If I had to list my favorite United States gold coins, the 1845-O quarter eagle would be at the top of the list. This is an issue that I like for a variety of reasons. It’s rare, it’s enigmatic and it has an interesting numismatic background. After striking a comparatively large number of quarter eagles in 1843, the New Orleans mint did not produce any in 1844. None were actually struck in the calendar year of 1845 either; all 4,000 dated 1845-O quarter eagles are known to have been delivered on January 22, 1846. This meant that there was no official record of the 1845-O quarter eagle in the Mint Director’s Annual Report. As a result, this issue was all but unknown to numismatists until the beginning of the 20th century.
The first public record of the 1845-O was in the December 1894 issue of The Numismatist and in 1909, the famous uber-collector Virgil Brand purchased an 1845-O quarter from J.C. Mitchelson for the then-astounding price of $150 (this very coin is traceable today and it is the finest known; see the Condition Census listing below for more information).
Of the 4,000 struck, it is believed that just 65-75 are known. Most are very well worn and the typical 1845-O grades in the VF to EF range. Properly graded About Uncirculated pieces are very rare with fewer than a dozen known to me. I am aware of just three known in Uncirculated. These are as follows:
1. Private collection, ex: Doug Winter, Heritage 1999 ANA: 7836, Bowers and Merena 1987 ANA: 538, Bowers and Merena 10/83: 110, Virgil Brand collection, J.C. Mitchelson. Graded MS63 by PCGS and NGC. 2. Louisiana collection, ex: Doug Winter, Nevada collection, Bowers and Merena 11/90: 477, Paramount Auction ’87: 386, Bowers and Merena 6/86: 149. Graded MS61 by PCGS. 3. Kansas collection. Graded MS60 by NGC.
Most 1845-O quarter eagles show considerable wear and I know of a number that have rim damage or have been cleaned to the point that they would not grade at PCGS or NGC. This issue tends to come with a decent strike. The obverse is typically sharper than the reverse and even lower grade specimens have nicely defined radial lines at the centers of the stars. Nearly every example has a mint-made depression that runs from the area between the curls on the back of Liberty’s head towards the final star. It is the result of a foreign deposit adhering to the die when it was struck. This does not affect the grade of an 1845-O quarter eagle.
There are two other die characteristics seen on 1845-O quarter eagles that are of interest. A series of raised die scratches can be seen inside of the first star. There is also a diagonal bar on the face of Liberty; this can be seen only on higher grade examples. A few 1845-O’s also have a reverse depression from the O in OF down to the back of the eagle’s neck.
As one might expect, it is exceptionally hard to find an 1845-O that has original color and surfaces. The natural color is a deep coppery-orange hue and this can be very attractive. I know of an example in a North Carolina collection (ex: Eliasberg) that has superb original color and this is among the more pleasing examples that I have seen. The finest known is clearly the Brand coin. It is very choice for the grade and has claims to the MS64 level. It would set a record price if it became available in the near future.
This is an issue that has become very popular in recent years. I think it is exceedingly undervalued in VF and EF grades. The current Trends value for an EF45 is just $3,500 and in my opinion, an accurately graded EF45 example is worth more than this. Prices for nice AU coins have risen considerably in recent years but I still think a nice AU55 or AU58 is a good value at the new, higher levels. It is hard to ascribe a value to this date in Uncirculated given its extreme rarity and high level of demand.