While typically lumped with the 1893-O, the 1894-O is far scarcer in all grades. It is seldom seen above AU58 to MS60 and most of the Uncirculated examples known are excessively baggy MS60 to MS61 coins. Properly graded MS62 pieces are very rare as evidenced by the fact that PCGS has graded but four in MS62 with a scant two finer. There have been just two auction records for PCGS MS62 examples in the last seven years: Stack's 3/10: 1585 which brought $4,313 and Heritage 1/04: 7069 that sold for $4,140. This is the first 1894-O half eagle that I've owned in "real" MS62 in close to five years. It is mostly prooflike with splashes of golden-orange color atop vibrant surfaces that are moderately abraded. None of these marks is deep or terribly detracting and most are seen in the left obverse field. This is a true condition rarity and it is a numismatically significant issue, as well, due to its status as the final With Motto half eagle made at the New Orleans mint.
Duke's Creek Collection pedigree. Only 1,460 1856-D gold dollars were struck and this is the third rarest date of this denomination from Dahlonega, trailing only the 1861-D and 1855-D. In high grades, it is the second rarest, trailing only the 1855-D. There are just four or five known in Uncirculated and the present example, pedigreed to the famous Duke's Creek collection, is the first to be available to collectors in close to four years. This very appealing example is well-known within the specialist community on account of its flashy deep orange-gold color which highlights the obverse and the reverse. The underlying surfaces are clean save for a pair of shallow blunt marks in the left field and the strike is better than average for the issue with a nearly full date (the 5 is slightly weak) and a bold mintmark. As on all known examples, the U in UNITED is barely visible. The current high grade population for the 1856-D gold dollar is two in MS62 with none better at PCGS and one in MS62 (this coin) with one better (an MS63) at NGC. There are two auction records for PCGS MS62's at over $40,000 (Green Pond: 1009 brought $47,150 in 2004 and ANR 9/03: 425 was bid to $41,400). With the market for high end Dahlonega rarities seemingly as strong as it has been for at least five years, this coin is fairly priced and it represents the chance for the serious gold dollar collector to acquire a famous example of a famous, legitimately rare date.
From the Duke's Creek collection (Heritage 4/06), Lot 1488, where it sold for $40,250
BD-7, R-4. Small 8 over Large 8 (also known as the Normal/Large 8 variety). From the standpoint of varieties, the 1804 half eagle contains some of the most visually impressive varieties in the entire early gold series. One of my favorites is the 1804 Small 8 over Large 8 which has among the most dramatic repunchings seen on any American coin ever produced. This variety is moderately scarce with an estimated 100-150 known, mostly in lower grades. This very lustrous example has attractive light yellowish-gold color with slightly deeper greenish hues at the obverse border. From the standpoint of wear (or lack of it) and "meat," this piece grades at least AU58 but it has been net graded down to an AU55 by PCGS due to a small scrape on the obverse from the cap up through the space between IB in LIBERTY. The reverse of this coin is especially choice and it grades at least MS61 on its own accord. Heritage 8/11: 7515, also graded AU55 by PCGS and approved by CAC, realized $12,650. This is one of six examples of this variety to have been approved by CAC in AU55 with nine better.
Capped Bust Left variety. BD-8, Rarity-2. In 1807, the old Capped Bust Right Heraldic Eagle reverse half eagle design was changed by John Reich. This makes 1807 an interesting transitional year for the half eagle denomination with two distinct design available to collectors. As a set, the 1807 transitional half eagles are highly completable in nearly any desired grade. The present 1807 Bust Left half eagle is as an original an early gold coin of any date or denomination that you are likely to find. It shows superb deep green-gold hues that are accentuated by splashes of coppery-gold in the open fields. There is just a tiny amount of friction seen on the high spots and the quality of the surfaces is outstanding with a virtual absence of marks. Below the toning there is a good amount of luster and if this coin were (gasp!) dipped, it would become apparent that it is a very lustrous coin. Even though this is a reasonably common issue, it has become extremely hard to find examples with this degree of eye appeal and originality. In fact, you could search for along time and not find a nicer AU 1807 half eagle than this!
Small Date variety. An attractive, evenly worn example with nearly enough to detail to grade EF40 but with a few old, well-hidden surface marks keeping this at the Choice VF level. On both sides, the color is a uniform deep green-gold. A scarce date in any grade and a very hard coin to locate with original color and surfaces. This is the only 1842-D Small Date half eagle in any grade below EF40 to have been approved by CAC.
As is the case with most of the New Orleans eagles produced between 1843 and 1848, the 1844-O is common enough in lower grades but it becomes scarce in properly graded AU55 to AU58 and it is very rare to extremely rare in full Mint State. This is clearly the case with the 1844-O. I am aware of seven or eight in Uncirculated (not including the unique Gem Proof example that sold a few years ago in excess of $1 million) and this includes three that have seawater surfaces as a result of having been uncovered in shipwrecks. The present example is the second best I have seen with original surfaces, trailing only the wonderful Byron Reed: 157 coin, graded MS62 by NGC, that brought $31,900 all the way back in 1996. This coin has wonderful soft, frosty luster with lovely natural light orange-gold color on both sides. A few very faint natural reddish spots can be seen; one above the 18 in the date and the other between the two 4's. The strike is sharp and the obverse is clean and choice with just a few minor marks; the reverse has a few more marks with most of these clustered in the field behind the head of the eagle. After years of neglect, high quality No Motto Liberty Head eagles have finally come into their own and are now appreciated for the rarities they are. That said, I think coins like this are still a great value and this lovely 1844-O is among the more exciting New Orleans eagles that I have offered for sale all year.
Ex Heritage 10/10: 4873, where it sold for $18,400.
The rarity of the 1862-1865 Philadelphia half eagles has been misunderstood for decades. Despite low mintages and no real reason why any should have survived, these coins have traditionally been overlooked in favor of less rare branch mint issues. But the word is finally out on the 1864 half eagle and I, for one, think this coin's sudden appreciation with collectors is long overdue. Only 4,170 business strikes were made and I doubt if more than 60-80 are known in all grades. This date becomes very rare in properly graded AU50 and above and the last PCGS 53 to sell at auction was in May 2000. A PCGS 55 just sold for $9,200 in the last Heritage auction (9/11, lot 4316). This lightly toned example has splashes of tangerine-gold color on the obverse and reverse and is nicely detailed. There are a few marks on the obverse including a series of three small abrasions ( a reeding mark?) from the chin and a light mark or two on the cheek. A nice example of this Civil War rarity.
BD-4, High Rarity-4. This variety is easily recognized by the reverse cuds at ES in STATES and O in OF. There have actually been a fairly decent number of 1798 half eagles on the market in the last few months and with the exception of a few, I have been largely unimpressed. Most had been dipped at one time and most were liberally abraded. I like this coin because it is very original and because it is clean. I think it compares favorably to other 1798 half eagles that I've seen in MS61 holders and it would not look out of place in such a slab. The color of this coin is exceptional with splendid rich orange-gold that deepens to red at the left obverse and throughout much of the reverse. There is a slight amount of friction on the high spots and a number of adjustment marks (mint-made, of course) on the reverse that form a criss-cross pattern within the shield and the inner parts of the wings. As is typical of this variety, the centers are not as sharp as the borders and I have seen similar adjustment marks on a number of 1798 BD-4 half eagles. The originality and eye appeal of this coin make it very special and this is a wonderful piece of 18th century American gold.
With a mintage of just 18,000, the 1855-O is a scarce date in all grades. It is tied with the 1856-O as the fifth rarest No Motto eagle from New Orleans and it is really hard to find in choice, original EF. This example was sold by me to a collector around a year ago and he traded it back to me to acquire a nice PCGS AU50 1855-O eagle. It has lovely medium green-gold color that is accentuated by splashes of reddish-gold at the obverse periphery. In addition to showing nice color, this piece has very clean surfaces with just a few inconsequential marks scattered about the fields. There is a small rectangular planchet flaw on the reverse below the beak that is mint-made. An affordable but truly scarce coin that is a great value for the eagle collector.