State of the Market Report: New Orleans Eagles

A few weeks ago I did a State of the Market Report on New Orleans gold. In that report, I barely touched on Eagles from this mint. Afterwards, I received a number of perturbed emails from readers who wanted to know my thoughts about New Orleans eagles. I hear you loud and clear Unhappy Nawlins Eagle Collectors and this blog’s for you. I’ve written a number of times that I regard New Orleans eagles as the “next best thing” for collectors who can’t afford high quality examples of New Orleans double eagles. But I think this is short-changing what is truly a collectible and very interesting series in its own right.

New Orleans eagles can be neatly divided into two distinct groups: the No Motto series (1841-1860) and the With Motto series (1879-1906). There are twenty–one issues in the former group, sixteen in the latter.

The No Motto series has become extremely popular in the last two years. Collectors have learned that even the common dates (such as the 1847-O and the 1851-O) are, in reality, very scarce to rare in the higher circulated grades and genuinely rare in Uncirculated. Something that I find remarkable is the lack of Uncirculated No Motto eagles that have been available in the last two years. The one exception to this was the coins from the S.S. Republic but the “cream” of this deal was quickly sold and virtually none of the important No Motto eagles from this source have ever re-appeared for sale.

There have been a few very important No Motto eagles sold in the last year or two. The finest known 1843-O, graded MS64 by NGC, brought nearly $60,000 when it was auctioned by Bowers & Merena in 2006 and Heritage sold what I feel may have been the finest known 1857-O (graded AU58 by PCGS but better than this in my opinion) in their October 2006 auction for a touch over $40,000. But for the most part, it has been remarkable how few important No Motto New Orleans eagles have been available since the release of my book on New Orleans gold in the fall of 2006.

My experience in buying No Motto New Orleans eagles at coin shows hasn’t been much different in the last year or two. I have been able to acquire a couple of very interesting coins but, overall, the pickings have been very slim. I see a few dates (1843-O, 1844-O, 1847-O and 1851-O) in AU55 to AU58 but these coins are usually scrubbed and very low end for the grade. The key dates have become exceedingly hard to locate. I’ve owned two 1841-O and two 1859-O eagles in the past year and I am certain I could have sold each of these coins to a long list of eager collectors.

The demand for the keys in the No Motto series is quite high but so is the demand for the second-tier issues such as the 1849-O, 1852-O, 1855-O, 1856-O and 1857-O. Around two months ago, I listed a nice PCGS AU53 example of the 1852-O on my website and within a day I had received seven orders for it. The same would probably be true if I were to list a coin such as a nice EF45 1849-O or an AU55 1856-O. These coins are really scarce and there is clearly a strong demand for them.

The With Motto New Orleans eagles have also increased dramatically in popularity in the last few years. Unlike their No Motto counterparts, there have actually been a number of significant pieces that have been available in the last year or two. In the Stack’s January 2007 auction, I purchased the finest known 1879-O (graded MS61 by NGC) for a client for $52,900 and a Condition Census 1880-O (graded MS61 by NGC) for $16,100. In the 2007 ANA auction, one of the two finest known examples of the 1882-O (graded MS63 by PCGS) sold for $37,375 and in the same auction, a PCGS MS63 1892-O brought $10,350 which is a record price for this issue.

One thing I’ve noticed about the With Motto New Orleans eagles is that higher grade examples of the common dates (1901-O, 1903-O and 1904-O) are not nearly as available as they once were. I used to buy nice PCGS MS63 and NGC MS63 1903-O eagles at nearly every major show I attended. Today, these are still available but not with any degree of regularity. Plus, the few I do see tend to be lower quality pieces that look as if they were recently upgraded from MS62 holders.

My favorite With Motto New Orleans eagle is still the 1883-O. After years and years of being neglected, people are finally recognizing the true rarity of this issue. For some reason, Trends is still far behind on this date and the few examples that I have purchased or know of trading between knowledgeable sources have brought far in excess of published price levels. I fully expect values to continue to rise for this date and would strongly suggest acquiring one posthaste if you are specializing in this series (if you can find one that is...)

My overall perspective on both No Motto and With Motto New Orleans eagles is that they have become very popular and that the demand for the rare dates and high grade examples of the more common issues has soared in the last few years. Collectors are quickly learning that a seemingly mundane coin like an 1845-O in AU55 is actually quite scarce if it is attractive and original. At the high end of the market, there is intense competition for finest known and Condition Census pieces. This is also the case with the key issues from this mint.