What is the Rarest New Orleans Half Eagle?

What is the Rarest New Orleans Half Eagle?

A total of 17 half eagles were produced at the New Orleans mint between 1840 and 1909. Focusing on the No Motto Liberty Head issues (struck between 1840 and 1857) there are at least five issues which I would call “rare” (i.e., fewer than 100 examples known in all grades). These are the 1842-O, 1847-O, 1855-O, 1856-O, and 1857-O. Of these five, which is the rarest in terms of overall rarity and which is the rarest in high grades?

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What's the "Next Big Thing" in Rare Date Gold? Five Suggestions:

What's the "Next Big Thing" in Rare Date Gold? Five Suggestions:

In the last decade, we have seen a number of Next Big Things in the rare date gold market. We’ve seen New Orleans double eagles and Carson City double eagles. We’ve seen Civil War issues, and we’ve seen No Motto San Francisco eagles. In most cases, we’ve seen big demand spikes and subsequent price increases in these areas. What could be the Next Big Thing and why? Here are five suggestions with explanations.

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New Orleans Half Eagles: An Updated Look

It has been a number of years since I’ve written about New Orleans Liberty Head half eagles and given the popularity of this series, I thought it would be nice to finish out 2014 with a fairly in-depth look at these coins. We will not only discuss the coins themselves but will also look at the market for New Orleans half eagles, with some personal observations about the coins and the series as a whole and some interesting statistics.

Some quick background is in order. New Orleans began producing half eagles in 1840 and continued to produce them, with interruptions, through 1857. The No Motto type includes thirteen coins (two distinct varieties of 1843-O exist, see below). Production resumed in 1892 and for just three years, the With Motto type was struck.

For many years, the popularity and price of the New Orleans No Motto Liberty Head half eagles lagged behind the Charlotte and Dahlonega issues. This is no longer the case. New Orleans half eagles are clearly more popular than their Charlotte counterparts and while not as popular (yet) as Dahlonega half eagles, prices are not yet at a par.

New Orleans half eagles have become widely collected and for good reasons. The set can be completed even by a collector on a fairly limited budget and it doesn’t go on for decade after decade like the Philadelphia and San Francisco half eagles. There is no single White Whale issue to make collectors go crazy, and for most, a set of 14 No Motto New Orleans half eagles can be assembled for a reasonable sum in a three to five year period.

How is the market for these coins? For some of the more common issues like the 1844-O and 1854-O, prices have not risen all that much in the last five years. For the rarer issues, especially the key 1847-O, prices have shown rather healthy increases. Demand is clearly high for these coins and I base this on the short period of time which nice New Orleans half eagles stay available on my website when I have a few for sale. Given these facts, I would have to say that the future looks bright for choice, attractive No Motto Liberty Head half eagles from the New Orleans mint.

Let’s take a look at each individual issue.

1840-O $5.00 NGC MS61

1840-O: 

This is clearly a numismatically significant issue but it doesn’t have the Multiple Levels of Demand that its counterparts the 1838-C and 1838-D half eagles do. Part of this is due to the fact that the 1840-O doesn’t have a unique design like the two Classic Head issues I just referenced; nor does it have the mintmark prominently placed on the obverse.

The 1840-O is actually among the most common No Motto half eagles from this mint and it is very easy to find in VF, EF and even low AU grades. In the higher AU grades, the 1840-O is scarce and undervalued and it is rare in Uncirculated with fewer than a dozen known. The finest remains the NGC MS65 which sold for $41,250 back in October 1997 as part of the Pittman collection.

One thing I have noticed about this date in the last few years is just how hard it is to find a nice, original AU coin with pleasing color, choice surfaces, and a sharp strike. I’d estimate that over 90% of all slabbed AU 1840-O half eagles are either cleaned or dipped, or they have negative overall eye appeal. At current price levels (around $3,000 for an AU55 and a bit over $4,000 for an AU58), the 1840-O half eagle is dramatically undervalued.

The 1840-O Broad Mill or Large Diameter is a variety which should be better known and more avidly collected but it isn’t yet recognized by PCGS (NGC has recognized it for years but seems inconsistent in their designations). The 1840-O Broad Mill is very rare and very obvious to the naked eye. I sold the only known Uncirculated coin (an NGC MS61) to a New England collector around five years ago. I know of two or three AU58’s as well.

1842-O $5.00 NGC MS63 CAC

1842-O: 

The 1842-O remains the second rarest half eagle from this mint. There are an estimated 75-85 known with nearly all in the VF-EF range. A properly graded EF45 is about the nicest available quality for the date; AU’s are rare and many of the slabbed AU50 to AU53 coins have issues. There are exactly three known in Uncirculated, all of which are coins I have sold in the last decade.

The 1842-O is rarer than nearly any Charlotte or Dahlonega half eagle but it still doesn’t get the respect it deserves from collectors. Prices for Extremely Fine examples have stayed fairly flat over the last decade and this date seems undervalued by 25-50%, in my opinion.

It has been a number of years since a nice slabbed AU55 or AU58 was sold at auction and it would be interesting to see what a quality coin (especially if it were PCGS graded and CAC approved) would bring.

One closing thought about this date. Some 1842-O half eagles are rather weakly struck at the centers. Should this affect the value of an otherwise choice example? I don’t think strike is an important factor in determining value for a rare 19th century gold coin so I would resoundingly say “no!”

1843-O Small Letters $5.00 PCGS AU50 CAC

1843-O Small Letters: 

This was the first of the two varieties made in 1843 at the New Orleans mint and it shares the reverse of 1842-O.

This is clearly the scarcer of the two 1843-O half eagle varieties and it appears less frequently at auction than such more heralded dates as the 1845-O, 1846-O and 1851-O. Most 1843-O SL half eagles are seen in the EF40 to AU50 range and rarely with original color and choice surfaces. On late die state issues, the detail on the reverse lettering appears weak from die lapping.

The finest known remains the PCGS MS65 which I bought a few years ago in a Stack’s Bowers auction for $69,000. It is the single finest of a small group of four Uncirculated pieces which were found in the South and later sold at auction in 2000.

This is a considerably scarcer coin than the 1843-C or 1843-D half eagles yet it still sells for less. There are an estimated 125-150 known. This variety becomes scarce in the medium to higher AU grades and I believe that there are just five or six extent in Uncirculated.

1843-O Large Letters $5.00 NGC AU55

1843-O Large Letters: 

At one time, I felt that this variety was close to the Small Letters in terms of its overall rarity but it is at least twice as available. There are an estimated 250-350 known and the 1843-O Large Letters is fairly common in lower grades. It is scarce in About Uncirculated and very scarce at the upper end of this range with original surfaces and nice color. There are at least 10-12 known in Uncirculated, and this includes a few really nice examples in the MS63 to MS64 range. I handled one of the NGC MS64’s earlier this year and sold it privately but, as far as I know, none of the other high grade 1843-O Large Letters half eagles have traded in at least five years.

An interesting thing I’ve noticed about this variety in the last few years is how unappealing the typical piece is. A decade ago, it was not uncommon to find a really wholesome 1843-O Large Letters in, say, AU55, with natural color and decent surfaces. Today, this same coin now likely grades AU58 but it has been stripped-n-dipped and the marks which may have been hidden by the former natural color are now obvious on the bright, dipped surfaces.

I’ve mentioned for some of these other issues how undervalued they are in comparison to their Charlotte and Dahlonega counterparts. Let’s use the 1843-O Large Letters as an example. A decent quality EF45 is going to cost you $1,250-1,500. A similarly graded 1843-C or 1843-D half eagle will run $2,250-2,750, depending on the holder and whether its CAC’d or not. The 1843-O Large Letters is common by the standards of New Orleans No Motto half eagles but it is still a scarcer coin than the 1843-D and only a little more available than the 1843-C. At around half the price, it seems like wonderful value to me.

1844-O $5.00 NGC MS64 CAC

1844-O: 

The 1844-O is by far the most common No Motto half eagle from this mint and it is actually as available as some of the Philadelphia issues from this decade. I estimate that at least 750-1000+ are known and if one includes all of the no grades or lower quality pieces which exist, the number clearly exceeds 1,000 total. The 1844-O is easy to find in any circulated grades, although a really nice AU58 with natural color and choice surfaces is scarcer than generally realized. In Uncirculated there are at least two to three dozen known and possibly more. In MS62, this is a scarce coin and it is rare in properly graded MS63. I am aware of three to five that grade MS64 (and have handled all of them) and one Gem, a PCGS MS65 which is ex Bass.

The 1844-O is a perfect type coin for the new collector who would like to own an appealing No Motto half eagle from this mint. $1,500 to $1,750 will buy you a very choice PCGS AU55 while $2,500 to $3,000 will buy you a great looking AU58. Since this date can still found with natural color, sharp strikes and choice surfaces, I’d suggest that you be fussy when it comes to an 1844-O. Spend a little extra time and a little extra money and you will be rewarded with a special coin; hopefully one which will motivate you to form a more comprehensive collection of New Orleans half eagles.

1845-O $5.00 NGC MS61

1845-O: 

The 1845-O is probably the only No Motto New Orleans half eagle whose rarity in 2014 is, at least in my experience, a bit less than I believed five or ten years ago. Part of this is happenstance as there were clearly some decent quality 45-O half eagles which I didn’t see when I compiled my old(er) rarity levels. And part of this is new discoveries including a few nice Uncirculated examples from the S.S. New York  treasure. I regard the 1845-O as clearly less scarce than the 1846-O and comparable to the 1851-O but more available in higher grades.

My best current estimate for total surviving population for this date is around 125-150 coins and that might be a bit on the low side. The 1845-O is relatively available in VF and EF grades and it is just a bit scarce in the lower AU range. High-end AU’s, especially with natural color and surfaces, are much scarcer than their crazy high PCGS/NGC populations would suggest (30 AU58’s at NGC alone….yikes!). I believe that there are 10-12 known in Uncirculated including three in MS63.

Quality for the grade is finally being felt for this (and other) No Motto New Orleans half eagles. As an example, a nice CAC approved NGC AU58 1845-O sold for $6,463 as Heritage 12/13: 3845. The same date in the same grade but not CAC approved and appearing less choice sold for just $4,406 as Heritage 4/14: 6360.

1846-O $5.00 NGC MS63

1846-O: 

I have long lumped the 1846-O half eagle with the 1845-O and 1851-O but at this point in time, I believe that the 1846-O is the scarcest of the three. There are an estimated 100-125 known with most in the VF-EF range. Properly graded AU50 to AU55 examples are scarce and this date is rare in full AU58. I am aware of six or seven in Uncirculated including a solitary MS63 at NGC and three or four MS62’s.

This is another issue whose overall level of appearance seems to have really diminished in the last few years. A decade ago, it was possible to find O mint gold which had escaped the clutches of those individuals who’ve seemed to destroy much of the remaining Charlotte and Dahlonega coinage. Today, it’s not so easy and most 1846-O half eagles now have that bland, lifeless zombie appearance which many of their southern counterparts shuffle through their coin lives. Sad.

1847-O $5.00 NGC MS60

1847-O:  

The unquestioned King of the New Orleans half eagles, this issue has finally been recognized for its rarity and it appears to have demand outside of the community of specialists who collect these coins. A nice NGC AU53 sold for $14,100 as Heritage 1/14: 6658 and this may be an indication of higher prices to come in the future for this key issue.

But a case can be made that the 1847-O is still highly undervalued. As an example, the PCGS Price Guide suggests a value of $30,000 for an 1847-O half eagle graded MS61. What the Price Guide doesn’t state is that this date is currently unique in Uncirculated (at PCGS) and it is very rare even in grades as low as AU55 (just three in this grade at PCGS and none in AU58). I, for one, would be thrilled to purchase a PCGS graded MS61 1847-O half eagle for $30,000 and I think the true value is more like $50,000 to $60,000.

To offer a further comparison, let’s compare the 1847-O to the King of the Charlotte half eagles, the 1842-C Small Date. In terms of overall rarity, these two dates are fairly comparable while the 1842-C is clearly more available in AU55 and above (PCGS has graded only two in AU55 but they have graded no fewer than eight higher than this; compare this to the PCGS population figures for the 1847-O listed above). The 1842-C Small Date is currently worth around $30,000 in AU55 and an accurately graded PCGS MS61 is worth close to $100,000. Given the fact that the 1847-O is a rarer coin and it is priced at half of the less popular 1842-C Small Date, I know which issue I regard as the better value.

1851-O $5.00 PCGS MS62 CAC

1851-O: 

A few interesting new higher grade examples of this date have appeared on the market in the last few years. One of them caused me a case of coin angst the like of which I can still recall clearly even though it happened nearly four years ago.

Heritage 6/11: 5113, graded MS62 by PCGS, was a coin I clearly “needed” to buy for inventory. It was fresh, it was properly graded and it had a lovely appearance. Except for one big “but.” The coin had a major mint made lamination on the obverse from the rim at 7:30 through the neck down to the 85 in the date. This wasn’t a “slight” lamination; it was huge and in a noticeable place. It wasn’t so severe that I thought it might drop off the coin someday (don’t laugh; this has happened to me before) but it was detracting. I really wanted the coin but the lamination scared me off and I decided to pass. Did I do the right thing? I think so and I got a chance to buy an even nicer PCGS MS62 example of the same date in January 2013 which lacked the lamination.

1854-O $5.00 PCGS MS61

1854-O: 

Repeat after me: This is not the common date everyone thinks it is. This is not the common...

By the rigorous standards of the No Motto series, the 1854-O is more available than most of its New Orleans counterparts. In higher grades, this date is far scarcer than most people realize and I believe it is scarce and significantly undervalued even in AU55. The availability of this date in VF and EF grades seems to hurt its reputation in higher grades; a situation more often seen with Philadelphia No Motto half eagles than coins from New Orleans.

There are probably fewer than 10 true Uncirculated examples of this date and unlike sexier dates like the 1846-O and 1851-O, a nice higher grade 1854-O half eagle hasn’t appeared at auction for many years.

1855-O $5.00 NGC MS61, ex Pittman

1855-O: 

The final three No Motto New Orleans half eagles are typically lumped together but in my experience the 1855-O is the scarcest. I believe that there are around 80-90 known with most in the EF40 to AU50 range.

I’d like to claim that this date remains a “secret” known only to specialists but two things lead me to believe that it isn’t. The first is the fact that a decent but, in my opinion, not upgradable NGC AU58 example sold for $10,575 in Heritage’s March 2014. The second is that I recently listed a nice PCGS EF45 example on my website and received no less than five orders for it within three hours of listing it.

1856-O $5.00 PCGS AU58

1856-O: 

I regard this date to be almost exactly the same rarity as the 1857-O, but it is harder to find with original color and choice surfaces. In fact, I can’t recall the last time I’ve handled a totally original EF or AU example of the 1856-O half eagle.

There are around 100 known with most in the VF-EF range. This date tends to be the least well struck of the 1855-O to 1857-O triumvirate and of the five or six coins which have been graded Uncirculated by the two services, I think only one or two are truly, unquestionably “new.”

Quick thought: it is interesting to note that some of the New Orleans dates from the 1840’s (1843-O Small Letters and Large Letters, 1844-O, 1845-O) are represented by small numbers of obviously Uncirculated, fresh coins in the MS62 to MS64 range. The dates from 1854-O through 1857-O do not come as nice and it appears that while some very small hoards from the 1840’s exist, by the mid-1850’s, these New Orleans coins were not being saved.

1857-O $5.00 PCGS MS62 CAC

1857-O: 

As I just mentioned, the 1857-O is similar in rarity to the 1856-O. I have actually handled more 1857-O half eagles in relatively high grades. This date tends to come “nicer” than the 1855-O and 1856-O with better overall detail and a few more non-stripped coins known.

I’ve written about the finest known 1857-O half eagle before. Graded MS63 by PCGS, this coin is a Numismatic Orphan, having bounced from dealer to collector to dealer to auction for more than a decade. Ironically, its next attempted sale is this Friday.

1892-O $5.00 PCGS MS62

1892-O: 

For years, this was the ultimate sleeper amongst New Orleans half eagles; a date regarded as only slightly rare but which was, in reality, comparable to some of the higher priced No Motto issues. In the last few years, prices have risen for this date. I recently sold two nice PCGS AU58 examples with CAC approval for around $4,000 and as recently as five years ago, I would have had a hard time getting $3,000 for these. That said, I still think the 1892-O is excellent value.

1893-O $5.00 PCGS MS62

1893-O: 

An interesting situation—the result of gradeflation—has occurred with this date. A decade ago, population figures for the 1893-O in MS63 were very low. This was a hard coin to make and, if I recall, the population was around four or five in MS63 at PCGS with one finer. Today, PCGS alone has graded 13 in MS63 and prices have dropped in MS63 as a result. This is a phenomenon which occurs routinely with 20th century issues but rarely with New Orleans half eagles. It will be interesting to see how prices hold up as more are graded MS63.

1894-O $5.00 PCGS MS61 CAC

1894-O: 

One of the things that’s interesting to see about CAC populations is how few New Orleans half eagles, especially in comparatively higher grades, get the coveted sticker. I recently bought an 1894-O in PCGS MS62 with CAC approval and was pretty surprised to learn that only two MS62’s had CAC stickers. I was even more surprised to learn that the PCGS population for this date remains at a low six coins in MS62 and only two finer. I think that the 1894-O suffers from being compared with the 1893-O. The 1894-O is many times scarcer and it remains a truly hard coin to find in properly graded MS62 and higher.

 

So there you have it: my take on the New Orleans half eagle series. I find these coins to be endlessly fascinating and I hope some of my enthusiasm has rubbed off on you.

 

Do you buy rare gold coins?

Do you have coins to sell?

Would you like to have the world’s leading expert help you assemble a set of coins?

Contact me, Doug Winter, directly at (214) 675-9897 or by email at dwn@ont.com.

Collecting No Motto New Orleans Half Eagles

If you have a numismatic budget of $2,000-10,000 per coin and you want to explore a series that is reasonably short in duration but long on challenges, I'd strongly suggest No Motto half eagles from New Orleans. Let's take a brief look at this area of collecting and see if it is for you. The New Orleans mint opened in 1838 and began producing silver coins. The first gold issue from this facility was the 1839-O quarter eagle. The next year, coinage of half eagles would begin. Half eagles would be struck, intermittently, until 1857 with a total of twelve issues (thirteen if you count the two varieties of 1843-O). Production did resume in 1892 and three With Motto issues were produced but we are not going to discuss them at this time.

To my way of thinking, No Motto New Orleans half eagles are a great collector-based series for a variety of reasons. These include the following:

*The coins are scarce and undervalued but they are affordable. If you can budget around $5,000 per coin for most of the issues (and $7,500-10,000 for the two keys) you can assemble a really nice group of coins with most of the pieces in the AU grades.

*The coins are well made. Unlike the sometimes poorly produced half eagles from Charlotte and Dahlonega, the New Orleans issues tend to be very well made. If you are a collector who finds strike to be a critical issue, this is going to be an important factor for you.

*There are no unobtainable issues. In both the Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagle series you have at least one very expensive issue (the 1842-C Small Date and the 1861-D). In the New Orleans series, there is nothing that will bust the budget of an average collector.

*There is a great book available on these coins which just happens to have been written by yours truly.

As I mentioned above, there are a total of thirteen different No Motto half eagles from this mint. There are two issues which I would call very scarce to rare, two issues which I would call common to somewhat scarce and nine which are scarce-ish to scarce but which can prove to be challenging if the collector is picky to very picky.

1842-O $5.00 (graded NGC AU55)

The two really challenging No Motto half eagles from New Orleans are the 1842-O and the 1847-O.  The former has a mintage of 16,400 while the latter has a mintage of 12,000. Both have well under 100 known in all grades and both are usually seen in low grades. Despite the rarity of these two issues, they are still relatively affordable..

As an example, a presentable PCGS VF20 1842-O half eagle sold at auction for just $2,300 in Heritage's 8/11 auction. In 2010, two PCGS EF45 examples brought $3,881 and $3,738. While neither of these coins was what I'd call "PQ" for the grade, they represent amazingly good value at less than four thousand dollars for a date which has not been sold at auction in any AU grade since 2004.

1847-O $5.00 (graded NGC MS60)

The 1847-O is even rarer than the 1842-O and it is actually less available in higher grades than the far more pricey 1861-D half eagle.  A nice, wholesome NGC VF35 brought $4,025 in the Heritage 12/11 sale and two PCGS EF examples (one in 40 and the other in 45) sold for $7,475 and $8,052 in Heritage's January and August 2011 auctions. In my opinion, a pleasing original EF or AU example of this date at current levels is a terrific value.

The next category of dates--the ones I called "scarce-ish to scarce" include the 1843-O Small Letters and Large Letters, 1845-O, 1846-O, 1851-O, 1855-O, 1856-O and 1857-O. These can actually be sub-divided into the classes: the dates in the 1840's (scarce-ish) and the dates in the 1850's (scarce).

The 1840's dates are all very affordable in the EF grades. The collector is looking $2,000-3,000, on average for nice quality pieces. In AU grades, the collector is looking at $3,000-6,000 depending on quality.

Here are some very brief comments on each of these dates:

*1840-O:  This is the most common of the three first-year-of-issue half eagles from the southern branch mints. Varieties exist with a narrow mill (common) and a wide mill (rare).

*1843-O Small Letters:  The rarer of the two varieties struck this year. Often seen with weakness at the borders from die lapping. Very hard to locate with original surfaces and color.

*1843-O Large Letters:  The more common of the two. A reasonably available issue in EF; available in the lower AU grades but becomes rare in AU55. Generally well struck with good luster.

*1845-O:  Available in EF grades but harder to find than many more expensive C+D half eagles of this era. Generally well struck but often very abraded. Worth a good premium with natural color.

*1846-O:  Harder to find than the 1845-O but comparable in rarity below AU. For some reason, nice AU coins have become much more difficult to find than in the past. A really tough issue in crisp, wholesome AU55 and AU58.

*1851-O:  Similar in rarity to the 1845-O and 1846-O so included with the 1840's issues. Not quite as well struck as the last two but the luster tends to be good. Often seen dipped and worth a strong premium with natural color.

Given their lower mintage figures, one would expect the 1855-O, 1856-O and 1857-O to be scarcer than their counterparts from the 1840's. All three of these are hard to find and, in my opinion, very undervalued in relation to Charlotte and Dahlonega issues from this era.

These three issues are comparable in rarity but I would rank them in this order: 1855-O, 1857-O and 1856-O.

The 1855-O, 1856-O and 1857-O are hard to find in problem-free, original EF grades but, when available, they can still be had to under $3,000 a coin. As an example, look at the 1855-O. Since 2009, there have been four EF45's sold at auction. Prices for these have ranged from a low of $2,302 to a high of $2,700. In my opinion, that is very reasonable for a coin as rare as this.

The two common date No Motto half eagles from this mint are the 1844-O and the 1854-O. The 1844-O had a mintage over 364,600 and it is reasonably easy to locate in grades up to AU55. The 1854-O had a much lower mintage of 46,000. It is less rare than the 1851-O (which has a mintage of 41,000) and can be found in the EF40-AU50 range. In properly graded AU55 and AU58, it is scarce and undervalued.

My ideal set construction for this series would be as follows:

For the collector with a budget of $2,000-3,000 per coin, I would focus on obtaining EF40 to EF45 examples of the scarce dates and AU50 to AU55 examples of the more available ones. The 1842-O is going to require an outlay of at least $3,000-4,000 for a decent high end VF to EF coin. The 1847-O will be a bit more expensive but it is possible, with some patience and luck, to find one for around $5,000-6,000.

For the collector who has a budget of $5,000-10,000 per coin, I'd look at AU55 to AU58 examples of all the dates with the exception of the 1844-O (where I would stretch for an MS62 at $6,00-7,000) and the 1847-O (where I'd hope I can find a nice AU50 or AU53).

For the collector with a big budget of $10,000+ per coin, the focus would be on Uncirculated coins. The majority of the No Motto issues from New Orleans have fewer than a dozen known in Uncirculated. Two issues, the 1842-O and the 1847-O, are exceedingly rare and might not be available above AU55 to AU58 while the final three (1855-O, 1856-O and 1857-O) are not as impossible but are not exactly slouches.

As I mentioned above, this is a series that I think has a ton going for it. It doesn't have the level of popularity which enshrouds the double eagles but it is easier to collect than the No Motto eagles from this mint and far more interesting than the gold dollars or quarter eagles.

No one--and I mean no one!--has handled more interesting No Motto New Orleans half eagles than I have. If this is a series which you want to collect, you should contact me by email at dwn@ont.com and we can discuss it.

 

 

 

The Availability of Rare Coins

One thing that I’ve always found interesting about the coin market is the ebb and flow of coins that are (or aren’t) available. If you actively buy and sell coins for any period of time, you learn that certain “rare” issues or series always seem available. Other supposedly available coins can, with no good reason, go through fallow periods where they become very hard to find. I was having a conversation with a client yesterday and he raised a good point: in the last year or so, it seems that interesting New Orleans half eagles have not been offered for sale with much frequency. As we began discussing this statement, my mind raced back through the last year and I asked myself what were some of the interesting New Orleans half eagles that I have recently handled. The answer was pretty illuminating...

Over the years, I think I’ve owned more interesting New Orleans half eagles than just about anyone. I was one of the first dealers to recognize how rare these coins are and I’ve tried to make a market in high quality New Orleans half eagles for close to two decades.

As recently as a few years ago, I was handling ultra-cool New Orleans half eagles on a regular basis. Coins like the Pittman MS63 1840-O, two of the three known Uncirculated 1842-O, two extremely high grade 1843-O Small Letters, the MS63 Bass 1845-O, two nice Uncirculated 1851-O, the two finest known 1854-O, etc. Often, I had two or three Finest Known or Condition Census coins at one time.

But since last summer I’ve noted a major slow down in the New Orleans half eagles I’ve handled. I don’t think I’ve owned a single 1842-O or 1847-O this year and the only Uncirculated pieces of note that I’ve handled have been the more available dates like the 1840-O, 1844-O, 1845-O, 1846-O and 1854-O. So where are the coins?

My guess is that what we are seeing here a classic case of a Real Collector’s Market. Let me explain. My enthusiasm for New Orleans half eagles has probably rubbed-off on a few people and my guess is, at this point in time, there are at least six to ten serious collectors of New Orleans half eagles. Assuming this is the case, this has removed most of the nicer New Orleans half eagles from the market. Let’s quickly do the math.

Say we’re looking at a coin like the 1851-O half eagle in Uncirculated. My best estimate is that a half dozen or so are known in Uncirculated. With at least six to nine collectors out there for this series in high grades, that means that the demand clearly exceeds the supply. Given the fact that most of the serious collectors for this series seem to be in buy mode right now as opposed to sell mode, this means that the supply has dried-up for a coin like an Uncirculated 1851-O half eagle. A high grade example won’t come on the market unless a current owner is forced to sell, a new coin is discovered or prices rise to the point that current owners are motivated to sell.

But the ebb and flow of coin supply isn’t always so cut and dry. Look at something like Large Cents. Years went by with no major collections selling and now, within the last two years, you have the Husak, Naftzger and Holmes collections becoming available. I don’t think any serious Cent collectors expected so many great coins to come on the market in such a short time. It was, instead, a series of circumstances that occurred in an almost random fashion.

Back to New Orleans half eagles. When will the dearth of choice, interesting coins end? It’s hard to say. This article could spur a few coins coming onto the market (and if you are planning to sell any, please call me first!). Or, we could go another year or two before any interesting coins come on the market. It’s hard to say and I think this degree of uncertainty is one of the things that make a truly rare segment of the market like this much more interesting than Morgan Dollars or Buffalo Nickels.

The Market for New Orleans Gold

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.

State of the Market Report: New Orleans Gold

On Monday January 22nd, I posted the Pinnacle Collection of New Orleans gold coinage for sale. This superb collection contained seventy-one choice, high grade examples of New Orleans gold coinage. By Tuesday evening, nearly three-quarters of the coins were sold and as I write this, a mere four days after the initial posting of the collection, all but four coins have been sold. From the conversations I had with the over thirty collectors who bought (or attempted to buy) coins from this collection, I think I learned quite a bit about the State of the Market regarding New Orleans gold—and rare date gold coins in general.

My first observation is that the market is always hungry for attractive, fresh deals of coins. It didn’t take an expert to realize that these coins were exceptional for the grade and date. People liked the fact that they were all in PCGS holders and they really liked the fact that virtually every piece in the collection had dark, crusty surfaces; unlike the dipped-n-stripped material that is usually seen in auctions and other dealers’ inventories.

My second observation is that the publication of my book on New Orleans gold coinage a few months go has definitely spurred interest in these issues. One sophisticated collector who called me commented that New Orleans gold seemed really undervalued in relation to gold coins from other mints, especially given the very low population of high grade pieces from this mint. As a basis of comparison, he noted that $10,000 would go a long way towards buying a Condition Census piece in the New Orleans market while the same amount of money in the Carson City gold market would buy you a coin that was not close to Condition Census level. This is a good point.

Another observation is that people always want key date coins, no matter what series you are discussing. As an example, I had numerous people ask me about the 1841-O, 1859-O, 1879-O and 1883-O eagles and I probably could have sold multiple examples of these dates. The same holds true with the 1845-O quarter eagle and the 1842-O and 1847-O half eagles. My gut feeling is that if New Orleans gold continues to become more popular, these key issues are going to be the coins that show the greatest amount of price appreciation. The same holds true with the popular one-year type issues such as the 1855-O gold dollar, 1839-O quarter eagle and 1854-O three dollar, although these have already seen a good amount of price increase in the past three years.

A number of people complimented me on the presentation of the Pinnacle Collection and I believe that the in-depth descriptions, excellent images (and here I must give a shout out to my photographer Mary Winter who I think outdid herself with this project…) and an attractive overall “look” made shopping at the Pinnacle Collection Store a fun proposition.

I also think people liked being able to purchase fresh, interesting coins in a non-auction environment. A number of people told me that they are beginning to tire of the endless cycle of auctions and having to pick through hundreds and hundreds of lots of junk in order to find the occasional kernel.

So, what’s next for the New Orleans gold market? Clearly there are a number of avid collectors, both new and old, who are in this market. The interesting question is will there be enough coins to go around to satisfy them? Yes, I can sell five 1883-O eagles in the next month but am I going to be able to find even one of them? And what about prices—will Trends and Coin Dealer Newsletter show enough in the way of price increases to fuel a possible New Orleans gold fire?

The Pinnacle Collection of New Orleans Gold Coinage: An Overview

There haven’t been many truly great collections of New Orleans gold coins formed over the years. This is due to two reasons: a lack of popularity until recent times and the rarity of many of these issues in higher grades. One of the finest collections of New Orleans gold coinage of which I am aware is the Pinnacle Collection which is currently owned by a collector who lives on the West Coast. I have been the primary supplier of coins in this collection and, if you don’t mind a little plug for Douglas Winter Numismatics, I don’t think it would be possible to form a much nicer set than this. Nearly every coin is very high end for the grade and most were selected with the following criteria in mind: originality, excellent overall eye appeal and sharp strikes.

The owner of this collection began assembling it in 2002 and bought the majority of the coins in 2003 and 2004. I was lucky to have been able to purchase a superb collection of New Orleans gold coinage in 2003 of which many pieces went into the Pinnacle Collection. It was clearly a situation that this collector was in the right place at the right time.

The Pinnacle Collection is very nearly complete with the exception of the Liberty Head double eagles. The owner of this collection decided not to focus on this denomination due to the extremely high cost of choice pieces and because he felt that the smaller denomination coins represented better value for the money. His gold dollars, quarter eagles, three dollar gold pieces and half eagle sets are complete while the eagle set lacks just four coins (none of which are especially rare) to be complete.

NOTE: You can view this set on on-line on the PCGS website (www.pcgs.com). Simply go the Set Registry area, search for gold sets and then for New Orleans sets. The collection is listed as the “Crescent City” collection but it is better known to collectors as The Pinnacle Collection. In my new book “Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint, 1839-1906”, many of these coins are described and photographed as well.

I. GOLD DOLLARS

The six coins in this set have an average grade of 63.66 and are very evenly matched and original. They range in grade from MS62 (the 1855-0) to MS65 (the 1849-O).

One coin in this group that really stands out is the 1850-O. It is graded MS63 by PCGS and is one of just five recorded by PCGS in this grade with two better (both MS64). The 1850-O is the rarest gold dollar from this mint yet it remains an issue which is overlooked by many collectors. This is a coin that would be priced at $15,000-20,000+ if it had a C or a D mintmark but it is still valued at well under $10,000 in this grade.

I also really like the 1849-O gold dollar in this set. It has been graded MS65 by PCGS and is one of just four graded as such by PCGS with none finer. It is historically significant as a first-year-of-issue date and it is, obviously, very rare in Gem. The Pinnacle Collection example is unusually well struck and it exhibits lovely natural rose and orange-gold color.

II. QUARTER EAGLES

The quarter eagle set contains fourteen coins and every piece except one (the 1845-O) grades MS62 or better. The average grade of these coins is a healthy 61.9 and I would have to think it is one of the two or three best sets ever assembled.

My choice for the highlight of this set is probably not a coin that others might take note of: the 1856-O in MS62. Even though this issue is slightly available in lower grades, it is a major rarity in Uncirculated and the Pinnacle Collection’s example is the best piece ever graded by PCGS. It is really a stunning example for the date and grade with great luster, rich orange-gold color and outstanding surfaces. It traces its origin to the Bowers and Merena 6/01 sale where it brought $19,550 in a much slower market than today.

Two other coins in the quarter eagle set that I think are notable are the 1840-O and the 1842-O, both of which have been graded MS62 by PCGS. The former is pedigreed to the David Lawrence Richmond collection sale while the latter was obtained from my firm via private treaty in January, 2005. Both coins are notable for outstanding strikes and are very original with great green-gold color and thick, undisturbed luster.

The three highest graded quarter eagles in the collection are the 1839-O, 1846-O and 1857-O, all of which have been graded MS63 by PCGS. The 1839-O has a population of seven in this grade with five finer (all MS64), the 1846-O has a population of just one in this grade with one better (an MS64) and the 1857-O is one of four in this grade with a single example better (an MS64). Obviously, all New Orleans quarter eagles are rare in MS63 or higher grades and the fact that the Pinnacle Collection contains three different pieces is, in my opinion, quite impressive.

III. THREE DOLLAR GOLD

The Pinnacle Collection contains a PCGS AU55 example of this popular one-year type. It is notable for its excellent strike and originality and it is a much nicer coin than many I have seen graded AU58 by NGC.

IV. HALF EAGLES

Although the average grade per coin of the half eagles in the Pinnacle Collection is not as high as the quarter eagles, I would have to say this is my favorite set. There are a total of sixteen coins which range in grade from a low of AU55 (the 1843-O Small Letters and the rare 1847-O) to a high of MS63 (the 1840-O Narrow Mill, 1844-O, 1845-O, 1854-O the 1894-O). Of the 16 coins in the set, eleven are Uncirculated and the average grade per coin is 60.68.

It’s really hard for me to pick just one highlight of the half eagles, so I’ll focus on two coins. The first is the incredible PCGS MS63 1840-O Narrow Mill that is pedigreed to the famous Pittman collection. It is an amazing coin that I rank as the finest known for the date. Another highlight coin is the MS63 1845-O that is pedigreed to the Bass collection. It is one of just two known examples of this date in this grade (there are none finer) and it is the epitome of a choice, original coin with superb luster and dramatic rich green-gold coloration.

The PCGS MS61 1842-O half eagle in the Pinnacle Collection is one of just three known examples of this date in Uncirculated while the PCGS MS62 1846-O is regarded as the third finest known example of this date. An 1851-O in PCGS MS61 is another extremely rare coin in this grade with just four or five total pieces believed to exist in Uncirculated.

Two final coins are worthy of a quick mention. The 1854-O, graded MS63, is tied with another example as the finest known and it is pedigreed to the Bass collection. The 1894-O in PCGS MS63 is the sole example of this date graded this high by PCGS and it is likely the finest known.

To the best of my knowledge, the only sets of New Orleans half eagles ever assembled that were comparable to the Pinnacle Collection were Ed Milas’ (sold by Stack’s back in 1995) and Charley Tuppen’s (which, as far as I know, is still intact).

V. EAGLES, NO MOTTO

Of the various gold denominations produced at the New Orleans mint, the No Motto eagles, struck from 1841 through 1860, is certainly one of the most difficult to collect. Many of these dates are exceedingly rare in higher grades and a number are essentially unavailable in grades higher than AU55 to AU58. There are a total of 21 issues in this set. This includes two varieties of 1846-O (the Normal date and the so-called “Overdate”) and two 1854-O (the Small Date and the Large Date).

The Pinnacle Collection contains 17 of these 21 No Motto eagles. It is missing the 1842-O, 1844-O, 1847-O and 1855-O. Ironically, with the exception of the 1855-O, these dates are not especially scarce from the standpoint of overall rarity.

The No Motto eagles in this collection range in grade from a low of AU53 to a high of MS61. There are three coins in Uncirculated and the majority grade AU55 and AU58.

The two key issues in the No Motto eagle set are the 1841-O and the 1859-O. These are nicely represented by examples that grade AU55. The former has a PCGS population of just five with none better and the latter shows three in this grade and none higher.

There are number of coins in this set that might be readily overlooked by the non-specialist but which are quite scarce and have very low population figures. As an example, the 1849-O in PCGS AU58 has a population of three in this grade and just two better. The 1850-O in PCGS AU58 is even rarer in this grade with just three recorded in AU58 and a single coin graded higher.

The Pinnacle Collection contains 18 No Motto New Orleans eagles with an average grade of 57.05.

VI. EAGLES, WITH MOTTO

After the New Orleans mint was closed in 1861, it reopened in 1879. With Motto eagles were produced, with interruptions, at this mint until 1906. There are a total of 16 issues in this set. Unlike its No Motto counterpart, this set can be assembled in (mostly) higher grades.

The Pinnacle Collection contains fifteen of the sixteen issues. It is missing the 1880-O but it contains PCGS AU58 examples of the very rare 1879-O and 1883-O. Twelve of the sixteen coins in this set are Uncirculated and these range from a low of MS61 to a high of MS65.

From the standpoint of rarity, the unquestioned highlight of this set is the 1883-O of which just 800 pieces were produced. This collection has a lovely orange-gold AU58 which is one of just three graded by PCGS with none better.

The sleeper coin in this group is the 1881-O in MS61. This date has a PCGS population of just one in MS61 and none finer and it is a rare, underrated issue in Uncirculated.

The highest graded coin in this set (and in the entire Pinnacle Collection) is a 1904-O in PCGS MS65. As one might expect, Gem New Orleans eagles of any date are extremely scarce and this coin has a PCGS population of four in this grade and only one better.

The With Motto eagles in the Pinnacle Collection have an average grade of MS62. Many of the late date pieces (i.e. those struck in 1897 and later) are notable for their beautiful, original color and most are quite high end for the grade.

The Pinnacle Collection is truly one of the finest sets of New Orleans gold coins that has ever been assembled. It contains examples from other great collections such as Norweb, Bass, Pittman and Farouk. The collector who assembled this collection can certainly be proud of his accomplishment, especially given the fact that the bulk of the collection was assembled in just three years.