One of the most interesting and completable sets for the beginning branch mint gold collector is the short set of With Motto New Orleans eagles. This set features the New Orleans eagles produced from 1888 through 1906. In all, there eleven issues in this set. A set in the lower Uncirculated grades could be assembled for less than $10,000. Unlike the No Motto eagles produced at the New Orleans mint from 1841 through 1860, the With Motto issues tended not to readily circulate. This is especially true with the issues from 1888 onwards. Many dates are virtually unknown in grades below AU55 and significant numbers have been located in Europe where they were sent a century ago to pay down foreign trade debts. These “Euro” coins have a distinctive dirty-gold appearance (if they haven’t been dipped) and are typically in the MS60 to MS62 range as a result of rough handling and subsequent abrasions on the surfaces.
In the AU55 to MS60 range, many issues sell for just a very small premium over generic With Motto eagles from this era. This makes these dates very good value, in my opinion, as they are many, many times scarcer than generics and have the added advantage of coming from the highly collectible and historically significant New Orleans mint.
What appeals to many collectors is the fact that the Short Set With Motto New Orleans eagles are legitimately scarce but they are not “too rare” like their No Motto counterparts. The No Motto eagles from New Orleans include a number of rare and expensive issues and even the most common dates are quite rare (and highly priced) in any Uncirculated grade. Even the two hardest Short Set dates (the 1897-O and the 1899-O) can be found in the lowest Uncirculated grades for less than $1,000-1,500.
A few of the Short Set dates can be found in grades up to and including MS63 and these dates (namely the 1901-O, 1903-O and 1904-O) are reasonably affordable even in this comparatively high grade. All eagles from New Orleans become rare in MS64 and Gems (MS65 and above) are very rare. Some of the dates in this series are virtually unknown above MS63; see the date-by-date listings below for more information.
Let’s take a brief look at each of the eleven dates in the Short Set:
1888-O: Until a few decades ago the 1888-O was quite rare in Uncirculated but today it is easily located in grades up to and including MS62. Properly graded MS63’s are scarce and I am not aware of an example finer than this.
1892-O: This is one of the more available New Orleans eagles from the 1890’s. It is usually seen in AU55 to MS61 and it is somewhat scarce in MS62. Properly graded MS63 examples are extremely rare and I only know of one or two.
1893-O: A formerly scarce date that has become the most available New Orleans eagle from the 19th century due to overseas hoards. It is common in grades up to and including MS62 but properly graded MS63’s are quite scarce. I have never seen or heard of one above MS63.
1894-O: Despite a mintage that is greater than the previous three issues combined, the 1894-O is much scarcer. It is a reasonably scarce coin in properly graded MS62 and it is rare in MS63. There are a few very choice pieces known including at least one Gem (ex ANR 9/05: 1319 @ $21,850).
1895-O: The 1895-O is similar to the 1892-O in terms of rarity and availability. It is sometimes available in MS62 but it is very scarce in MS63. I only know of one with claims to a higher grade (ex Heritage 8/06: 2038 @ $18,400).
1897-O: This is the second scarcest date in the set although it is far more available in very high grades (MS64 and above) than the 1888-O, 1892-O, 1893-O and 1895-O. The “look” of the 1897-O tends to be different from the early dates as well and examples can be found without abundant marks. I know of at least three Gems including the Eliasberg coin which is graded MS67 by PCGS.
1899-O: The 1899-O has proven to be the scarcest date in the Short Set and after years of neglect, prices have risen accordingly. It is scarce in properly graded MS62, rare in MS63 and very rare above this. There is an amazing PCGS MS68 that is ex Eliasberg and it is the single finest New Orleans gold coin of any date or denomination.
1901-O: Beginning with this issue, the next few New Orleans eagles are comparatively common. The 1901-O can be found in grades up to and including MS63. It is very scarce in MS64 and extremely rare in Gem. In my experience, nice examples of the 1901-O are much harder to locate than the 1903-O and the 1904-O.
1903-O: This is the most common New Orleans and it has the highest mintage figure (112,771) of any With Motto eagle from this mint. It can be found in grades up to and including MS63 without much difficulty and MS64’s are sometimes available. In MS 65 and above it is very rare.
1904-O: The 1904-O is the second most available date in this set. Like the 1903-O, it is reasonably available in grades as high as MS63. In MS64 it is very scarce and Gems are very rare with around six to eight accounted for. This includes one graded MS68 by NGC (ex Eliasberg and later sold in Auction ’89 where it brought $104,500) and another graded MS67 by PCGS (last sold as Heritage 1/05: 30059 @ $63,250).
1906-O: This last year of issue has proven to be a real “sleeper” in the Short Set. It has often been lumped with the other 20th century issues but it is quite a bit scarcer, especially in MS63 and above. I know of six or seven Gems including at least two graded MS66 by PCGS.
As I mentioned above, I think this set is perfect for beginning collectors. It is challenging without being overwhelming and it allows collectors on a somewhat limited budget to buy relatively high grade, interesting large-sized U.S. gold coins at reasonable levels.