, 1838-1909" last year. Taken as a whole, the market for these issues remains extremely strong. There are clearly a number of wealthy collectors who are assembling sets and when the "stoppers" become available for sale, they inevitably bring record prices. It is interesting to note that virtually every date in this series has set a new auction price record since my book was published in 2006. It is also interesting to note that, despite the strength of this market, auctions are not flooded with interesting New Orleans double eagles. The supply/demand ratio for these coins seems to be working just fine.

1850-O A new auction record was set in December 2006 when Heritage sold an NGC MS60 for $49,444. In addition, an auction record was set for an AU58 when Heritage sold a PCGS graded example for $40,251 in June 2007 (interestingly, the exact same coin had brought $34,500 in Heritage’s May 2007 sale). These prices show that demand for high grade, choice 1850-O double eagles is currently very high and if a really nice Mint State piece were to become available, I think it would easily set a record price. I have noticed some price resistance for lower end 1850-O double eagles in the EF45 to AU55. Collectors realize that they can afford to be reasonably fussy when it comes to this date and if the surfaces of a specific example are heavily abraded, the coin will sell at a discount.

1851-O I set a record price for an 1851-O double eagle when I paid $48,875 for a beautiful PCGS MS62 in the Heritage 2006 ANA sale. Interestingly, this is the only high grade 1851-O that has traded publicly since the release of my book in 2006. Until a few years ago, I used to see fairly high grade (AU55 and above) examples of this date with some degree of regularity. This does not seem to be the case anymore which leads me to conclude that either this issue is scarcer than I once believed or that most of the better pieces are in tightly held collections. The 1851-O has a similar Trends value to the 1852-O in higher grade but I feel it should sell for a 10-20% premium.

1852-O I set another record price at Heritage’s 2006 ANA sale when I paid $48,875 for a choice PCGS MS62 1852-O double eagle. Another high quality coin (this piece was graded MS60 by NGC) realized a strong $34,500 in the Heritage October 2006 sale. For a point in time between 2005 and early 2007, it seemed that unattractive, overgraded AU55 and AU58 1852-O double eagles were everywhere. These were selling for levels up to $12,000-14,000 for 58’s which, if you ask me, is a lot of money for a not very nice and not very rare New Orleans double eagle. I believe that nice, accurately graded AU55 and AU58 examples are still scarce but they seem fully valued at current levels. In Uncirculated, the 1852-O is clearly a rare and very desirable coin.

1853-O If there is one New Orleans double eagle that needs a major adjustment in Trends, it is the 1853-O. Current Trends values are $2,000 in EF40, $2,500 in EF45 and $4,500 in AU50. These numbers were probably accurate in 2000-2002 but they are long out-of-date. In 2007, Heritage sold two EF45 1853-O double eagles in their auctions. The first was an NGC EF45 that brought $4,025 in August. The second was a PCGS EF45 that sold for $5,750 in February. Both were decent but neither were PQ or nice enough that they were purchased by dealers as potential "crackout" candidates. I would suggest that Trends be raised to at least $4,000 in EF40 and $6,000 in EF45. A new auction price record for this date was set in August 2006 when an NGC MS61 realized $34,626 in Heritage’s ANA sale. I personally think the 1853-O is a tougher coin in AU55 and higher grades than I once believed and I would not be surprised to see values continue to rise for this issue.

1854-O I’ve come to a pretty major revelation as far as the 1854-O goes. For many years I believed the 1854-O was actually the second rarest double eagle from New Orleans, both in terms of overall and high grade rarity. After carefully observing these two dates for the past few years I now believe that the 1854-O is very slightly rarer in terms of overall rarity and unquestionably scarcer in terms of its high grade rarity. In looking at auction records, it is interesting to note that since 2002, a total of ten 1854-O double eagles have sold in comparison to nine 1856-O double eagles. In this same period, I know of another three or four of each date that have sold via private treaty. I feel that my estimate of 25-35 known for the 1854-O may be a bit on the high side and that the total number known is possibly as low as 20 or coins. In higher grades (in this case AU50 and above) the 1854-O is clearly a rarer coin than the 1856-O. PCGS shows a total of nine coins in AU but only three grade AU55 with none better. I have seen the majority of the 1854-O’s graded AU50 by PCGS and almost all of them are underwhelming, to say the least. I know of only one relatively choice 1854-O (the Dallas Bank Collection coin now owned by a prominent Midwestern collector and graded AU58 by NGC) and only one or two others that, by my standards, grade AU55. (NOTE: I have never seen the NGC AU58 from the S.S. Republic so I do not feel qualified to comment on its quality).

A new auction price record was set for the 1854-O double eagle in August 2007 when a PCGS AU55 sold for $494,500.

1855-O Something odd has happened with this date in regards to its availability. As recently as a few years ago, 1855-O double eagles were seen fairly regularly in higher grades. In fact, at one point (around 2002?) I owned two very nice PCGS AU55’s at the same time and right after I had sold the second of these, I bought yet another. But in the last few years, the supply has almost totally dried up. Heritage’s auction archives shows a total of 17 having been sold since 2002 but I am certain this includes a number of re-offerings plus at least a few lower grade or problem coins. The strong demand for higher grade 1855-O double eagles was clearly seen a month ago when a PCGS AU55 brought $57,500 at auction which is a pretty impressive price when one considers that Trends is only $40,000. This amount is an all-time auction record and I think if a nice AU58 were to become available in the next few months it could bring close to six-figures.

1856-O As I mentioned above, I am now of the opinion that while very similar in overall rarity to the 1854-O, I think my original estimate of 20-30 remains accurate with the total number known probably somewhere in the low end of this range. In AU50 and better, the 1856-O is more available than the 1854-O and there are definitely a few more "nice" examples known than for the 1854-O.

In my book, I think I did a poor job of providing Condition Census information for the 1856-O and here is a listing of the best pieces of which I am currently aware:

1. Private collection, ex: Heritage 6/04: 6372 ($542,800). Graded SP63 by NGC. 2. Midwestern private collection. Graded AU58 by PCGS. Probably ex: Eliasberg: 889. PCGS shows a second coin having been graded AU58. I am reasonably certain that it is not coin #2 but am not aware of its pedigree. NGC also shows two coins graded AU58. One is listed below; the other is not listed as I am not yet certain which example it is. 3. New England collection, ex: Doug Winter 12/07. Graded AU55 by PCGS. 4. Arlington collection, ex: Heritage 7/05: 10399 ($431,250), Bowers and Merena 10/99: 1711 ($105,800; as PCGS AU53), Harry Bass collection. Graded AU55 by PCGS. There are two other coins listed as AU55 by PCGS. I am not certain that these exist but it is possible that coin #6 below may have crossed from an NGC holder to a PCGS holder. 5. Private collection, ex: Bowers and Merena 3/07: 5597 ($356,500; as PCGS AU53). Graded AU58 by NGC. 6. Heritage 7/02: 9472 ($132,250), ex: "Midwestern collection." Graded AU55 by NGC. One of the coins listed above may be the example from the Amon Carter collection listed in the first edition of my New Orleans book.

1857-O No new Condition Census quality examples of this date have turned up in the last two years. There have been a few nice AU55 and AU58s that have sold at auction and I can recall at least one MS60 coin trading privately. I have yet to see any of the Uncirculated coins from S. S. Republic and would be very interested to know how they compare to the non-salvaged high grade pieces that exist. In my opinion, Trends in lower grades needs to be raised significantly. The current listings show $2,500 for an EF40, $4,000 for an EF45 and $5,500 for an AU50. Given the fact that examples in these grades bring way over Trends when they are sold at auction, I would suggest that levels be raised to $5,000 in EF40, $7,000 in EF45 and $10,000 in AU50.

1858-O The all-time auction price record for this date was tied in February 2007 when an NGC MS61 sold for $50,600. This is the same amount that Bass III: 795 brought when it was sold back in May 2000. The difference in quality between these two coins is very significant, however, as the Bass piece is extremely choice. A fair number of nice AU55 and AU58 1858-O double eagles have been available in the last two years and these have brought nearly full Trends (or in some cases over this amount). In EF40 and EF45, Trends seems low ($3,500 and $4,500, respectively) and these values need to be increased.

1859-O The 1859-O has remained an extremely scarce coin in higher grades and the last two choice pieces that have sold at auction (an NGC 55 and a PCGS 55) brought $54,625 and $66,125, respectively. My guess is that the current auction record of $92,000 (set in January 2005 with the sale of a very high end PCGS AU58) will probably be broken within the next year or two; or whenever a Condition Census example becomes available. The certified populations of this date seem to have become somewhat inflated. PCGS shows a total of 42 graded but 26 of these (or almost 62%) are in the various AU grades. My guess is that both AU50 and AU53 populations are inflated plus these include some pieces that are enthusiastically graded. The NGC populations in the higher AU grades are, as expected, a disaster. The current census shows ten in AU55 and eleven in AU58. The less said about these figures, the better.

1860-O A new auction record was set in November 2007 when a PCGS AU58 sold for an astonishing $83,375. But as high as this price seems, when one considers that there are only four 1860-O double eagles graded AU58 by this service, you have to figure that the demand level for high grade 1860-O double eagles will continue to soar. Interestingly, in January 2004, Heritage sold another PCGS AU58; it brought $48,875. The finest known 1860-O remains the PCGS AU58 in a Midwestern collection that is ex: Eliasberg and Atwater. I hate to harp on NGC and their population figures, but here is another date where the current figures from this service are ridiculous. 16 coins graded AU58? I don’t think so...

1861-O The previous auction record of $37,375 has been broken no less than six times since the publication of my book. The current auction record is $51,750 set by Bowers and Merena in March 2007 for the sale of a coin graded AU55 by PCGS. Auction records for AU examples have been fairly plentiful in the past few years. I attribute this to a few factors. The first is that prices have raised enough that a few choice pieces have come out of hiding and onto the market. Secondly, a few of the AU53 to AU55 coins have bounced around from auction to auction; in some cases morphing from NGC to PCGS or upgrading. Finally, I believe that grading standards have loosened more for this particular date than probably any other New Orleans double eagle.

1879-O A very important newly discovered 1879-O was handled by myself and dealer John Dannreuther at the 2006 ANA. This coin was conservatively graded MS60 by NGC and it was notable for having lovely original color and surfaces as well as uncharacteristic satiny luster. It was sold to a New England collector. There are now four or five Uncirculated 1879-O double eagles known to me. Price levels for this date have skyrocketed in nearly all grades in the last few years. In the not-so-distant past, you could buy a decent VF 1879-O double eagle for $3,000-4,000, an EF40 for around $5,000 and a nice EF45 for $7,000 or so. Today, marginal quality VF’s are bringing $20,000-30,000 at auction while EF’s are now worth $30,000+.

New Orleans double eagles have become one of the more popular areas in the current coin market. They are also clearly one of the more challenging and expensive coins to collect. There are only thirteen issues in the series but virtually all of them are hard to find in higher grades and nearly all are expensive as well.

What does the future hold for this area of the market? I wouldn’t be surprised to see prices for marginal quality coins begin to drop as I find it hard to imagine that collectors will, for example, continue to pay $25,000 for a not especially attractive VF example of an 1879-O. But I would not be surprised to see prices continue to rise for the very rare issues (1854-O and 1856-O) and further price increases for the second-level rarities as well (1855-O, 1859-O, 1860-O).