If you had asked me a decade ago which series of New Orleans gold coin had the most upside potential I would have replied, “quarter eagles.” This was a series which has everything going for it. It is short-lived (a total of 14 issues were struck from 1839 through 1857), affordable (at the present time, nearly every issue can be found in nice AU grades for less than $3,000), interesting from a historic and numismatic perspective, and much easier to complete than the half eagle, eagle, and double eagle series from this mint.
A decade ago, interest was soaring in the New Orleans quarter eagle series and prices appeared to be rising as well. But something went terribly wrong and this series, in many cases, is worth less than it was ten years ago; at the same time when many other New Orleans gold coins have shown excellent price appreciation. What killed the New Orleans quarter eagle market?
To answer this question, I am going to look at some theories of mine. I am also going to randomly choose four different issues in four different grades and compare prices from a decade ago to today.
1. Grading Standards Were Not Upheld by Both Services
A decade ago, standards for New Orleans quarter eagles were fairly tight. As an example, if you were offered an AU55 1852-O quarter eagle in 2003, the chances were good that this was a decent to choice coin with some luster present. Today, many of the 1851-O quarter eagles that I see in AU55 holders are, in my opinion, not much better than EF45 in terms of sharpness and overall quality. While this inflating of grades has occurred in many dated gold series, for some reason it has always seemed more obvious in the New Orleans quarter eagle series. Coupled with the fact that certain New Orleans quarter eagles have strike and manufacturing problems, this gradeflating has made the series fairly unappealing to new collectors and purists alike.
2. Populations Are Hugely Inflated
I don’t have immediate access to population figures from 2003, but it seems to me that both NGC and PCGS have hugely inflated numbers for coins like the 1851-O in AU55 that I mentioned above. A quick look at this month’s online figures show that PCGS has graded 20 in this grade while NGC has graded 102. I can live with the PCGS figure, although I think the actual number of accurately graded coins in this grade is fewer than ten. But the NGC figure of 102? Not only is this grossly inflated, it gives the impression that an AU55 1851-0 quarter eagle is a relatively common coin. Interestingly, CAC has only approved three AU55 examples of this date. One would think that a coin with an NGC/PCGS population of 122 coins would have more than three approved by CAC…unless not many of these “122” coins are CAC quality.
3. Small Coins Lose Popularity
Clearly, small coins like gold dollars and quarter eagles have lost some popularity in the last decade as collectors get older and little coins grow harder and harder to see. Just as New Orleans double eagles have taken on an unprecedented degree of popularity in the last decade, small coins like New Orleans quarter eagles (and gold dollars) have ebbed in demand. Not that this is not true across the board: popularity levels for Dahlonega small-sized coins are at an all-time high, and Charlotte gold is becoming more popular after years of neglect. But in the New Orleans arena, it is clear that the focus is on big coins and small coins, at least for now, are the losers.
4. Quarter Eagles Never Had a Promotion
You can make a strong case that the New Orleans double eagle market got jump-started by a promotion a decade+ ago and has since become a fully functioning, collector-based market. The New Orleans eagle market has been promoted to the extent of the double eagle market but it has found a solid collector base. The same can be said, although to a lesser extent, for the half eagles from this mint. This just hasn’t been the case for the quarter eagles. No one has gone out and bought 50 or 100 nice AU to Mint State quarter eagles, written a compelling script and sold them on TV (don’t snicker; it could and probably should be done…) This lack of promotion, combined with a general market malaise towards quarter eagles has made this the softest single series of gold coins from this mint (with the exception of two dates which we will discuss later in this article).
Now that I’ve dispensed with my theories, let’s take a look at some specific dates/grades in this series and see how they have performed in the last decade. Be aware that the sample size I am using is very small, but the prices are based on average quality coins trading at public auction; all are coins which I have viewed in person.
1840-O Quarter Eagle, AU55
The 1840-O has some degree of numismatic significance as it is the first Liberty Head issue from this mint. It is relatively scarce in AU55 and this is a popular grade as this date becomes very expensive in Uncirculated.
- NGC AU55: $2,070; Heritage 2/11: 4377
- PCGS AU55: $2,760; Heritage 1/10: 3818
- NGC AU55: $2,588; Heritage 3/04: 6093
- PCGS AU55: $2,875; Heritage 11/03: 7143
The price performance of this date in AU55 has been mediocre at best. An NGC coin is probably not an easy sale at just a touch over $2,000, and part of this has to do with the current population of 20 in this grade with a whopping 41 finer. A PCGS coin at $2,500 would probably be an easier coin to sell as the population in this grade is just eight (with 18 finer). It is interesting to note that CAC has approved just one in AU55, and my guess is that a choice, original piece with a CAC sticker might be worth as much as $2,750-3,000, regardless of whether it was graded by NGC or PCGS.
1843-O Small Date Quarter Eagle, MS62
The 1843-O Small Date is the most common New Orleans quarter eagle, and the second most available in Uncirculated. In MS62, it is fairly scarce and I have always felt it was undervalued. What makes this coin interesting, to me at least, is that it is the only affordable O mint quarter eagle from the 1840’s in MS62, and I’ve always felt that this should expand its desirability beyond specialists.
- NGC MS62: $2,585; Heritage 4/13: 5494
- PCGS MS62: $2,291 and $2,585; Heritage 6/13: 2585, and Heritage 10/12: 5546
- NGC MS62: $2,185; Heritage 1/03: 4667
- PCGS MS62: $2,530; Heritage 1/03: 8447
These auction prices are a bit misleading as they don’t show that for a few years between 2006 and 2009, a nice MS62 example of this variety was worth in the $3,000-3,250 range. Prices have stayed flat over the past decade and I don’t attribute this to gradeflation as the PCGS population has stayed at a reasonably low 14 coins in MS62, while NGC has graded 26. I’ve owned most of the PCGS MS62’s and the quality is usually pretty presentable; certainly nice enough to be appealing to a non-specialist who wants a cool, higher quality branch mint quarter eagle from the 1840’s for not a lot of money. I’m kind of at a loss as to why this isn’t a $3,500-4,000+ coin.
1852-O Quarter Eagle, EF45
To avoid being pegged as an elitist, I thought it would be interesting to take a quick look at prices for an inexpensive yet reasonably interesting coin like an 1852-O quarter eagle in EF45. This is one of the more common quarter eagles from this mint in a lower than normal grade, but at less than $1,000 it provides a good amount of bang for the buck.
- NGC EF45: $446; Heritage 3/12: 8726
- PCGS EF45: $403; Goldberg 2/12: 1202
- NGC EF45: $604; Heritage 7/04: 8026
- PCGS EF45: $633; Heritage 11/03: 7196
I’m not totally surprised by this price drop over the last decade. Even though gold has increased from a range of $363-409 in 2003-2004 to four times this amount today, many gold coins like an EF45 1852-O quarter eagle have performed poorly. It all boils down to supply and demand, and there are a lot more 1852-O quarter eagles in EF45 than there are collectors who wants one; even at the bargain price of $425.
1857-O Quarter Eagle, MS62
As our final example, let’s look at a coin that I think perfectly defines the term “condition rarity.” The 1857-O is the final year of issue for New Orleans quarter eagles. A total of 34,000 were struck and survivors are pretty common in circulated grades. But in Uncirculated, the 1857-O is very scarce with just two dozen or so known; mostly in the MS60 to MS61 range. I believe that there are around six to eight properly graded MS62 to MS63 coins accounted for; PCGS has graded 14(!) in MS62 with four finer while NGC has graded seven in MS62 with nine (!) finer. CAC has approved four coins in MS62, suggesting that the typical quality of at least some of these higher grade 1857-O quarter eagles is above-average.
- NGC MS62: $6,038; Heritage 10/11: 4702
- NGC MS62: $8,338; Heritage 2004 ANA: 7152
The population of this date in MS62 was much lower than its current 21 coins, which makes the 1857-O appear to be a somewhat available date in this grade. I would strongly disagree with this statement, however, as in my experience a properly graded MS62 1857-O quarter eagle is very rare and collectors are being misled by the combined NGC/PCGS figures.
I’ve stated throughout this article that the New Orleans quarter eagle market is “dead.” This isn’t wholly true as there are two issues, the 1839-O and the 1845-O, which have increased in popularity and, I would presume, price. Why is this?
The 1839-O is a first-year-of-issue and a one year type so it has multiple levels of demand. This is clearly why other Classic Head coins like the 1838-C half eagle and the 1838-D half eagle have soared in value in recent years.
The 1845-O is a key issue with a low mintage figure of 4,000. It used to be very undervalued but it has become popular in recent years and it now has demand outside of the specialist community; primarily among collectors who like coins that are “cool.”
Let’s quickly look at price levels on these dates for now and around seven-eight years ago.
1839-O Quarter Eagle, AU55
- NGC AU55: $5,581; Heritage 4/13: 5480
- PCGS AU55: $5,581; Heritage 9/12: 4775
- NGC AU55: $2,530; Heritage 5/05: 8427
- PCGS AU55: $4,370; Heritage 91/05: 8767
I think the price increase for this date in AU55 is actually even more dramatic as a CAC/PCGS AU55 would actually sell for $6,500-7,000 today, and a coin of this quality would have only been worth around $3,000-3,500 in 2004-2005. And the increases in price for this date are even more dramatic in AU58 and the lower Uncirculated grades.
1845-O Quarter Eagle, AU50
- NGC AU50: $6,325; Heritage 4/11: 6317
- NGC AU50: $4,025; Heritage 7/03: 10126
Again, this is a coin whose limited auction records for AU50 examples in the time period which we are exploring is misleading. The 1845-O has shown good price appreciation in grades from VF to AU58 and I believe it will continue to do so as a result of its multiple levels of demand.
And what’s the fate for the typical run-of-the-mill New Orleans quarter eagle? It’s probably not a rosy future. I don’t see collectors caring much about coins like 1851-O quarter eagles in AU55, or 1854-O quarter eagles in AU58. Unless there is a sudden influx of collectors wanting to do complete sets, the price appreciation for this series is likely to be limited to those coins with multiple levels of demand, Finest Known, or high Condition Census examples of not-so-interesting dates or specific individual coins with great eye appeal.
If you’d like to learn more about New Orleans quarter eagles or rare gold coins in general, please contact me at email@example.com.
There are dozens of United States gold coins that are accorded a high degree of value for various reasons: first-year-of-issue, low mintage figures, beautiful design, strong collector appeal, etc. These are not always the "rarest" coins in a series and when the value-conscious collector looks at the numbers they don't always make sense. But coins like the ones listed below are great additions to any collection. Let's look at a list of 20 gold coins from the 19th century priced below $10,000 that would be welcome in any collection. 1. 1849-D Gold Dollar: The first gold dollar from this mint and an affordable, well-made issue. An easy coin to obtain in the $2,500-5,000 range.
2. 1855-O Gold Dollar: The only Type Two gold dollar from New Orleans and the final issue of this denomination from this mint. $3,000-5,000 will buy you a nice piece.
3. 1875 Gold Dollar: Just 400 business strikes were made, yet this issue is affordable.
4. 1838-C Quarter Eagle: The first quarter eagle from Charlotte and a popular two year type. Becoming harder to locate for less than $7,500 but be patient and you'll find one.
5. 1839-D Quarter Eagle: The mate to the 1838-C and an issue that is both first-year-of-type and a one -year emission. Another coin that is becoming hard to find at under $10,000 but not impossible.
6. 1845-O Quarter Eagle: Only 4,000 were struck and this is by far the scarcest quarter eagle from this mint. Still available for less than $10,000 but getting more expensive every year.
7. 1875 Quarter Eagle: If you own the dollar, why not the quarter eagle? Another super-low mintage issue; just 400 struck. Decent pieces can be had for $7,500-10,000.
8. 1854-O Three Dollars: A first-year issue and a one-year type in one affordable package. $5,000-7,500 will buy you a very pleasing example.
9. 1881 Three Dollars: Just 500 business strikes were made and this is a scarce coin in all grades. This date always sells quickly for me. $7,500 will buy you a nice one.
10. 1813 Half Eagle: One of the more common coins on this list but its the most affordable example of the legendary Fat Head type. Nice pieces can still be hard for less than $10,000.
11. 1838-C/1838-D Half Eagles: Both are first year issues and one-year types. Both are very popular and becoming increasingly hard to find at under $10,000. These have great appeal beyond branch mint specialists.
12. 1839-C/1839-D Half Eagles: Two more one-year types. Neither are really rare (except in high grades) but they are well-made, oh-so-popular and can still be purchased in the $5,000-10,000 range. A four coin set that had the 1838-C, 1838-D, 1839-C and 1839-D half eagles would be a great addition to a collection.
13. 1861-C Half Eagle: Final year of issue, possible Civil War issuance and cheap...what's not to love about the 1861-C half eagle? I just sold a nice EF40 for a shade over $5,000 and received multiple orders for it on my site.
14. 1870-CC Half Eagle: You can't buy a really nice example of this date for less than $10,000 anymore but if you stretch a bit you'll own a true piece of history. By a large margin, this is the most affordable first-year CC gold coin.
15. 1838 Eagle: This is another formerly affordable coin whose levels have shot up in the last five years. It's scarce in all grades (only 7,200 were made) and it is the first Liberty Head eagle.
16. 1854-S Eagle: The first San Francisco eagle and a true Gold Rush artifact. Very affordable with very nice pieces still available for around $5,000.
17. 1857-S SSCA Double Eagle: I thought twice about adding this to the list but how can you not love a coin with this much history and cosmetic appeal? MS63's at $9,000 or so seem like fair value right now.
18. 1874-CC Eagle: To me, the thought of owning a Carson City eagle from the early 1870's is pretty exciting and the 1874-CC is the most common. Nice coins can be had for $6,000-8,000.
19. 1861 Double Eagle: An affordable Civil War double eagle that is well made and available. A great starter coin for the collector and always an easy coin to sell. You can buy nice examples for $3,000-5,000 and up.
20. Carson City Double Eagle: I didn't mention a specific date as I am viewing this as a type purchase. What could be more popular than a big, pretty coin like this? You can still purchase an excellent example for $4,000-7,000.
So what coins did I leave off the list that you have in your collection and which do you agree with? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know!
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.
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.
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.
If I had an unlimited budget and access to every surviving New Orleans gold coin, could I choose just ten that would be the core coins in my collection? I think this would be possible but it certainly wouldn’t be an easy choice. In fact, just to cover my bases, I’m not only going to list my Top Ten but have a second group of ten runners-up that I reserve the right to slide into the Top Ten at any point. Hey—it’s my article and I can make the rules. 1. The Brand 1845-O Quarter Eagle
The 1845-O quarter eagle is the rarest New Orleans issue of this denomination. Only 4,000 pieces were produced and most entered circulation and acquired a significant amount of wear. In Uncirculated, there are just three pieces known of which the finest is the Virgil Brand coin.
This coin is credited as being the discovery example of the date. This may or may not be true (the source of the information is B. Max Mehl who sometimes was prone to self-serving exaggeration…) but it is known that Brand purchased this coin in 1909 from J.C. Mitchelson for the then-princely sum of $150. This coin remained off the market and forgotten until 1983 when it appeared as Lot 110 in Bowers and Merena’s Brand collection sale. It brought just $8,800 and was offered a few years later in the 1987 ANA sale where this time it sold for a still-reasonable $14,300. The coin was later owned by specialist Ron Brown who considered it to be the single most important piece in his collection.
In the 1999 sale of his collection, this coin did not meet its reserve and went unsold. After the auction ended, I sold it to a collector and it has remained off the market since then.
This coin is currently graded MS63 by PCGS and also appears in the NGC census as an MS63 and in the PCGS Population Report as an MS62. It is clearly the finest known example of the rarest New Orleans quarter eagle and it is certainly one of the more important quarter eagles of any date that I have handled in my career.
2. The Pittman 1846-O Quarter Eagle
There were a lot of great coins in the Pittman collection but one of my absolute favorites was the 1846-O quarter eagle. At the time, I was representing Ron Brown, who was a leading specialist in the area of New Orleans gold. I remember excitedly calling him after I had viewed this coin and telling him that it was the single most perfect New Orleans quarter eagle that I had ever seen and that it might bring as much as $50,000. Ron immediately told me that my estimate was way too low and that he’d be willing to pay $100,000. I remember arguing back and forth about the price with me thinking he was crazy and Ron thinking I was too conservative.
When the lot came up for sale I figured that I’d buy this coin at a number close to mine and I’d “show Ron” just how smart I was. The next few minutes were a blur, but the coin quickly broke the $100,000 mark and wound-up selling for $132,000 to a well-known specialist. This, of course, proved just how smart I was…
Today, the Pittman 1846-O quarter eagle is in an NGC MS66 holder and it resides in the Stellar collection. This coin remains the single finest known New Orleans quarter eagle known of any date and it is one of the two or three finest gold coins from this mint that I have ever had the pleasure of viewing in person.
3. The Bass 1854-O Three Dollar Gold Piece
As part of the core holdings of the Bass Collection, a magnificent set of Three Dollar gold pieces is on display at the ANA Museum in Colorado Springs. When most people look at this set, they immediately search for the unique 1870-S which is, of course, the highlight. But there are a number of other amazing coins included, one of which is a choice Uncirculated 1854-O Three Dollar gold piece which is without a doubt the best I have seen.
I have never had the chance to examine this coin in my hands, just through museum glass. My best guess is that it grades at least MS63 and could possibly be a point or two finer. It is clearly the finest known example of this popular one-year type and it would sell for an incredible sum if it ever became available.
4. The Eliasberg 1842-O Half Eagle
The 1842-O half eagle is not a date that is very well known outside of the community of New Orleans gold coin collectors. It is quite rare in all grades and it becomes extremely rare in any level approaching Uncirculated. By far the finest known is an NGC MS63 example that is in the collection of a specialist. It is a lovely coin and it has a pedigree to match it. It was first seen in the Earle Sale and was purchased by John Clapp Sr. It then went through his son to Louis Eliasberg and it was sold as Lot 424 in the 1982 auction of this collection where it brought just $3,850. It was later owned by dealer Ed Milas and it was last sold in the Stack’s May 1995 auction of his collection of No Motto half eagles where it brought $31,900.
There are a total of three Uncirculated 1842-O half eagles and I have had the pleasure of selling two. A PCGS MS61 is located in the Pinnacle Collection and this coin was formerly owned by Harry Bass and the final piece was recently sold by me to a New England collector. It was graded MS60 by NGC.
Admittedly, this coin probably is a lot less glamorous then many other of the pieces included in this group. But it is a coin that I have always admired for its rarity and I hope to have the chance to handle it again someday.
5. The Milas 1847-O Half Eagle
The 1847-O half eagle, like the 1842-O, is a date that, unless you are familiar with this series, you probably do not realize is rare. It is, in fact, the single rarest New Orleans half eagle and it is among the rarest gold coins ever produced at this facility. In grades above EF45 it is an almost-impossible issue to locate. The Milas coin is unique in Uncirculated (although another has been graded MS61 by NGC) and it has exceptional eye appeal, surfaces and luster for the issue.
I first saw this coin in the May 1992 Mid-American sale where it was part of the Heck Dodson collection. I badly wanted to buy it but was outbid by dealer Ed Milas who paid a then-strong $22,000. It showed up three years later at the Stack’s sale that featured his collection where it sold very cheaply (not to me, unfortunately) for $20,900. It was purchased by a collector and has been off the market since then.
This coin was last graded AU58 by NGC but by today’s standards I would have to guess it would be at least an MS61 if not even better. Whatever the exact grade, it is far and away the finest known example of the rarest half eagle from this mint and it is a coin I hold in the highest regard.
6. The Parmelee Proof 1844-O Eagle
In 1844, a presentation set including a half eagle and eagle was produced at the New Orleans mint. It is not exactly known why these coins were struck but they were made using a spectacular brilliant proof finish. These coins were known to be together in the Parmelee and Woodin collections but sometime in the 20th century they parted company. The half eagle is now in a little-known private collection and was plated on the cover of my first New Orleans gold book. The eagle was rediscovered a few years ago and was recently sold by a dealer in the New Orleans area to a Florida collector for a figure reportedly in excess of $1 million.
This coin is graded PR66 CAM by NGC. It is a coin that really has to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. It is superb with remarkable overall eye appeal and the quality of manufacture that most people (myself included) would not associate with the New Orleans mint in the early years of its operations.
It is hard to understate the significance of this piece. It is the earliest known branch mint proof gold coin and the only verifiable proof issue from this mint. Its recent sale represents the highest price ever paid for a New Orleans coin of any date or denomination.
7. The James Stack 1848-O Eagle
The firm of Stack’s sold the gold coin collection formed by James Stack (no relation) in a series of sales in the mid-1990’s. These sales are not generally held with the same regard as the Norweb, Starr or Eliasberg auctions but they are of the same high caliber with magnificent runs of high quality, original early and Liberty head gold. One of the most memorable coins in the October 1994 auction was an 1848-O eagle that was one of the most perfect No Motto eagles of any date that I have ever seen.
The 1848-O eagle is a very rare coin in Uncirculated and most of the pieces that are known are in the MS60 to MS61 range. The Stack coin was nearly perfect with magnificent orange-gold color, thick, frosty luster and essentially perfect surfaces. All No Motto eagles are extremely rare in Gem Uncirculated but this 1848-O is one of probably no more than two or three New Orleans pieces that grade MS65 or better by today’s standards.
This coin sold for $154,000 in the James Stack auction and was off the market for nearly a decade until it was reoffered in the 2003 ANA sale. It was purchased by an investor and has appeared for sale in some odd places including on Ebay in 2005.
8. The Akers Auction ‘88 1904-O Eagle
Back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, it was not uncommon for amazing previously unheard-of coins to appear for sale at the ANA summer convention. In 1979, one of the most remarkable New Orleans gold coins of all time was uncovered and sold to dealer Marty Haber: a virtually perfect 1904-O eagle that was possibly struck for presentation purposes.
This coin was subsequently sold as Lot 847 in David Akers session of Auction ’88 where it realized $82,500 and a year later as Lot 1422 in his session of Auction ’89 where it brought $104,500. This remains a record price for any With Motto eagle from the New Orleans mint.
Accompanying this coin is an enigmatic piece of documentation that states it is the first gold coin struck at New Orleans in 1904. What makes this documentation especially intriguing is that it mention a 1904-O half eagle as well—an issue that does not exist (!). This coin is currently untraced and it has been graded MS68 by NGC and MS67 by PCGS.
9. The Specimen 1856-O Double Eagle
Another truly remarkable New Orleans gold coin that was uncovered in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s was a Choice Uncirculated 1856-O double eagle. This date is one of the two towering rarities in the New Orleans gold double eagle series along with the 1854-O. Until this coin was discovered, there were none known in Uncirculated and, to this day, this coin remains unique in Mint State.
This coin first traded privately in excess of a quarter of a million dollars in 1979/80 and came back on the market in January 2002 when it brought $310,500 in a Heritage sale. I purchased it for a client who held it a bit over two years and then sold it in the Heritage June 2004 sale where it realized $542,800. There’s a funny story that goes with this last sale. I knew I wasn’t going to purchase it in the June 2004 auction but wanted to see who would buy it. A few lots before the coin went off, a youngish, casually dressed man came into the auction room, took a seat at the front and waited. He then proceeded to purchase the coin and left immediately afterwards. I later learned that this was the very first coin this gentleman had ever purchased and he hadn’t even had his credit pre-approved by Heritage. It turned-out that he was a very successful businessman who had seen the coin on-line, thought it looked interesting and decided to begin his collection with it.
I am certain this coin would bring well over $1 million if offered today and it is certainly the most desirable New Orleans double eagle in existence.
10. The Dallas Bank Collection 1879-O Double Eagle
When it was announced in the summer of 2001 that the legendary Dallas Bank collection was going to be sold, one of the coins that excited me the most was the 1879-O double eagle. This coin had been plated in David Akers’ book on double eagles and, from the picture, it looked like a fabulous coin. When I finally got to see it in person, I was not disappointed. It had magnificent surfaces and color and was by far the finest of the three or four Uncirculated examples of this date that I was aware of.
I knew there would be a lot of interest in this coin when it was going to be sold and I had a pretty good idea of who my competition was going to be. I don’t remember the exact amount it opened at, but I do remember that bidding jumped quickly and I found myself in a long, drawn-out battle with a prominent Midwestern specialist who, as I had predicted, was going to try and buy this amazing coin no matter what. I finally dropped out as the coin hit the $100,000 mark and he wound-up buying it for $115,000 including the buyer’s charge. At the time, it seemed like a ton of money for this coin but, in retrospect, it was a superb purchase and a price that actually seems very cheap today.
This coin was later graded MS63 by NGC. It is easily the finest known example of the only Type Three double eagle struck at the New Orleans mint and it certainly ranks as one of my all-time favorite double eagles of any date.
And Ten Runners Up…
The Bass 1840-O Quarter Eagle, Graded MS65 by NGC
The Pittman/Pinnacle 1840-0 Half Eagle, Graded MS63 by PCGS
The Bass/Gilhousen 1845-O Half Eagle, Graded MS63 by PCGS
The Eliasberg 1909-O Half Eagle, Graded MS65 by PCGS
The Bass 1846-O Eagle, Graded MS64 by PCGS
The Eliasberg 1850-O Eagle, Graded MS65 by PCGS
The S.S. Republic 1859-O Eagle, Graded MS63 by NGC
The Eliasberg 1899-O Eagle, Graded MS68 by PCGS
The Bass 1858-O Double Eagle, Graded MS63 by PCGS
The Akers Plate 1859-O Double Eagle, Graded MS61 by NGC
It is my belief that many gold coins from the New Orleans mint are undervalued. For the sake of brevity, I am going to focus on what I feel are the ten most undervalued issues. Had I wanted to, I could have made this a list of twenty or even twenty-five coins. More information on these coins (and on all other New Orleans gold issues) will be available in my forthcoming book “Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint, 1838-1909.” Please check back for more information regarding the availability of this book.
1. 1850-O Gold Dollar
The short-lived gold dollar denomination offers the collector some good overall value. This is the only pre-Civil War New Orleans gold that can be purchased in Uncirculated grades for less than $1,000. The 1850-O has always been my favorite date in the series. It has the lowest original mintage figure (14,000 coins) and is rare in Uncirculated with around two dozen known. Interestingly, this is a scarcer coin in MS63 or MS64 than the heralded 1855-O but it is priced considerably less. A smart collector would do well to put away nice MS61 and MS62 1850-O gold dollars at current levels (under $5,000).
2. 1845-O Quarter Eagle
The 1845-O is the unquestioned key of the New Orleans quarter eagle series. Only 4,000 were minted and around 65-75 pieces are known in all grades. In AU, the value of the 1845-O has shot up in the past few years but at less than $10,000 for a nice AU50 to AU53 example, this date seems like good value, especially given the fact that it is the key issue in a short, completable set. The 1845-O becomes extremely scarce in the higher AU grades and I very strongly recommend purchasing this date in any grade as it appears to have considerable upside.
3. 1856-O Quarter Eagle
The 1856-O is the third scarcest New Orleans quarter eagle in AU50 and better. It is still very affordable with nice AU pieces currently selling in the $1,500-3,500 range depending on quality. Unlike some of the other pieces on this list, the 1856-O is an issue that the collector can be particular when deciding what coin to buy. There are enough pieces around in AU that the collector should seek choice, original pieces with good color and luster. In Uncirculated, the 1856-O is extremely rare. I have only seen four to six in Uncirculated and none better than MS62.
4. 1840-O Half Eagle
The 1840-O half eagle isn’t the rarest coin on this list but it is an issue that I like because of its first-year status. It is not scarce in lower grades but it becomes very hard to find in AU and quite rare in Uncirculated. It has a current Trends value that is considerably lower in MS60 than many more available Charlotte and Dahlonega half eagles of this era and I think it is an excellent value. The Broad Mill variety of this date is extremely scarce in all grades and has the potential to be a key to the New Orleans half eagle series some day if it is better publicized.
5. 1892-O Half Eagle
With Motto half eagles were struck at the New Orleans mint for only three years: 1892, 1893 and 1894. The 1892-O is by far the scarcest of these with an original mintage figure of just 10,000. This date is almost never seen in the lower grades but it is almost never seen above MS60/MS61. You can currently but a nice “slider” in the $2,500-3,500 range and a very decent Uncirculated piece for around $5,000. I think this is extremely reasonable in comparison to other New Orleans half eagles. Did you know that this is the third rarest New Orleans half eagle in terms of overall rarity?
6. 1841-O Eagle
This is among the more expensive coins on this list but I think it is still among the better values. New Orleans didn’t get around to producing their first Eagle until 1841 and then only 2,500 were struck. This date is seldom seen above VF20 to EF40 and most higher grade pieces are very heavily abraded. I don’t think that more than a half dozen AU pieces are known and most of these are in strongly held collections. Figure that a nice EF example is going to cost you $10,000 while an AU—if available—will run in the $20,000 to $30,000. Considering the fact that the 1841-O is the rarest No Motto New Orleans eagle in higher grades, I think these price levels are reasonable.
7. 1852-O Eagle
There are a number of New Orleans eagles struck during the 1850’s that I think are very underrated. I would have to put the 1852-O at the top of the list. It is the fifth rarest of twenty-one No Motto issues from this mint and it is the sixth rarest in higher grades. Despite this coin’s unquestioned rarity, it is still relatively affordable. EF examples still trade in the $3000 range and I recently sold a very nice AU55 for less than $7,000. When one considers that this coin is worth just a bit more than an 1852-O double eagle in the same grade, yet is many times scarcer, I think it is a great value. And don’t get me started about this coin in Uncirculated…
8. 1856-O Eagle
As much as I like the 1852-O eagle, I like the 1856-O even more. It is tied for fourth rarest New Orleans eagle in high grades but it is typically ignored by everyone other than specialists when offered for sale. There were 14,500 of which an estimated 80-90 are known today. I doubt if more than 14-18 are known in AU and in Uncirculated the 1856-O is unique. If higher grade pieces are out of your price range, consider an EF. There are around two dozen known in this range but prices are still under $4,000. I have tried to buy every single 1856-O eagle I could find in the past three to five years and I’m not sure that I’ve owned more than four or five pieces.
9. 1899-O Eagle
The 1899-O is the rarest eagle struck at the New Orleans mint after 1883. Unlike many of the issues from the 1890’s and early 1900’s, this date has not been found in large quantities in Europe. The 1899-O is fairly scarce in the lower Uncirculated grades and it becomes very scarce in MS62. Until a few years ago, I was able to buy MS62 examples for under $1,000 which seemed absurdly cheap. Today, this date has doubled in price but I still think it is a good value in MS62 and above. It is the key issue in the “late date” New Orleans eagle series and as this subset becomes more and more popular with collectors, it will bring a nice premium over the more common dates like the 1901-O and the 1903-O.
10. Late Date Eagles in MS64 and Above
In closing, I’m going with a group of coins that is very different than the other issues I have listed. Nearly every No Motto eagle from New Orleans is rare in Uncirculated and most dates are unknown above MS62 to MS63. Small numbers of common dates are known in MS64 and these can still be purchased for under $10,000. These coins are typically very pretty with excellent color and luster. And they are typically very scarce. Even the more common issues from the 20th century have populations of fewer than ten coins in MS64. An MS64 New Orleans eagle sells for a premium of around four times what a generic Liberty Head eagle is worth. Considering it is around fifty to one hundred times rarer makes it a great deal at its current price level.
To get you ready for my forthcoming book on New Orleans gold coinage I am planning a series of articles on these coins. Look for these to run between February and May 2006 and look for the new book to be available around June. These ten coins are, in my opinion, the most popular gold coins struck at the New Orleans mint. They are interesting for one or more of the following reasons:
Low Mintage Figures
Interesting historical association
If a coin possesses more than one of these attributes, it is, obviously, very popular. Simply put, the better the story a coin has to tell, the easier it is to explain to a potential buyer. As a dealer it is much easier for me sell a “self explanatory” coin than one that requires a long, drawn-out story.
Without further adieu, here is the list of the Ten Most Popular New Orleans Gold Coins:
1. 1849-O Gold Dollar: With an original mintage figure of 215,000 the 1849-O gold dollar is probably the most available of the ten coins on this list. It is also one of the most affordable with pleasing AU examples currently selling for well under $1,000. The most obvious reason for the popularity of this issue is that it is the first Gold Dollar produced at the New Orleans mint. Some of the less obvious—but still legitimate—reasons for the popularity of the 1849-O include the fact that it is a very well produced issue and that it can be combined with the 1849-C and 1849-D gold dollars to create a very interesting first-year-of-issue set. We recommend purchasing examples that grade MS62 or better.
2. 1855-O Gold Dollar: Coinage of the Type Two gold dollar began in 1854 and lasted until 1856. During this three year period, the New Orleans mint produced Type Two gold dollars only in 1855. A total of 55,000 examples were struck and survivors are plentiful in lower grades. This issue is scarce in MS60, rare in MS62 and very rare in MS63 or better. In recent years, prices for many high grade Type Two gold dollars have dropped as these coins have proven to be less rare than formerly believed. But prices have risen for the branch mint issues due to their unique design and one-year type status. We strongly recommend purchasing nice original examples in AU50 and above.
3. 1839-O Quarter Eagle: The short-lived Classic Head design was created in 1834 and it lasted until 1839. The only Classic Head quarter eagle was struck in 1839. Coincidentally this happens to be the first year of issue for any New Orleans coin of this denomination. First year of issue, one-year type, unique design…can you say popular coin? Only 17,781 were struck and an estimated 350-400 are known. Most 1839-O quarter eagles are found in VF and EF grades and nice AU’s are scarce. Fewer than two dozen remain in Uncirculated with most of these in the MS60 to MS61 range. We love this date in nearly any grade but recommend examples that grade AU50 and above.
4. 1854-O Three Dollar Gold Piece: Can the story get any better than this: the only Three Dollar gold piece, one of only two Southern issues of this denomination (and the other, the 1854-D is priced out of the range of most collectors) and a coin issued during the first year of this denomination. The 1854-O is common and overvalued in lower grades but it is very scarce in properly graded AU55 and above. This is an issue that is typically overgraded by PCGS and NGC and most pieces in slabs are unoriginal with poor surfaces and unappealing color. Early die state examples which show a full date and mintmark and strong wreath detail deserve to sell for a strong premium over typical later die states.
5. 1893-O and 1894-O Half Eagles: With few exceptions the No Motto New Orleans half eagles produced between 1840 and 1857 are extremely rare in Uncirculated. The With Motto issues produced in 1893 and 1894 are more available in higher grades and more within the budget of most collectors. Of the two, the 1893-O is the more common but this issue is surprisingly scarce in properly graded MS61 or better. The 1894-O is quite rare in Uncirculated and seems undervalued at current price levels. We recommend purchasing nice original pieces graded MS60 and above. Watch out for coins graded MS60 and MS61 that are excessively abraded.
6. 1909-O Half Eagle: After discontinuing production of half eagles in 1894, this denomination was resurrected in 1909. The 1909-O half eagle production was relatively small (just 34,300 pieces) and this issue has an immediate appeal for a number of reasons: it is a one-year type, it is the only 20th century half eagle produced at a Southern branch mint and it was the final gold coin of any denomination produced at the New Orleans mint. In the EF40-AU53 grade range this issue is fairly common and arguably a bit overvalued. But it is a very rare coin in properly graded Uncirculated and examples that grade MS62 or better are among the most coveted 20th century American gold coins. We recommend PCGS graded examples in AU55 and above.
7. 1892-O through 1906-O Eagles: Instead of choosing a specific date from this era, I chose the entire date run of ten coins. These are the most available New Orleans gold coins in higher grades (in this case MS60 or above) due to the fact that substantial numbers of coins were shipped overseas to Europe and did not circulate domestically. The availability of these dates in higher grades is exactly the opposite of the pre-Civil War issues which are nearly unobtainable above MS60. Most of the 1892-O through 1906-O eagles can be found in the lower Uncirculated grades for under $2,000 and these are often attractive coins with good color and luster. Occasionally, dates such as the 1901-O, 1904-O and 1906-O can be found in MS63 or even MS64. Despite the scarcity of these coins they can still be purchased for under $5,000 in some cases. We love the values of all these dates and strongly recommend coins graded MS62 and above.
8. 1850-O Double Eagle: In the past few years, the popularity of New Orleans double eagles has increased tremendously. The formerly-underrated 1850-O has become one of the more popular issues in the series. The major reason for this issue popularity is obvious: it is the first New Orleans double eagle. It is also an issue that is reasonably common in lower grades and has been readily available at auction and via private treaty to new collectors. Most people are still not aware of exactly how scarce the 1850-O is in higher grades. We doubt if more than two or three Uncirculated examples are known and properly graded AU55 to AU58 pieces are very rare. It is still possible to acquire a nice circulated 1850-O in the $5,000-10,000 range but most pieces in PCGS and NGC holders are way overgraded. Minimally abraded pieces with good color are very rare and worth a strong premium over typical examples.
9. 1861-O Double Eagle: There may not be another New Orleans gold coin with the historical significance of the 1861-O double eagle. At various times during 1861, New Orleans double eagles were produced by the Federal mint and by the Confederacy. (Shameless plug: the mystery behind these coins is unraveled in my new book on New Orleans gold due out this summer). Most of the survivors from the original mintage figure of 17,741 are very well worn and this is compounded by the fact that the 1861-O double eagle is a poorly produced issue. In AU, the 1861-O is quite rare and it is extremely rare in Uncirculated with just two to four known. Price levels have increased significantly for the 1861-O double eagle in recent years and we can no longer include this in lists of undervalued issues as we did in the past. However, original EF and AU examples are seldom seen and would make a great addition to any advanced collection of New Orleans gold coins.
10. 1879-O Double Eagle: The 1879-O double eagle is another coin that is desirable for a multitude of reasons: it is the only Type Three issue from this mint, it is the final New Orleans issue of this denomination and it is a very low mintage date with just 2,325 struck (the second lowest figure of any New Orleans double eagle). As with the 1861-O double eagle, the level of popularity (and prices) for this issue have soared in recent years. Any 1879-O with good eye appeal and clean surfaces is very rare and very desirable.