In recent years, a number of "short sets" have become popular within certain series of United States coins. As examples, there are short sets in the Mercury Dime and Walking Liberty half dollar series. These sets offer excellent opportunities for collectors who want to purchase high grade coins but who can not afford the expensive early date issues. This concept has not yet become popular in United States gold coinage but there are a number of potentially collectible short sets. Among these are the eleven Liberty Head eagles produced by the New Orleans mint between 1888 and 1906.
This is an interesting set for a number of reasons. All of the coins are affordable. In fact, a collector could assemble a nice complete set of Mint State-61 to Mint State-62 pieces for around $10,000. All of the coins become extremely scarce above Mint State-62. Most can be found with nice color, good luster and eye appeal that is comparable to the Philadelphia and San Francisco eagles of this era. And they are very undervalued at current price levels.
To better understand the appeal of this short set, let's look at some basic information about each date.
At one time, the 1888-O eagle was very hard to find in any Uncirculated grade. A large number of low-end Mint State pieces have come onto the market in the past five years, making it relatively available in grades up to and including Mint State-62. The 1888-O is still very rare in Mint State-63 and above. It is usually seen with excellent frosty luster and nice green-gold or orange-gold color. The surfaces are almost always very heavily abraded and the obverse border may show some weakness of strike. It is extremely hard to locate without heavily abraded surfaces but the overall eye appeal is often good due to nice color and luster. Mint State-62 coins are worth $1100-1400. I would recommend a Mint State-62. Mintage: 21,355
The 1892-O eagle is similar in rarity to the 1893-O. It is usually seen in About Uncirculated-55 to Mint State-61 grades and it is very rare in Mint State-63 or better. The luster is typically soft and frosty but it is interrupted by excessive abrasions. The 1892-O is perhaps the hardest New Orleans eagle of this era to find with clean surfaces. Original, uncleaned coins are often seen with attractive deep orange-gold color. A relatively clean Mint State-62 is currently worth in the area of $1750-2000 and is excellent value. I would recommend either a very high end Mint State-61 or a Mint State-62. Mintage: 28,688
The 1893-O is a rarer coin overall than the 1892-O but it is very similar in high grade rarity. This date did not see much circulation and most survivors are in the About Uncirculated-55 to Mint State-60 range. The luster is a bit more satiny than on the 1892-O. Like the 1892-O, the 1893-O is usually found with excessively abraded surfaces. Original coins often show handsome orange-gold and greenish color. The 1892-O is almost never seen above Mint State-62 and in this grade it is scarce and undervalued. A nice Mint State-62 is worth $1850-2150 and is, again, an outstanding value. I would recommend either a very high end Mint State-61 or a Mint State-62.Mintage: 17,000
At one time, the 1894-O eagle was a very rare coin in Uncirculated. In the mid-1990's, a hoard of 100 or so Uncirculated pieces entered the market. Today, the 1894-O is more available in lower Mint State grades but it is seldom seen above Mint State-62. The surfaces tend to be a bit cleaner than on the 1892-O and the 1893-O and the strike is a bit sharper than on those two dates. Original coins have hard, frosty luster with orange-gold and pale green coloration. I can remember paying $2000 for an MS-60 1894-O in the mid-1990's. Today, such a coin can be bought for $650-750. A Mint State-62 is worth $1750-2000 while an MS-63 is worth $4000-4500. I would recommend either a very high end Mint State-61 or a Mint State-62. Mintage: 107,500
The same hoard which contained the 1894-O eagles mentioned above also contained a number of 1895-O eagles. This formerly rare coin is now very similar in rarity to the 1894-O and it sells for less than half of its pre-hoard price level. This date is most often seen in Mint State-60 to Mint State-61. It has a somewhat blunt strike on the high spots but this is often compensated for by good color and luster. The surfaces are often heavily abraded and this is why the 1895-O is almost never seen above Mint State-62. In MS-62, the 1895-O is a great value at its current level of $1000-1200; in MS-63 it sells for $3000-3500 and is another very good value. I would recommend either a very high end Mint State-61 or a Mint State-62. Mintage: 98,000
The aforementioned hoard contained some 1897-O eagles but not as many as with the earlier dates. Because of this, the 1897-O has remained scarce in all Uncirculated grades. Most examples grade About Uncirculated-58 to Mint State-61 and are somewhat softly struck with heavily abraded surfaces. This date becomes quite scarce in Mint State-62 and it is rare in Mint State-63. There are a few more very choice pieces known than for the earlier issues in the "short set." A nice Mint State-62 is currently worth $1000-1200 while a Mint State-63 is worth $1750-2000. It would be hard to think of a 19th century gold coin that is a better value than an 1897-O eagle in nice Mint State-63 in the $2000 range! This would be a great date for the collector to "stretch" for and if you can find a Mint State-63, I'd urge you to buy it. Mintage: 42,500
The 1899-O is the scarcest coin the New Orleans eagle short set. It is sometime seen in Mint State-60 and Mint State-61 but it becomes very hard to find in Mint State-62. In Mint State-63, this issue is rare and extremely undervalued. It is the best struck coin in this set from the 19th century. But most are heavily abraded and have impaired luster and a result. The current Trends (as of 4/23/01) value for this coin is $2250 in Mint State-63; exceptionally low when one considers that PCGS has graded just six in Mint State-63 and one better. A Mint State-62 is currently worth $900-1000; another great value given the true scarcity of this date in this grade. I would recommend a Mint State-62 example. Mintage: 37,047
The 1901-O is significant as the first New Orleans eagle produced in the 20th century. Unlike its 19th century predecessors, it can be found in the higher Uncirculated grades with a bit more regularity. This date is characterized by a good strike and excellent frosty luster. Original coins often have attractive rich yellow-gold or pale green-gold color. The 1901-O eagle is most often seen in Mint State-60 to Mint State-62. It is scarce in Mint State-63 and very rare in any grade higher than this. Current price levels are $700-800 for a Mint State-62 and $1500-1750 for a Mint State-63. A high end Mint State-62 or a Mint State-63 would be my suggestion for a nice quality short set. Mintage: 72,041
The 1903-O has the highest mintage figure of any New Orleans eagle in the short set and it is the most common date in terms of overall and high grade rarity. It is relatively common in Mint State-60 to Mint State-62 grades but it becomes scarce in Mint State-63 and very rare in Mint State-64 or above. The 1903-O is not as well struck as the 1901-O and it tends to have slightly inferior soft luster. The natural coloration is most often a medium to deep green-gold hue. A Mint State-62 can be bought for $500-600 while a Mint State-63 will cost $1400-1700. A high end Mint State-62 or a Mint State-63 would be my suggestion for a nice quality short set. Mintage: 112,771
This is one of two dates in the short set with a mintage of more than 100,000 and it is one of the more available single coins. The 1904-O is available in the Mint State-60 to Mint State-62 range with a good degree of regularity. It becomes scarce in Mint State-63 and it is quite rare in any grade higher than this. The 1904-O is a well-produced issue that is generally very well struck with nice luster and color. Most pieces are very heavily abraded and, thus, fall into the lower Uncirculated grades. In Mint State-62, this is a very affordable coin, selling for $600-700. In Mint State-63 it is valued in the $1600-1800 range. I would suggest a nice quality Mint State-62 or a Mint State-63 for a short set. Mintage: 108,950
The 1906-O eagle is the final gold coin of this denomination to be produced at the New Orleans mint. It is also among the most underrated. It is scarcer than the 1903-O and the 1904-O in the lower Uncirculated grades and it is surprisingly scarce in Mint State-63. It is actually the most available New Orleans eagle of the With Motto type in very high grades (Mint State-64 and above) but it is still a rare issue in this range. The 1906-O is usually seen with a very good strike and excellent luster. Most pieces are heavily abraded and have somewhat dark color. A Mint State-62 is currently valued at $700-900 while a Mint State-63 is worth $1750-2000. I would suggest a nice quality Mint State-62 or a Mint State-63 for a short set. Mintage: 86,895
In closing, here is an interesting statistic to ponder when regarding the level of value for higher grade coins in the New Orleans eagle short set. A very common date Liberty Head eagle, such as a 1901-S, is currently worth $400 in Mint State-63. This date has a PCGS population, as of April 2001, of 3,450 coins in MS-63 with 2,513 graded higher. The most common high grade New Orleans date in the short set is the 1906-O which has a population of 24 in MS-63 with 13 graded higher. A nice PCGS MS-63 is currently valued at $1750-2000. This means that a coin which is over 143 times rarer is only priced at 4.5 times more.
I. CERTIFIED COINS, BY GRADE Date Grade Range/Service MS-60-62 PCGS/NGC Grade Range/Service MS-63 and above PCGS/NGC Total PCGS/NGC 1888-O 160/262 14/2 174/264 = 438 1892-O 167/230 1/0 168/230 = 398 1893-O 125/112 2/0 127/112 = 239 1894-O 118/103 15/7 133/110 = 243 1895-O 144/117 11/5 155/122 = 277 1897-O 79/58 14/4 93/62 = 157 1899-O 76/30 8/4 84/34 = 128 1901-O 162/117 40/15 202/132 = 334 1903-O 379/258 41/22 420/280 = 700 1904-O 210/198 37/28 247/226 = 473 1906-O 105/82 37/32 142/114 = 256
II. RARITY RANKINGS, BY TOTAL NUMBER CERTIFIED
Date Total Number Certified Ranking 1899-O 128 1st 1897-O 157 2nd 1893-O 239 3rd 1894-O 243 4th 1906-O 256 5th 1895-O 277 6th 1901-O 334 7th 1892-O 398 8th 1888-O 438 9th 1904-O 473 10th 1903-O 700 11th
III. HIGH GRADE COINS (MINT STATE-63 AND ABOVE) - TOTAL GRADED Date Total Number Certified 1888-O 16 1892-O 1 1893-O 2 1894-O 22 1895-O 16 1897-O 18 1899-O 12 1901-O 55 1903-O 63 1904-O 65 1906-O 69
IV. RARITY RANKINGS - HIGH GRADE COINS (MINT STATE-63 AND ABOVE) Date Number Graded Ranking 1892-O 1 1st 1893-O 2 2nd 1899-O 12 3rd 1888-O 16 4th 1895-O 16 4th (tie) 1897-O 18 6th 1894-O 22 7th 1901-O 55 8th 1903-O 63 9th 1904-O 65 10th 1906-O 69 11th