A “standalone” coin is one that, literally, stands alone; be it as a first-year issue, a one year type, or for other factors. In the United States gold coin market, there are a number of standalone issues from New Orleans and this article will identify and analyze them.
1. Gold Dollars
1849-O: This isn’t a true standalone issue, but the fact that it is the first New Orleans example of a brand-new denomination makes it desirable to multiple iterations of collector.
The 1849-O isn’t an especially scarce coin and its affordability is enhanced by the fact that this issue is well-made with good eye appeal.
In my opinion, the best value grades for the 1849-O dollar are MS63 and MS64. For the former, look to pay $2,500 to $3,500 while the latter will run $4,500 to $6,000.
1855-O: This is a true standalone issue as it is the only Type Two gold dollar from New Orleans. It is also the final issue of this denomination produced at this mint.
The 1855-O dollar is actually not the rarest gold dollar from New Orleans (that honor belongs to the 1850-O) but it is clearly the most popular. It tends to be found with a somewhat soft strike, and original pieces with nice color and choice surfaces have become hard to locate.
In circulated grades, the best value tends to be AU55, and nice examples can still be obtained in the $2,500-3,500 range. For Uncirculated coins, I tend to favor those graded MS62 and these will run in the $13,000-15,000+ range.
2. Quarter Eagles
1839-O: This is the only true standalone New Orleans quarter eagle and it is popular for a host of reasons: first-year-of-issue, one-year type, and the only quarter eagle from this mint with the mintmark positioned on the obverse.
The 1839-O seems to have become more popular in the last few years and I believe it has to do with the multiple levels of demand mentioned above. It isn’t hard to locate in circulated grades although nice, original pieces in all grades have become difficult to locate.
A nice AU55 example can be purchased for $5,000 to 6,000, while a properly graded AU58 has become expensive in the last few years with a current price tag in the $11,000-13,000 range. If available, an MS62 will cost $22,500 to $25,000.
3. Three Dollar Gold
1854-O: Only one three dollar gold piece was struck in New Orleans and the 1854-O has always been popular. It is much less rare and far more affordable than its southern counterpart the 1854-D.
The typical 1854-O is not boldly struck and some pieces are seen with mint-made defects in the fields. This is compounded by the fact that the majority of survivors have been cleaned or mishandled and lack original color as a result. Despite currently high populations at both services, truly original AU examples are scarce and a properly graded Uncirculated 1854-O is very rare.
I like example graded EF45 for collectors on a limited budget (these will run $3,000-3,500) and nice, original AU53 and AU55 examples for collectors with a bit more to spend (these run from $4,500 to 5,500 for the former and $6,000 to 9,000 for the latter).
4. Half Eagles
1840-O: Unfortunately, no Classic Head half eagles were made at the New Orleans Mint. The next best thing is the 1840-O, which is a standalone issue as the first New Orleans half eagle and the first Liberty Head half eagle from this mint.
In my experience, the 1840-O is an under-appreciated issue and one which is undervalued when compared to the first-year-of-issue half eagles from Charlotte and Dahlonega. The 1840-O is not as scarce as the 1839-C or 1839-D from an overall perspective, but it is very elusive in properly graded AU55 to AU58 and very rare in Uncirculated.
I think this issue is excellent value in any grade. An EF45 is currently priced in the $1,250-1,750 range while a nice AU55 is valued at $2,000-3,000.
NOTE: The 1892-O could be included in a standalone set as it is the first year of issue for the With Motto type, struck for three years only (1892-O, 1893-O and 1894-O).
1909-O: After With Motto Liberty Head half eagles were made from 1892 through 1894, no examples of this denomination were made until 1909. The 1909-O is an important standalone issue as it is a one-year type and it is the only Indian Head half eagle from this mint.
The 1909-O is a true condition rarity. It is available in Extremely Fine and the lower About Uncirculated grades without much effort but it becomes scarce in the higher AU grades and it is rare in Uncirculated. Above MS62 to MS63, the 1909-O is very rare and I purchased the finest known, graded MS66 by PCGS, for $646,250 in the January 2014 Heritage FUN auction.
In AU50, the 1909-O half eagle is worth $9,000-10,000 while an AU55 trades for $12,000 to $16,000.
Hint: you want to buy a nice, original 1909-O for your standalone set but be careful about buying a coin which is TOO dirty and has poor eye appeal as a result.
1841-O: There are no true standalone eagles from the New Orleans mint, but the 1841-O is often collected as such. It is the very first New Orleans issue of this denomination and it is the first eagle struck at a branch mint (Charlotte and Dahlonega never produced coins larger than half eagles).
The 1841-O eagle is a rare coin in all grades. Fewer than 100 are known, and many are very low grade or can’t be straight graded due to cleaning or other problems. It is an issue which has become very popular with specialists and most of the limited number of choicer pieces known is off the market in collections.
In my opinion, any reasonably attractive, problem-free 1841-O eagle priced below $15,000 remains excellent value. This will be a very hard coin to locate but one worth the effort.
NOTE: The 1879-O eagle, the first year of issue for the With Motto type, could be included in an expanded standalone set of New Orleans gold coinage.
6. Double Eagles
1850-O: Production of the new Type One Liberty Head double eagles began at both the Philadelphia and New Orleans mints in 1850. The 1850-O is a relatively available coin in terms of total number extent but it is a condition rarity. It is often seen with soft peripheral details, heavily abraded fields, and an overall lack of eye appeal.
The 1850-O double eagle becomes scarce in the lower AU grades, very scarce in the middle range of this grade, and rare in AU58. Uncirculated pieces are exceedingly rare with just a handful known.
For the average collector, I would recommend an EF45 example and one should be available in the $8,000-10,000 range. In my opinion, the best value for a higher grade 1850-O would be a choice, original AU53 with good detail and some remaining luster. Such coins are not easy to find and will cost $15,000-20,000.
1879-O: The final coin in the New Orleans gold coin standalone set is the most expensive and the most popular. The 1879-O is the only Type Three double eagle struck at this mint and it is the final double eagle from New Orleans as well. Only 2,325 were made and while around 125 or so are known (more than one would expect given the low mintage), most are severely abraded and have iffy eye appeal as a result.
A decade ago, it was possible to buy an acceptable 1879-O for under $25,000. But with the popularity of rare Liberty Head double eagles collector pressure has made prices raise considerably. Today, an entry level non-damaged 1879-O is closer to $40,000-50,000 and even that hefty sum will still only buy you an Extremely Fine coin.
The standalone set of New Orleans gold contains some very interesting issues in a variety of price ranges. These coins are all popular but one most remember that the “cool factor” that these coins show is enough to give them a high level of demand.
Would you like to work with the world’s leading expert on New Orleans gold coinage on a standalone set of gold from this mint? If so, please contact me by phone at (214) 675-9897 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.