Last month, I looked at the current market for Type One Philadelphia double eagles and compared it to the market(s) of five and ten years ago. In this month’s installment, I’m going to look at the popular New Orleans double eagles struck between 1850 and 1861 and analyze current market conditions with those seen a decade ago.
In 2003, the market for New Orleans double eagles was much different than it was today. There were many more nice coins available and the demand level was a fraction of what it is today. Looking back a decade ago, it seemed that coins like 1855-O doubles eagles or 1859-O double eagles were readily available and I can remember pleading with clients to buy them because they seemed liked such good values compared to other double eagles of lesser rarity.
Would a collector be making a mistake to decide to begin a set of New Orleans double eagles in 2013? It depends at how you look at it. Obviously, it was a “better” market for buyers of these coins ten years ago; they were cheap and relatively plentiful. But a decade ago, if you were collecting these coins you were a bit of a contrarian. I’d like to say that I foresaw the halcyon days that lay ahead for this area of the market but even I didn’t anticipate some of the prices that we see in 2013. That said, given the popularity and depth in the market for New Orleans double eagles, this is a market area that I remain enthusiastic about.
Let’s take a look at market trends for each specific date, comparing prices and availability of coins in 2003 versus today. The two grades I am going to focus on are EF45 (a popular collector grade) and AU58 (the highest available grade for many of these New Orleans issues).
1850-O: Ten years ago, this was considered a common date and it received little fanfare except on the rare occasion that a relatively high-grade piece was available. Today, it is recognized as a condition rarity which is not easy to locate in properly graded EF45 and which is very rare in AU58.
In 2003, it was possible to buy an EF45 1850-O in the $2,500-3,500 and I can recall that it was hard to get collectors to pay a 25-50% for these over the more common 1851-O and 1852-O. Today, a solid-for-the-grade EF45 is an $8,000-10,000 coin with a comparative valuation which is around 50% greater than the 1851-O and the 1852-O.
An AU58 1850-O was very hard to locate in 2003 and was available maybe once or twice a year in the $22,000-25,000 range. Today, such a coin will cost at least $30,000-35,000 and generally the quality seems, at least to me, to be much lower end for the grade than for other issues from this mint.
1851-O: This has long been recognized as one of the two easy dates in the series to acquire. Back in 2003, it seemed like decent quality 1851-O double eagles were everywhere and they were cheap. Today, they seem harder to find, especially in higher grades. And they aren’t so cheap anymore.
If I recall correctly, a collector could buy a solid EF45 1851-O double eagle for $1,500-2,000 back in 2003. If he were patient, he would be rewarded with a sharply struck, reasonably mark-free example with good color and some remaining luster. Today, an EF45 which is likely to be less lustrous, less original and more “marky” will run in the $4,500-5,500 range.
Properly graded AU58 1851-O double eagles were never easy to find and in 2003 it might take a while for a collector to locate a satisfactory example. Such a coin would cost between $5,000 and 7,000 back then, depending on quality. Today, an AU58 will run in the $14,000-18,000 range.
1852-O: As mentioned above, the 1852-O is one of the two most available New Orleans double eagles. I have always found it easier to find than its counterpart but other dealers/collectors may have a different perspective.
In 2003, an EF45 1852-O double eagle was priced similarly to an 1851-O and a collector could expect to buy a nice one for $1,750-2,000. Today, an example in this grade will cost around $4,500-5,500.
Properly graded AU58 1852-O double eagles have always seemed to me to be a bit easier to find than the 1851-O. In 2003, a collector could buy one for $6,000-8,000 and I can remember handling some really pretty pieces with great color and comparatively choice surfaces. In 2013, such coins seem non-existent (or in MS60/61 holders). When available, a decent quality AU58 costs $15,000-19,000 and they are popular with non-specialists as type examples of this design/mint.
1853-O: The 1853-O was probably the least-understood Type One double eagle a decade ago. It was still lumped with the 1851-O and 1852-O as a common issue but specialists realized it was uncommon in EF45 and very rare in AU58. Today, it is more widely appreciated and prices reflect this.
You could buy a decent EF45 1853-O for around $2,000 in 2003. Today, a similarly graded coin will cost in the $6,000-8,000 range and it is far less available.
Surprisingly, AU58’s of this date have not shown as much price appreciation. A decade ago, I would have been happy to pay $12,500-15,000 for a nice, original example. Today, an AU58 would sell for $17,500-22,500.
1854-O: For as long as I can recall, people have regarded this date as a classic rarity. It wasn’t necessarily always priced as such and back in 2003 I think I could still write that this was a very undervalued date without grimacing. As collecting Type One double eagles as become more and more popular and big money has entered this niche, prices have risen accordingly. That said, I’m still not certain if this issue is “fully priced,” especially given its limited supply and how even a small uptick in demand could make this a million dollar coin in higher grades.
This date was never really available in EF45 as the few “real” 45’s which exist(ed) were always gradeflated into AU holders. If an EF45 were available back in 2003 it would have sold for $75,000-100,000+ and it probably would not have exactly “flown off the shelf” in my inventory. It is hard to estimate the value of an EF45 in today’s market but I have to think a decent looking example priced at $250,000-300,000 would sell with no trouble.
Instead of looking at the market for AU58’s, I’m going to focus on AU55 for this issue and the 1856-O due to their rarity. A decade ago, an AU55 1854-O double eagle was a $125,000-150,000 and I can remember buying a beautiful PCGS AU53 (which later upgraded) in the Bass III sale a few years before this for $103,500. Today, an average quality AU55 would sell for $450,000-475,000 and a PQ example with CAC approval might bring over $500,000.
1855-O: Back in 2003, I was still touting the 1855-O as an undervalued “sleeper” date but a funny thing happened around this time. Out of the blue, this date became very available and I can remember owning three examples (all nice AU50ish coins) at the same time. This has clearly changed in the ensuing years and now it is hard to find this date in any grade. Finding it with good eye appeal and a natural appearance? You can just about forget this happening although I did see a beautiful original AU55 in a complete set shown in the non-competitive exhibits at the New Orleans ANA convention a few weeks ago.
In 2003, an EF45 1855-O double eagle was around a $20,000 coin. Today, t is worth $30,000-35,000.
As this date is almost unavailable in AU58, let’s use the AU55 grade as our high end. In 2003, an AU55 would have been worth $25,000-30,000 and it might not have been an easy coin to sell. Today, I would value one in the $55,000-65,000 range.
1856-O: Along with the 1854-O, the 1856-O is recognized as the key issue in the New Orleans Liberty Head double eagle set and it is one of the truly rare 19th century gold issues. Its price has long been linked with the 1854-O and it is interesting to compare the two now and a decade ago.
As with the 1854-O, the 1856-O is an issue which is not often seen in EF45. If available in today’s market, a nice example would certainly bring $275,000 and possibly more. A decade ago, a similarly graded piece would have sold for $100,000 or so.
For most deep-pocketed collectors, an AU55 example of the 1856-O will be one of the highlights of their New Orleans double eagle set. If available, you are looking at $450,000-500,000 for the chance to own one. In 2003, this coin might have brought $100,000-125,000; I am basing this on the approximate value of a similarly graded 1854-O and the fact that the 1856-O has always seemed to have a value pegged at about 25% higher than its counterpart the 1854-O.
1857-O: Just as the 1854-O and the 1856-O have long been linked together, the 1857-O and the 1858-O double eagles have commonly been joined in terms of price and perceived rarity. Interestingly, the prices have flip-flopped on these as the 1857-O used to be a more expensive coin than the 1858-O but now the trend has gone towards the 1858-O.
In EF45, the 1857-O is now valued in the $7,000-9,000 range. A decade ago, it was possible to buy an EF45 for $4,000-5,000. I didn’t used to think this date was great value; now I do think it is fairly priced, especially when one considers it is less than double the price of an 1851-O or 1852-O in this grade.
In the last decade, the value of this date in AU58 has basically doubled. Today, an example costs $25,000-30,000. Ten years ago, the same coin was valued in the $12,500-15,000 range.
1858-O: A decade ago, I regarded the 1858-O as possibly the most undervalued double eagle from this mint. You could buy a nice example in EF45 for $3,000-4,000 and this seemed way to cheap for a coin which is noticeably scarcer than the common 1850-O through 1853-O issues. Today, an EF45 costs in the $10,000-12,000 range and I can no longer state this is an “undervalued” issue.
A decade ago, the 1858-O was somewhat less expensive than the 1857-O in AU58. A nice example in this grade was priced at $10,000-13,000. Today, an AU58 might cost $35,000-40,000. It is interesting to compare this with the 1857-O.
Clearly, from an investment standpoint, the 1857-O and 1858-O were excellent performers with the latter issue tripling in AU58.
1859-O: For most collectors, the 1854-O and 1856-O are priced out of their range, which makes the 1859-O (and the 1860-O) the most expensive New Orleans double eagles that they are likely to buy.
In studying auction records (and reviewing my own purchases) one thing becomes clear about the New Orleans double eagle series: this market seems to have literally caught fire in 2004-2005. Prices were very reasonable through the 1990’s and even up to the first few years of the 2000’s. The price jump even from the small window of 2002 to 2004 is interesting to note and the savvy collector/investor could have done amazingly well in the short term just by purchasing nice O mint double eagles in, say 2002 and “flopping” them in 2005.
In 2013, an EF45 1859-O is going to run the collector at least $27,500-32,500. A decade earlier, this date was still not completely recognized as the rarity it is today and it was possible to purchase an example for $7,500-12,500.
The price of this date in AU58 has increased considerably in the last decade. In 2003, an AU58 was valued at $30,000-40,000. Today, a coin will cost $70,000-90,000. Why, you ask, is there such a wide disparity in prices for this date in AU58? This has to do with quality. Some of the slabbed AU58 1859-O double eagles are atrocious; others are nice or at least solid for the grade. I believe that the premium for a very nice example versus a not-very-nice example is very significant for both this date and the 1860-O.
1860-O: The 1860-O has always been priced a bit higher than the 1859-O even though it is, in my opinion, a slightly more available coin.
As with the 1859-O, this is a date where good eye appeal is almost unknown and that’s why the price range(s) I provide are quite broad. I, for one, would pay a strong premium for an EF45 example which was choice and original versus an EF45 which was processed and unappealing.
The current value range for an EF45 is $30,000-35,000 and I could see a choice PCGS/CAC example bringing over this. In 2003, an EF45 was valued at $10,000-15,000.
An AU58 would be priced in 2013 at anywhere from $65,000 to $85,000 based on its appearance. In 2003, the range was more likely to be $20,000-30,000.
1861-O: As I began to write this article, my guess was that the 1861-O saw a greater jump in price, on a percentage basis, than any other Type One New Orleans double eagle in the last decade. To me, there were a few obvious reasons: it was hugely undervalued back in 2003, it is really the only Type One double eagle from this mint with multiple levels of demand and it has a Civil War-related issuance which has made it a “fashionable” coin in the last few years.
In 2003, the 1861-O was a $7,500 coin in EF45. You didn’t see a ton off them back then but they were available from time to time and not that easy to sell; even when I would tell collectors: “this coin is a tremendous value!” Today, this coin is worth $25,000-30,000 in EF45 and I could sell as many as I could get my hands on in this price range.
The real price increase for the 1861-O, though, is in higher grades. In 2013, a nice AU58 is valued in the $70,000-90,000. A decade ago, this was a $20,000-30,000 coin.
There are few areas in the 19th century United States gold coin market which have seen price increases and increased demand like the Type One double eagles from New Orleans. It seems unlikely that these coins can sustain the increase they have shown but, hey, I couldn’t have guessed in 2003 that we’d be seeing today’s prices in 2013.
This is an area which requires care and guidance for the new collector and if you have an interest in assembling a set of New Orleans double eagles, I would love to work with you. I can be reached via email at email@example.com.