There haven’t been many truly great collections of New Orleans gold coins formed over the years. This is due to two reasons: a lack of popularity until recent times and the rarity of many of these issues in higher grades. One of the finest collections of New Orleans gold coinage of which I am aware is the Pinnacle Collection which is currently owned by a collector who lives on the West Coast. I have been the primary supplier of coins in this collection and, if you don’t mind a little plug for Douglas Winter Numismatics, I don’t think it would be possible to form a much nicer set than this. Nearly every coin is very high end for the grade and most were selected with the following criteria in mind: originality, excellent overall eye appeal and sharp strikes.
The owner of this collection began assembling it in 2002 and bought the majority of the coins in 2003 and 2004. I was lucky to have been able to purchase a superb collection of New Orleans gold coinage in 2003 of which many pieces went into the Pinnacle Collection. It was clearly a situation that this collector was in the right place at the right time.
The Pinnacle Collection is very nearly complete with the exception of the Liberty Head double eagles. The owner of this collection decided not to focus on this denomination due to the extremely high cost of choice pieces and because he felt that the smaller denomination coins represented better value for the money. His gold dollars, quarter eagles, three dollar gold pieces and half eagle sets are complete while the eagle set lacks just four coins (none of which are especially rare) to be complete.
NOTE: You can view this set on on-line on the PCGS website (www.pcgs.com). Simply go the Set Registry area, search for gold sets and then for New Orleans sets. The collection is listed as the “Crescent City” collection but it is better known to collectors as The Pinnacle Collection. In my new book “Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint, 1839-1906”, many of these coins are described and photographed as well.
I. GOLD DOLLARS
The six coins in this set have an average grade of 63.66 and are very evenly matched and original. They range in grade from MS62 (the 1855-0) to MS65 (the 1849-O).
One coin in this group that really stands out is the 1850-O. It is graded MS63 by PCGS and is one of just five recorded by PCGS in this grade with two better (both MS64). The 1850-O is the rarest gold dollar from this mint yet it remains an issue which is overlooked by many collectors. This is a coin that would be priced at $15,000-20,000+ if it had a C or a D mintmark but it is still valued at well under $10,000 in this grade.
I also really like the 1849-O gold dollar in this set. It has been graded MS65 by PCGS and is one of just four graded as such by PCGS with none finer. It is historically significant as a first-year-of-issue date and it is, obviously, very rare in Gem. The Pinnacle Collection example is unusually well struck and it exhibits lovely natural rose and orange-gold color.
II. QUARTER EAGLES
The quarter eagle set contains fourteen coins and every piece except one (the 1845-O) grades MS62 or better. The average grade of these coins is a healthy 61.9 and I would have to think it is one of the two or three best sets ever assembled.
My choice for the highlight of this set is probably not a coin that others might take note of: the 1856-O in MS62. Even though this issue is slightly available in lower grades, it is a major rarity in Uncirculated and the Pinnacle Collection’s example is the best piece ever graded by PCGS. It is really a stunning example for the date and grade with great luster, rich orange-gold color and outstanding surfaces. It traces its origin to the Bowers and Merena 6/01 sale where it brought $19,550 in a much slower market than today.
Two other coins in the quarter eagle set that I think are notable are the 1840-O and the 1842-O, both of which have been graded MS62 by PCGS. The former is pedigreed to the David Lawrence Richmond collection sale while the latter was obtained from my firm via private treaty in January, 2005. Both coins are notable for outstanding strikes and are very original with great green-gold color and thick, undisturbed luster.
The three highest graded quarter eagles in the collection are the 1839-O, 1846-O and 1857-O, all of which have been graded MS63 by PCGS. The 1839-O has a population of seven in this grade with five finer (all MS64), the 1846-O has a population of just one in this grade with one better (an MS64) and the 1857-O is one of four in this grade with a single example better (an MS64). Obviously, all New Orleans quarter eagles are rare in MS63 or higher grades and the fact that the Pinnacle Collection contains three different pieces is, in my opinion, quite impressive.
III. THREE DOLLAR GOLD
The Pinnacle Collection contains a PCGS AU55 example of this popular one-year type. It is notable for its excellent strike and originality and it is a much nicer coin than many I have seen graded AU58 by NGC.
IV. HALF EAGLES
Although the average grade per coin of the half eagles in the Pinnacle Collection is not as high as the quarter eagles, I would have to say this is my favorite set. There are a total of sixteen coins which range in grade from a low of AU55 (the 1843-O Small Letters and the rare 1847-O) to a high of MS63 (the 1840-O Narrow Mill, 1844-O, 1845-O, 1854-O the 1894-O). Of the 16 coins in the set, eleven are Uncirculated and the average grade per coin is 60.68.
It’s really hard for me to pick just one highlight of the half eagles, so I’ll focus on two coins. The first is the incredible PCGS MS63 1840-O Narrow Mill that is pedigreed to the famous Pittman collection. It is an amazing coin that I rank as the finest known for the date. Another highlight coin is the MS63 1845-O that is pedigreed to the Bass collection. It is one of just two known examples of this date in this grade (there are none finer) and it is the epitome of a choice, original coin with superb luster and dramatic rich green-gold coloration.
The PCGS MS61 1842-O half eagle in the Pinnacle Collection is one of just three known examples of this date in Uncirculated while the PCGS MS62 1846-O is regarded as the third finest known example of this date. An 1851-O in PCGS MS61 is another extremely rare coin in this grade with just four or five total pieces believed to exist in Uncirculated.
Two final coins are worthy of a quick mention. The 1854-O, graded MS63, is tied with another example as the finest known and it is pedigreed to the Bass collection. The 1894-O in PCGS MS63 is the sole example of this date graded this high by PCGS and it is likely the finest known.
To the best of my knowledge, the only sets of New Orleans half eagles ever assembled that were comparable to the Pinnacle Collection were Ed Milas’ (sold by Stack’s back in 1995) and Charley Tuppen’s (which, as far as I know, is still intact).
V. EAGLES, NO MOTTO
Of the various gold denominations produced at the New Orleans mint, the No Motto eagles, struck from 1841 through 1860, is certainly one of the most difficult to collect. Many of these dates are exceedingly rare in higher grades and a number are essentially unavailable in grades higher than AU55 to AU58. There are a total of 21 issues in this set. This includes two varieties of 1846-O (the Normal date and the so-called “Overdate”) and two 1854-O (the Small Date and the Large Date).
The Pinnacle Collection contains 17 of these 21 No Motto eagles. It is missing the 1842-O, 1844-O, 1847-O and 1855-O. Ironically, with the exception of the 1855-O, these dates are not especially scarce from the standpoint of overall rarity.
The No Motto eagles in this collection range in grade from a low of AU53 to a high of MS61. There are three coins in Uncirculated and the majority grade AU55 and AU58.
The two key issues in the No Motto eagle set are the 1841-O and the 1859-O. These are nicely represented by examples that grade AU55. The former has a PCGS population of just five with none better and the latter shows three in this grade and none higher.
There are number of coins in this set that might be readily overlooked by the non-specialist but which are quite scarce and have very low population figures. As an example, the 1849-O in PCGS AU58 has a population of three in this grade and just two better. The 1850-O in PCGS AU58 is even rarer in this grade with just three recorded in AU58 and a single coin graded higher.
The Pinnacle Collection contains 18 No Motto New Orleans eagles with an average grade of 57.05.
VI. EAGLES, WITH MOTTO
After the New Orleans mint was closed in 1861, it reopened in 1879. With Motto eagles were produced, with interruptions, at this mint until 1906. There are a total of 16 issues in this set. Unlike its No Motto counterpart, this set can be assembled in (mostly) higher grades.
The Pinnacle Collection contains fifteen of the sixteen issues. It is missing the 1880-O but it contains PCGS AU58 examples of the very rare 1879-O and 1883-O. Twelve of the sixteen coins in this set are Uncirculated and these range from a low of MS61 to a high of MS65.
From the standpoint of rarity, the unquestioned highlight of this set is the 1883-O of which just 800 pieces were produced. This collection has a lovely orange-gold AU58 which is one of just three graded by PCGS with none better.
The sleeper coin in this group is the 1881-O in MS61. This date has a PCGS population of just one in MS61 and none finer and it is a rare, underrated issue in Uncirculated.
The highest graded coin in this set (and in the entire Pinnacle Collection) is a 1904-O in PCGS MS65. As one might expect, Gem New Orleans eagles of any date are extremely scarce and this coin has a PCGS population of four in this grade and only one better.
The With Motto eagles in the Pinnacle Collection have an average grade of MS62. Many of the late date pieces (i.e. those struck in 1897 and later) are notable for their beautiful, original color and most are quite high end for the grade.
The Pinnacle Collection is truly one of the finest sets of New Orleans gold coins that has ever been assembled. It contains examples from other great collections such as Norweb, Bass, Pittman and Farouk. The collector who assembled this collection can certainly be proud of his accomplishment, especially given the fact that the bulk of the collection was assembled in just three years.