In many respects, I was one of the primary creators of the market for New Orleans gold. As recently as two or three years ago, I was one of the few dealers who maintained a good inventory of choice and rare gold from New Orleans and was certainly giving this market a bigger “push” than my compatriots. So how has the market fared for New Orleans gold in the last few years? Without a great deal of fanfare, I’d have to say that I did a very good job of helping to jumpstart this market. In some ways, it was maybe too good of a job. By this, I mean that I now have a lot of competition on the wholesale side of the market when interesting New Orleans gold becomes available at a show or at auction. The days that I could negotiate for these coins using the strategy that “no one else cares about this O Mint gold coin so you better sell it to me at my number” are long gone. If I pass on a neat coin, there are three or four other dealers in the wings waiting to swoop.
This is probably both good and bad for collectors as well. If you listened to my pleas to buy New Orleans gold a few years ago, you were probably able to purchase some coins at levels that could not be duplicated today. The bad news, though, is a sudden lack of availability.
If you look at what’s been available at major auctions this year in the area of important New Orleans gold, it’s been pretty slim pickings. There were some important half eagles and eagles in the January Stack’s sale and Heritage has sold its share of Condition Census pieces but impatient collectors have probably found 2007 to be a trying year.
I made a strong effort to purchase New Orleans gold at the recent 2007 ANA show in Milwaukee and came home with little to show for my efforts. What’s really frustrating is that I could have sold about ten times the number of New Orleans gold coins that I bought.
Unless I overlooked some hidden stashes of New Orleans gold, the only items that seemed to be available at the show were either common issues such as 1851-O eagles in grades up to and including AU55 or low-end Uncirculated examples of such uninspiring dates as 1893-O half eagles.
Another thing I noted is that price reporting for New Orleans gold is really out of whack right now. Neat coins tend to bring considerably more than CDN Bid or Trends. Examples? In the recent Heritage ANA sale, an 1882-O eagle in PCGS MS63 brought nearly $38,000. CDN Bid is $14,250. In Bowers and Merena’s pre-ANA sale, a PCGS AU55 1854-O double eagle realized nearly $500,000. Trends is $350,000 in this grade.
Prices are also too low for less spectacular New Orleans coins than these two. Examples? I would be very happy to buy multiples examples of eagles such as the 1849-O, 1852-O, 1855-O, 1856-O and 1857-O in EF40 and EF45 at levels near their current Trends valuations.
Would an increase in values bring some good New Orleans coins out of the woodwork? It might shake a few coins out but I’m guessing that the answer is a resounding “no.” I think the reason for this is that there really aren’t many old-time specialized collections of New Orleans gold that were being formed five, ten or twenty years ago. If someone was collecting branch mint gold in years past, the chances were pretty good that they were focused on Carson City, Charlotte or Dahlonega and they ignored New Orleans issues.
What do I see as future Trends for New Orleans gold coins? Let’s take a quick look at each denomination.
Gold Dollars are becoming more and more popular and the upcoming Dave Bowers book on this denomination is certain to create new collectors. Given the brevity of the New Orleans series, I think we’ll see more collectors putting together sets. I personally like the idea of buying Finest Known or Condition Census examples of any date as well as nice, solid examples of the key 1850-O and 1852-O.
The New Orleans quarter eagle series is seeing some increases in popularity. Collectors are probably misled by inflated populations of Uncirculated and About Uncirculated coins. This is a series that $2,000-4,000 per coin still goes a long way. At the ANA I sold a gorgeous 1852-O in NGC AU58 to a collector for $2,000. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find better value in this series than coins like this. I still like the value level of the key 1845-O in EF and AU grades and also like issues such as the 1847-O, 1850-O, 1851-O and 1852-O in accurately graded MS61 and MS62.
1854-O Three Dollar Gold Pieces seem to be all over the place and most of the coins I see are poorly struck and vastly overgraded. That said, I will still buy an AU50 and better piece I see that I truly like. At the Milwaukee ANA I passed on a really nice NGC MS62 at $52,500 that quickly sold to the next person who saw it (I made a mistake and should have bought it...) In Stack’s pre-ANA Milwaukee auction, an NGC MS63, which is the single highest graded 1854-O $3.00, brought a record $115,000.
It’s become very difficult to find interesting New Orleans half eagles. I handled just one really significant piece at the ANA (an 1842-O in NGC AU58 which I sold almost immediately to a collector) and can’t recall any exciting examples in any of the pre-ANA or ANA sales. My guess is that there are a number of collectors actively working on New Orleans half eagle sets and that the demand for interesting coins far exceeds the supply. I strongly suggest buying nice examples of any of the key issues (1842-O, 1847-O, 1855-O, 1856-O and 1857-O) and I like nearly any choice, original No Motto piece from this mint graded EF40 or better.
For the last few years, I was literally begging people to buy significant New Orleans eagles. It appears that at least a few people listened to me as there now appears to be a number of people building No Motto and With Motto date sets. I still strongly recommend just about any better date No Motto coin and just about any common date With Motto in MS63 and higher grades.
Last but not least: the double eagles from this mint. I’m pretty conflicted at this point in time about New Orleans Twenties. As someone who repeatedly touted what a great value these coins were as recently as a few years ago, I’m happy that I was able to help drive this market upwards. But I wonder how much further it can go. As I mentioned above, an 1854-O in PCGS AU55 just brought close to a half million bucks at auction. That’s a whole lot of money for a fairly esoteric coin. I guess what it boils down to is the number of collectors who are putting together sets of these coins. If there are many very wealthy collectors assembling sets of New Orleans double eagles than I guess I can see basal values for the 1854-O and the 1856-O staying at their currently sky-high levels. But if there aren’t more collectors waiting in the wings to fill these holes in their sets than I wonder what the levels will be like in a few years. One last caveat: if you are working on such a set you absolutely positively need to be working with a knowledgeable dealer. At these kinds of prices, you don’t want to be making many mistakes.