It has been a number of years since I’ve written about New Orleans Liberty Head half eagles and given the popularity of this series, I thought it would be nice to finish out 2014 with a fairly in-depth look at these coins. We will not only discuss the coins themselves but will also look at the market for New Orleans half eagles, with some personal observations about the coins and the series as a whole and some interesting statistics.
Some quick background is in order. New Orleans began producing half eagles in 1840 and continued to produce them, with interruptions, through 1857. The No Motto type includes thirteen coins (two distinct varieties of 1843-O exist, see below). Production resumed in 1892 and for just three years, the With Motto type was struck.
For many years, the popularity and price of the New Orleans No Motto Liberty Head half eagles lagged behind the Charlotte and Dahlonega issues. This is no longer the case. New Orleans half eagles are clearly more popular than their Charlotte counterparts and while not as popular (yet) as Dahlonega half eagles, prices are not yet at a par.
New Orleans half eagles have become widely collected and for good reasons. The set can be completed even by a collector on a fairly limited budget and it doesn’t go on for decade after decade like the Philadelphia and San Francisco half eagles. There is no single White Whale issue to make collectors go crazy, and for most, a set of 14 No Motto New Orleans half eagles can be assembled for a reasonable sum in a three to five year period.
How is the market for these coins? For some of the more common issues like the 1844-O and 1854-O, prices have not risen all that much in the last five years. For the rarer issues, especially the key 1847-O, prices have shown rather healthy increases. Demand is clearly high for these coins and I base this on the short period of time which nice New Orleans half eagles stay available on my website when I have a few for sale. Given these facts, I would have to say that the future looks bright for choice, attractive No Motto Liberty Head half eagles from the New Orleans mint.
Let’s take a look at each individual issue.
This is clearly a numismatically significant issue but it doesn’t have the Multiple Levels of Demand that its counterparts the 1838-C and 1838-D half eagles do. Part of this is due to the fact that the 1840-O doesn’t have a unique design like the two Classic Head issues I just referenced; nor does it have the mintmark prominently placed on the obverse.
The 1840-O is actually among the most common No Motto half eagles from this mint and it is very easy to find in VF, EF and even low AU grades. In the higher AU grades, the 1840-O is scarce and undervalued and it is rare in Uncirculated with fewer than a dozen known. The finest remains the NGC MS65 which sold for $41,250 back in October 1997 as part of the Pittman collection.
One thing I have noticed about this date in the last few years is just how hard it is to find a nice, original AU coin with pleasing color, choice surfaces, and a sharp strike. I’d estimate that over 90% of all slabbed AU 1840-O half eagles are either cleaned or dipped, or they have negative overall eye appeal. At current price levels (around $3,000 for an AU55 and a bit over $4,000 for an AU58), the 1840-O half eagle is dramatically undervalued.
The 1840-O Broad Mill or Large Diameter is a variety which should be better known and more avidly collected but it isn’t yet recognized by PCGS (NGC has recognized it for years but seems inconsistent in their designations). The 1840-O Broad Mill is very rare and very obvious to the naked eye. I sold the only known Uncirculated coin (an NGC MS61) to a New England collector around five years ago. I know of two or three AU58’s as well.
The 1842-O remains the second rarest half eagle from this mint. There are an estimated 75-85 known with nearly all in the VF-EF range. A properly graded EF45 is about the nicest available quality for the date; AU’s are rare and many of the slabbed AU50 to AU53 coins have issues. There are exactly three known in Uncirculated, all of which are coins I have sold in the last decade.
The 1842-O is rarer than nearly any Charlotte or Dahlonega half eagle but it still doesn’t get the respect it deserves from collectors. Prices for Extremely Fine examples have stayed fairly flat over the last decade and this date seems undervalued by 25-50%, in my opinion.
It has been a number of years since a nice slabbed AU55 or AU58 was sold at auction and it would be interesting to see what a quality coin (especially if it were PCGS graded and CAC approved) would bring.
One closing thought about this date. Some 1842-O half eagles are rather weakly struck at the centers. Should this affect the value of an otherwise choice example? I don’t think strike is an important factor in determining value for a rare 19th century gold coin so I would resoundingly say “no!”
1843-O Small Letters:
This was the first of the two varieties made in 1843 at the New Orleans mint and it shares the reverse of 1842-O.
This is clearly the scarcer of the two 1843-O half eagle varieties and it appears less frequently at auction than such more heralded dates as the 1845-O, 1846-O and 1851-O. Most 1843-O SL half eagles are seen in the EF40 to AU50 range and rarely with original color and choice surfaces. On late die state issues, the detail on the reverse lettering appears weak from die lapping.
The finest known remains the PCGS MS65 which I bought a few years ago in a Stack’s Bowers auction for $69,000. It is the single finest of a small group of four Uncirculated pieces which were found in the South and later sold at auction in 2000.
This is a considerably scarcer coin than the 1843-C or 1843-D half eagles yet it still sells for less. There are an estimated 125-150 known. This variety becomes scarce in the medium to higher AU grades and I believe that there are just five or six extent in Uncirculated.
1843-O Large Letters:
At one time, I felt that this variety was close to the Small Letters in terms of its overall rarity but it is at least twice as available. There are an estimated 250-350 known and the 1843-O Large Letters is fairly common in lower grades. It is scarce in About Uncirculated and very scarce at the upper end of this range with original surfaces and nice color. There are at least 10-12 known in Uncirculated, and this includes a few really nice examples in the MS63 to MS64 range. I handled one of the NGC MS64’s earlier this year and sold it privately but, as far as I know, none of the other high grade 1843-O Large Letters half eagles have traded in at least five years.
An interesting thing I’ve noticed about this variety in the last few years is how unappealing the typical piece is. A decade ago, it was not uncommon to find a really wholesome 1843-O Large Letters in, say, AU55, with natural color and decent surfaces. Today, this same coin now likely grades AU58 but it has been stripped-n-dipped and the marks which may have been hidden by the former natural color are now obvious on the bright, dipped surfaces.
I’ve mentioned for some of these other issues how undervalued they are in comparison to their Charlotte and Dahlonega counterparts. Let’s use the 1843-O Large Letters as an example. A decent quality EF45 is going to cost you $1,250-1,500. A similarly graded 1843-C or 1843-D half eagle will run $2,250-2,750, depending on the holder and whether its CAC’d or not. The 1843-O Large Letters is common by the standards of New Orleans No Motto half eagles but it is still a scarcer coin than the 1843-D and only a little more available than the 1843-C. At around half the price, it seems like wonderful value to me.
The 1844-O is by far the most common No Motto half eagle from this mint and it is actually as available as some of the Philadelphia issues from this decade. I estimate that at least 750-1000+ are known and if one includes all of the no grades or lower quality pieces which exist, the number clearly exceeds 1,000 total. The 1844-O is easy to find in any circulated grades, although a really nice AU58 with natural color and choice surfaces is scarcer than generally realized. In Uncirculated there are at least two to three dozen known and possibly more. In MS62, this is a scarce coin and it is rare in properly graded MS63. I am aware of three to five that grade MS64 (and have handled all of them) and one Gem, a PCGS MS65 which is ex Bass.
The 1844-O is a perfect type coin for the new collector who would like to own an appealing No Motto half eagle from this mint. $1,500 to $1,750 will buy you a very choice PCGS AU55 while $2,500 to $3,000 will buy you a great looking AU58. Since this date can still found with natural color, sharp strikes and choice surfaces, I’d suggest that you be fussy when it comes to an 1844-O. Spend a little extra time and a little extra money and you will be rewarded with a special coin; hopefully one which will motivate you to form a more comprehensive collection of New Orleans half eagles.
The 1845-O is probably the only No Motto New Orleans half eagle whose rarity in 2014 is, at least in my experience, a bit less than I believed five or ten years ago. Part of this is happenstance as there were clearly some decent quality 45-O half eagles which I didn’t see when I compiled my old(er) rarity levels. And part of this is new discoveries including a few nice Uncirculated examples from the S.S. New York treasure. I regard the 1845-O as clearly less scarce than the 1846-O and comparable to the 1851-O but more available in higher grades.
My best current estimate for total surviving population for this date is around 125-150 coins and that might be a bit on the low side. The 1845-O is relatively available in VF and EF grades and it is just a bit scarce in the lower AU range. High-end AU’s, especially with natural color and surfaces, are much scarcer than their crazy high PCGS/NGC populations would suggest (30 AU58’s at NGC alone….yikes!). I believe that there are 10-12 known in Uncirculated including three in MS63.
Quality for the grade is finally being felt for this (and other) No Motto New Orleans half eagles. As an example, a nice CAC approved NGC AU58 1845-O sold for $6,463 as Heritage 12/13: 3845. The same date in the same grade but not CAC approved and appearing less choice sold for just $4,406 as Heritage 4/14: 6360.
I have long lumped the 1846-O half eagle with the 1845-O and 1851-O but at this point in time, I believe that the 1846-O is the scarcest of the three. There are an estimated 100-125 known with most in the VF-EF range. Properly graded AU50 to AU55 examples are scarce and this date is rare in full AU58. I am aware of six or seven in Uncirculated including a solitary MS63 at NGC and three or four MS62’s.
This is another issue whose overall level of appearance seems to have really diminished in the last few years. A decade ago, it was possible to find O mint gold which had escaped the clutches of those individuals who’ve seemed to destroy much of the remaining Charlotte and Dahlonega coinage. Today, it’s not so easy and most 1846-O half eagles now have that bland, lifeless zombie appearance which many of their southern counterparts shuffle through their coin lives. Sad.
The unquestioned King of the New Orleans half eagles, this issue has finally been recognized for its rarity and it appears to have demand outside of the community of specialists who collect these coins. A nice NGC AU53 sold for $14,100 as Heritage 1/14: 6658 and this may be an indication of higher prices to come in the future for this key issue.
But a case can be made that the 1847-O is still highly undervalued. As an example, the PCGS Price Guide suggests a value of $30,000 for an 1847-O half eagle graded MS61. What the Price Guide doesn’t state is that this date is currently unique in Uncirculated (at PCGS) and it is very rare even in grades as low as AU55 (just three in this grade at PCGS and none in AU58). I, for one, would be thrilled to purchase a PCGS graded MS61 1847-O half eagle for $30,000 and I think the true value is more like $50,000 to $60,000.
To offer a further comparison, let’s compare the 1847-O to the King of the Charlotte half eagles, the 1842-C Small Date. In terms of overall rarity, these two dates are fairly comparable while the 1842-C is clearly more available in AU55 and above (PCGS has graded only two in AU55 but they have graded no fewer than eight higher than this; compare this to the PCGS population figures for the 1847-O listed above). The 1842-C Small Date is currently worth around $30,000 in AU55 and an accurately graded PCGS MS61 is worth close to $100,000. Given the fact that the 1847-O is a rarer coin and it is priced at half of the less popular 1842-C Small Date, I know which issue I regard as the better value.
A few interesting new higher grade examples of this date have appeared on the market in the last few years. One of them caused me a case of coin angst the like of which I can still recall clearly even though it happened nearly four years ago.
Heritage 6/11: 5113, graded MS62 by PCGS, was a coin I clearly “needed” to buy for inventory. It was fresh, it was properly graded and it had a lovely appearance. Except for one big “but.” The coin had a major mint made lamination on the obverse from the rim at 7:30 through the neck down to the 85 in the date. This wasn’t a “slight” lamination; it was huge and in a noticeable place. It wasn’t so severe that I thought it might drop off the coin someday (don’t laugh; this has happened to me before) but it was detracting. I really wanted the coin but the lamination scared me off and I decided to pass. Did I do the right thing? I think so and I got a chance to buy an even nicer PCGS MS62 example of the same date in January 2013 which lacked the lamination.
Repeat after me: This is not the common date everyone thinks it is. This is not the common...
By the rigorous standards of the No Motto series, the 1854-O is more available than most of its New Orleans counterparts. In higher grades, this date is far scarcer than most people realize and I believe it is scarce and significantly undervalued even in AU55. The availability of this date in VF and EF grades seems to hurt its reputation in higher grades; a situation more often seen with Philadelphia No Motto half eagles than coins from New Orleans.
There are probably fewer than 10 true Uncirculated examples of this date and unlike sexier dates like the 1846-O and 1851-O, a nice higher grade 1854-O half eagle hasn’t appeared at auction for many years.
The final three No Motto New Orleans half eagles are typically lumped together but in my experience the 1855-O is the scarcest. I believe that there are around 80-90 known with most in the EF40 to AU50 range.
I’d like to claim that this date remains a “secret” known only to specialists but two things lead me to believe that it isn’t. The first is the fact that a decent but, in my opinion, not upgradable NGC AU58 example sold for $10,575 in Heritage’s March 2014. The second is that I recently listed a nice PCGS EF45 example on my website and received no less than five orders for it within three hours of listing it.
I regard this date to be almost exactly the same rarity as the 1857-O, but it is harder to find with original color and choice surfaces. In fact, I can’t recall the last time I’ve handled a totally original EF or AU example of the 1856-O half eagle.
There are around 100 known with most in the VF-EF range. This date tends to be the least well struck of the 1855-O to 1857-O triumvirate and of the five or six coins which have been graded Uncirculated by the two services, I think only one or two are truly, unquestionably “new.”
Quick thought: it is interesting to note that some of the New Orleans dates from the 1840’s (1843-O Small Letters and Large Letters, 1844-O, 1845-O) are represented by small numbers of obviously Uncirculated, fresh coins in the MS62 to MS64 range. The dates from 1854-O through 1857-O do not come as nice and it appears that while some very small hoards from the 1840’s exist, by the mid-1850’s, these New Orleans coins were not being saved.
As I just mentioned, the 1857-O is similar in rarity to the 1856-O. I have actually handled more 1857-O half eagles in relatively high grades. This date tends to come “nicer” than the 1855-O and 1856-O with better overall detail and a few more non-stripped coins known.
I’ve written about the finest known 1857-O half eagle before. Graded MS63 by PCGS, this coin is a Numismatic Orphan, having bounced from dealer to collector to dealer to auction for more than a decade. Ironically, its next attempted sale is this Friday.
For years, this was the ultimate sleeper amongst New Orleans half eagles; a date regarded as only slightly rare but which was, in reality, comparable to some of the higher priced No Motto issues. In the last few years, prices have risen for this date. I recently sold two nice PCGS AU58 examples with CAC approval for around $4,000 and as recently as five years ago, I would have had a hard time getting $3,000 for these. That said, I still think the 1892-O is excellent value.
An interesting situation—the result of gradeflation—has occurred with this date. A decade ago, population figures for the 1893-O in MS63 were very low. This was a hard coin to make and, if I recall, the population was around four or five in MS63 at PCGS with one finer. Today, PCGS alone has graded 13 in MS63 and prices have dropped in MS63 as a result. This is a phenomenon which occurs routinely with 20th century issues but rarely with New Orleans half eagles. It will be interesting to see how prices hold up as more are graded MS63.
One of the things that’s interesting to see about CAC populations is how few New Orleans half eagles, especially in comparatively higher grades, get the coveted sticker. I recently bought an 1894-O in PCGS MS62 with CAC approval and was pretty surprised to learn that only two MS62’s had CAC stickers. I was even more surprised to learn that the PCGS population for this date remains at a low six coins in MS62 and only two finer. I think that the 1894-O suffers from being compared with the 1893-O. The 1894-O is many times scarcer and it remains a truly hard coin to find in properly graded MS62 and higher.
So there you have it: my take on the New Orleans half eagle series. I find these coins to be endlessly fascinating and I hope some of my enthusiasm has rubbed off on you.
Do you buy rare gold coins?
Do you have coins to sell?
Would you like to have the world’s leading expert help you assemble a set of coins?
Contact me, Doug Winter, directly at (214) 675-9897 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.