PART ONE: GOLD DOLLARS - HALF EAGLES The New Orleans mint produced gold coins from 1839 through 1906. During this period, twelve different major design types were produced, encompassing six denominations. These coins range from relatively common to exceedingly rare and all are interesting, collectible issues.
I. Gold Dollars
DATES OF ISSUE: 1849 - 1853, 1855 TYPES: Type One (1849 - 1853), Type Two (1855)
1849-O: A popular first year of issue which is common in grades up to MS-61; becomes scarce in MS-62 and rare in MS-63 or better. Usually well struck; often with pretty green-gold color.
1850-O: The rarest New Orleans gold dollar. Scarce in all grades and rare in Uncirculated; almost impossible to find above MS-62. Very undervalued in higher grades. Usually seen with grainy surfaces; often cleaned.
1851-O: The second most common issue and a date that can be found up to MS-62 without much difficulty; becomes scarce in MS-63 and rare better than this. Usually found well struck and a good type coin because of its excellent appearance.
1852-O: A scarce and underrated issue that is usually seen in lower grades; very scarce in lower Mint State grades and rare in MS-62 or better. Often weakly struck at the centers but original coins show lovely orange-gold and green color.
1853-O: The most common New Orleans gold dollar but less available than its mintage figure of 290,000 would suggest. Obtainable up to MS-63 but rare above this; often comes well struck and lustrous.
1855-O: A very popular one year type coin; overvalued relative to its rarity as are all Type Two gold dollars but its high level of demand justifies its price level; Mint State coins are often low end and poorly struck. Population figures for MS-63 and MS-64 coins seem inflated due to regrades and this is a truly rare issue in higher grades.
OVERALL ANALYSIS: This is a short, easily completed series. An AU-55 to Mint State-62 set is well within the budget of most collectors and an all Mint State set is not unfeasible or prohibitively expensive.
II. Quarter Eagles
DATES OF ISSUE: 1839-1843, 1845-47, 1850-1852, 1854, 1856-57 TYPES: Classic Head (1839), Liberty Head (1840-1857)
1839-O: A one year type coin that, like the 1855-O gold dollar, is overvalued but popular enough to justify its price level. A few dozen are known in Mint State and any coin grading MS-62 or better is rare. Two varieties are known: High Date, Wide Fraction and Low Date, Close Fraction.
1840-O: Historically significant as the first Liberty Head quarter eagle from New Orleans and a very scarce coin above AU-50; very rare and underrated in Mint State. Often found poorly struck. Two varieties known: Large Mintmark and Small Mintmark. The best I know of is the Ex: Eliasberg coin now in the Bass collection.
1842-O: One of the rarest New Orleans quarter eagles. Usually seen in low grades; scarce in EF, rare in AU and very rare in Mint State. Most are poorly struck and have inferior planchets; well struck examples should carry a large premium. Two or three exist in MS-63 with the best of these in a Nevada collection.
1843-O Small Date: The most common New Orleans quarter eagle; easily located in most circulated grades but surprisingly rare and significantly undervalued in Mint State. Extremely scarce above MS-62 and unknown in Gem. Often seen with die rust on the surfaces.
1843-O Large Date: Much rarer than its Small Date counterpart and actually one of the rarest New Orleans quarter eagles. Usually seen in Extremely Fine and very scarce in AU. Around 12-15 are known in Mint State; I have never seen one better than MS-62.
1845-O: Only 4,000 struck and easily the rarest quarter eagle from this mint. In fact, this is one of the hardest Liberty Head quarter eagles of any date; very undervalued in comparison to comparable C+D issues. Perhaps a dozen are known in AU plus two or three in Mint State. Original, problem-free pieces are extremely hard to locate. The finest known was just offered in the 1999 ANA sale.
1846-O: Relatively common in lower grades but becomes scarce in AU and very rare in Mint State with around a dozen known. Many are found with very weak strikes. The example from the Pittman sale (later graded MS-66 by NGC) sold for $121,000 which is a record price for any New Orleans quarter eagle.
1847-O: More available than the 1846-O in circulated grades and less rare in Mint State but still a very tough issue with probably no more than two dozen known in Uncirculated. Another issue that is often found with poor strikes. Sharp examples exist and should sell for strong premiums. An MS-65 in a Louisiana collection is the finest known.
1850-O: Similar in rarity to the 1847-O in circulated grades; slightly rarer in Mint State. Around 12-15 known in Mint State with most of these in MS-60 to MS-62 grades; extremely good value in this grade range at current levels. The very choice example from the 1999 ANA sale is the finest known.
1851-O: One of the more available of the "medium rarity" N.O. Quarter eagles but still a very scarce coin in AU and a rarity in Mint State. About 12-14 are known in Mint State. Weak strike are a problem with this date as on most New Orleans quarter eagles. A lovely MS-65 exists and this is in a private collection.
1852-O: Similar in overall rarity to the 1850-O and 1851-O but a bit more common in AU grades; another rare and very undervalued date in Mint State with 10-12 known. Frequently seen with weak strikes but easier to locate with good deal than the 1840's dates.
1854-O: Along with the 1843-O Small date, the only New Orleans quarter eagle that is common in circulated grades. In Mint State, this is a very scarce and surprisingly undervalued issues. I have never seen one better than MS-63 and just two or three at that level.
1856-O: A true "sleeper" and one of the hardest quarter eagles of any date to find in higher grades. Around 6-8 known in Mint State with none better than MS-62. Many are found with weak centers and poor luster. The only Uncirculated example to sell in some time was the NGC MS-61 in the 1999 ANA which was a great value at $8337.50
1857-O: Formerly rare but now relatively common in AU due to a small hoard; still fairly scarce in Mint State but, again, now more available due to the aforementioned hoard.
OVERALL ANALYSIS: This thirteen issue set is completable but very challenging, especially if the collector is not willing to purchase weakly struck examples of certain dates. An all Mint State set is feasible, albeit difficult, while a nice AU set is an exceptionally good value at current levels.
III. Three Dollar Gold Pieces
DATES OF ISSUE: 1854
1854-O: Common in lower grades but very scarce and undervalued in the higher AU grades; properly graded Mint State examples are very rare. Most are seen with very weak strike and a "delicate" appearance due to die lapping and polishing. A popular one year type that still seems to have growth potential from the standpoint of price.
IV. Half Eagles
DATES OF ISSUE: 1840, 1842-1847, 1851, 1854-1857, 1892-1894, 1909 TYPES: Liberty Head, Without Motto (1840-1857), Liberty Head, With Motto (1892- 1894), Indian Head (1909)
1840-O: Unlike most first year of issues, this date was not saved and is rare and undervalued in higher grades. Usually seen well worn, abraded and in deep green-gold. An extremely undervalued coin in Mint State with fewer than ten known; the finest I have seen is the Pittman coin (graded MS-64 by NGC). Varieties are known with a Broad Mill (very rare) and a Narrow Mill.
1842-O: Tied with the 1847-O as the rarest New Orleans half eagle in terms of overall rarity (with around 45-55 known) and the rarest in high grades. This date is still unique in Mint State (the Milas/Eliasberg coin) and there are no more than 9-11 real AU's known.
1843-O Large Letters: The more common of the two varieties. Usually seen with very heavily abraded surfaces and yellowish-green color. Quite scarce in AU and rare in Mint State; around a dozen Uncirculated pieces are known including a few fairly choice ones. There were two lovely Uncs. in the Milas sale.
1843-O Small Letters: Once believed to be of similar rarity to the Large Letters variety but now known to be considerably scarcer. Usually seen in VF-EF grades and often weakly detailed due to die cracks and lapping. Very rare in full AU and an extreme rarity in Mint State.
1844-O: By far the most common New Orleans half eagle of the 1840's and an easily located date in any circulated grade. MS-60 and MS-61 coins are not particularly scarce but this date becomes rare in MS-62 and very rare above this. Often found with excellent frosty luster and superb green-gold or yellow-gold color. A single Proof is known in the John Murrell collection.
1845-O: An overlooked, undervalued date that is typically seen well worn, softly struck and heavily marked. Rare in AU and very rare in Mint State with approximately seven to nine known. Very good value in comparison to comparable Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles of this era. There is a gem in the Bass collection.
1846-O: A bit rarer than the 1845-O overall and another rare coin in the higher AU grades. In Mint State, this is a true rarity with around a half dozen known. Mostly found with a soft overall strike and unappealing surfaces. The MS-63 Milas/Eliasberg coin is the finest known.
1847-O: Tied with the 1842-O for the rarest New Orleans half eagle overall but a bit more available in AU grades. Unknown in strict Mint State and excessively rare in AU-55 or better. The AU-58 Milas coin is still the best I have seen. Often found with below average surfaces.
1851-O: Comparable to the 1846-O in terms of overall and high rarity. This issue is characterized by excellent luster and nice green-gold color; often weak on Liberty's hair. Rare in the higher AU grades and very rare in Mint State with around seven to nine known.
1854-O: The second most common No Motto New Orleans half eagle but much scarcer in the higher AU grades than realized and quite rare in Mint State. A well produced issue with pleasing green-gold color; sometimes found prooflike.
1855-O: A favorite of mine and one of the most undervalued Liberty Head half eagles of any date; just a bit less available than the 1842-O and the 1847-O and a truly rare coin in AU-50 or above. I know of two or three Uncs. and none of these grade above MS-61 to MS-62. A small hoard of 10-15 coins entered the market in the Summer of 1996.
1856-O: At one time, similar to the 1855-O in terms of overall rarity but more available due to a small hoard found in the mid-1990's; still very rare in AU and extremely rare in Mint State. Often seen weakly struck and nearly always on inferior planchets. The MS-62 Milas coin is currently the best known.
1857-O: The most available of the underrated 1855-1857 dates but still very scarce in all grades and rare in AU; very rare in Mint State with maybe half a dozen known. The best I've seen is a lovely PCGS MS-63 owned by a Pennsylvania dealer a few years ago.
1892-O: The rarest of the three With Motto half eagles from this mint. This date appears not to have seen much circulation as it is usually in AU grades. It is rare in Mint State and appears to be unknown above MS-63. Almost all known are excessively abraded.
1893-O: Common in all circulated grades and not hard to locate in the lower Mint State grades. Becomes scarce in properly graded MS-62 and very rare above this. A hoard of two dozen or so Mint State 60 to Mint State-62 coins entered the market in the mid 1990's.
1894-O: A much scarcer coin than the 1893-O as its lower mintage figure would suggest. Most Mint State examples are excessively abraded and have satiny, slightly reflective surfaces. I have never seen one better than MS-63 and just one or two at that level.
1909-O: The only Indian Head half eagle from New Orleans and very popular as a result. Common in "slider" but very scarce in real Mint State and quite rare in MS-63 and above. The best I have seen is the Price/Eliasberg coin that brought an incredible $374,000 when last sold in May 1998.
OVERALL ANALYSIS: The Liberty Head half eagles from New Orleans are an interesting group of coins. The only two reasonably common Without Motto half eagles are the 1844-O and the 1854-O are neither of these is exactly obtainable in Mint State. This is a very challenging set to collect in high grades. The three With Motto coins are easily obtained in the lower Mint State grades as is the 1909-O.