A Secret Hoard of No Motto Liberty Head Eagles Revealed

With little fanfare, an important group of half eagles and eagles were sold at the recent Heritage Long Beach auction. I was intrigued by the source of this group of coins and since the Heritage catalog had nothing about their origin, I decided to do a little digging. What I found out is extremely interesting for any collector of No Motto Liberty Head gold. The coins that initially got me intrigued were a small group of eagles produced between 1844 and 1847. The two coins that I thought were especially interesting were an 1846 eagle graded MS62 by NGC (Lot 3852) and an 1846-O eagle graded MS62 by NGC (lot 3858). I am pretty aware of all the high grade examples of these two dates and the two coins in the Heritage sale were unknown to me.
1846 $10 N62
But what really got my interest were some of the secondary coins surrounding these two eagles. Lot 3851 in the Heritage sale was another 1846 eagle. This would also have graded MS62 except for the fact that it had hairlines from a cleaning and also a slight “environmental damage” sort of appearance which, in my opinion, looked liked the result of having been buried at one time. Another odd coin appeared as Lot 3857. This was an 1846-O eagle that had the sharpness and details of an MS62 but which had a dull and very grainy reverse with a very “ED” appearance.

My first reaction was that these coins might have been from shipwreck; specifically from the S.S. New York which contained some high quality gold from this era. But why, I asked myself, would coins from this wreck not be packaged in the special NGC holder that designated these coins as being from the shipwreck? After all, the recent Stack’s 7/08 sale of these coins had conclusively proven that the S.S. New York pedigree added considerable value.

The answer to the mystery was solved when I looked at Lot 3851 in the Heritage sale. This was an 1846 eagle with Uncirculated details but which had reverse rim damage at 2:00. When I saw this damage I thought “backhoe.” And when I thought “backhoe damage” I thought “Jackson, Tennessee hoard.”

Let me explain. Back around 1984-85, while a parking lot was being excavated in the little town of Jackson, Tennessee, a sizable hoard of gold coins was uncovered by workers. Upon the discovery of these coins there was a literal feeding frenzy and dozens of workers ran off with “loot” in their pockets. Because of this fact, there has never been a full inventory of what was in this hoard but as far as I know, there were Philadelphia, Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans coins ranging from around 1843 to as late as 1858.

I have personally owned dozens of coins from this hoard. And once you’ve seen a Jackson, Tennessee coin, it is fairly easy to identify. Most of the coins from this group show some signs of environmental damage; probably from iron oxides in the earth which have attacked the gold in the two centuries in which they were buried.

The quality of the coins in this group has also ranged from the spectacular (the two finest known Dahlonega gold dollars of any date) to the average (a group of 1853 Philadelphia quarter eagles in EF/AU grades that were attractive if not terribly impressive). The eagles (and half eagles) in the Heritage sale from the Jackson hoard seem to fall within the parameters of grade and appearance of coins from this group.

So what coins from Jackson were in the group? As far as I can tell, they included the following:

  • Lot 3649, 1844-O Half Eagle, NGC MS62. NGC #3165682-005
  • Lot 3651, 1845 Half Eagle, NGC MS62. NGC #3165682-007
  • Lot 3653, 1846 Half Eagle (Large Date variety), NGC MS62. NGC #3165682-009
  • Lot 3655, 1846 Half Eagle (Large Date variety), NGC MS63. NGC #3165682-010
  • Lot 3656, 1846 Half Eagle (Small Date variety), NGC AU58. NGC #3165682-008
  • Lot 3658, 1846-D/D Half Eagle, NGC MS62. NGC #3165682-011
  • Lot 3850, 1844-O Eagle, NGC MS60. NGC #3165682-012
  • Lot 3851, 1846 Eagle, NCS "Uncirculated details"
  • Lot 3852, 1846 Eagle, NGC MS62. NGC 3165683-002
  • Lot 3857, 1846/5-O (sic) Eagle, NCS "Uncirculated details"
  • Lot 3858, 1846-O Eagle, NGC MS62. NGC #3165683-005

This list is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, it is clear to note that the coins were submitted in consecutive order on at least two different invoices. And given the numbers of the invoices (the “316” series) I know that they were submitted by Heritage and not by the consignor(s).

Even more interesting is the fact that the next Heritage auction (October 2008 in Dallas) is going to have still more coins from this deal including another 1846 eagle in MS62 (NGC #3165683-001) and an 1846-O graded AU58 by NGC (#3165683-004). There are also high grade but damaged examples of the 1845-O eagle (with reverse rim damage) and the 1846-O eagle (reverse scratches).

It will be very interesting to monitor how many more of these half eagles and eagles appear at auction in the coming months. If I were a collector of Condition census quality No Motto gold, I would watch these offerings very carefully to make certain that the populations of many currently-rare issues such as the 1846 and 1846-O eagles do not take large upward jumps.