So...You've Decided to Collect No Motto $10.00 Libs...

So...You've Decided to Collect No Motto $10.00 Libs...

Of all the various Liberty Head series, the No Motto eagles are probably the most complex from a pricing standpoint. The bad news is that there are around 15 or 20 issues which have surviving populations in the 25-75 coin range, and even more which are true appearance rarities. The good news is that there are no exceedingly rare six or seven-figure dates. So, let’s talk No Motto tens!

Read More

Undervalued U.S. Gold Coins in the $1,500-3,500 Range

 An article of mine was recently published by a content partner   and a reader left a comment about how my subject was elitist and  I am only concerned with selling $50,000+ coins. Hey, I LOVE selling $50,000 coins but I probably sell ten times more $1,500-3,500 coins every year than I do big ticket items. So to placate my angry reader, I thought I'd give some brief suggestions. Steven Mlaker, this one's for you!      1.  Type Three San Francisco Gold Dollars, EF45 to AU58

     There are only five San Francisco gold dollars of this type (1857-S, 1858-S, 1859-S, 1860-S and 1870-S) and all are of basically similar rarity. When available, these issues are seen in the EF45 to AU55 range and all can be had for $750 on the low end to $2,500+  for a nice AU58.

     What I like about these issues is that they are all low mintage and all are rare to very rare in Uncirculated. If I had to choose one date as the real "sleeper" it would probably be the 1870-S with a mintage of just 3,000.

     I like the concept of doing an evenly matched set of five coins, all grading AU55 to AU58. It can be done for around $10,000. To make the set a real challenge, make sure every coin is CAC quality with natural color and nice surfaces.

     2.  Properly Graded EF45 Dahlonega Quarter Eagles.

     Of the three main denominations from the Dahlonega mint, the quarter eagle is the hardest to find in choice, original Extremely Fine grades. Despite the rarity of these coins (and they are not easy to find with natural color and surfaces, no matter what the population reports say!) they are still priced in the $2,000-3,000 range.

     There are many dates in this series which are rare and expensive even in EF grades but I can think of at least ten (1843-D, 44-D, 45-D, 46-D, 47-D, 48-D, 49-D, 50-D, 51-D and 57-D) which can be bought for less than $3,000 in presentable grades.

     When buying these coins, look for pieces with deep, rich natural color and surfaces that are not overly abraded. Strike shouldn't be a major concern; if it is try idea #3, below.

    3.  Philadelphia and San Francisco Quarter Eagles, 1865-1876.

     Many of the quarter eagles made from 1865 through 1876 at the Philadelphia and San Francisco mint are scarcer than their southern counterparts at half the price.

     My favorite sleeper dates are the 1867, 1869, 1870, 1870-S, 1872 and 1876. Not a single one of these will cost you more than $2,000-3,000 in nice AU grades and the beauty of these dates is that, when available, they tend to be quite well made and reasonably attractive.

     Are these coins good "investments?" I doubt it, unless you move up the ladder and buy nice Uncirculated pieces (which, as Mr. Mlaker will remind me, is an elitist sentiment...) which seem like very good value to me.

     4.  Nice AU Classic Head Half Eagles.

     With the exception of the 1834 Crosslet 4, none of the Philadelphia half eagles made from 1834 through 1838 are scarce but they are extremely popular and when I have a nice, original AU55 to AU58 on my website, it typically sells within a few hours.

     What's not to like about these coins? They are very old, the design is cool and in the middle to higher AU grades, they look great; if original.

     A five coin 1834-1838 year set in AU55 to AU58 could be assembled for $10,000-15,000. For more of a challenge, you could add some of the major die varieties which are known.

     5.  Philadelphia No Motto Liberty Head Eagles

     After years of neglect, the Liberty Head eagle series became popular in 2008-2009 and, today, it is one of the more in-demand U.S. gold series. But collectors are mainly buying the key low mintage dates or the mintmarked coins and nice AU55 to AU58 Philadelphia coins from the 1840's and 1850's can still be bought in the $1,000-3,000 range.

     If your budget won't go higher than, say, $3,000 per coin, you can still come pretty close to completing a date run from 1840 through 1861.

    Sleepers? How about the 1840,  1842 Small Date, 1845, 1850 Small Date, 1857 and 1859. Collecting suggestions? Stick with coins which grade AU55 or better if possible and look for nice dark green-gold pieces with rich, frosty luster and light, even wear.

     6.  Mid-AU Grade Type One Philadelphia Double Eagles.

     The "play" with these coins is that they contain $1,500+ worth of gold (at current spot) but can be bought, in very presentable grades, for less than double melt. Are they rare? Not really. But they are popular as anything, they are a good "double play" hedge and they don't appear to have been adversely affected by shipwrecks like their San Francisco counterparts.

     I like nearly any 1850's Philadelphia double eagle in AU53 and better as long as it is choice, original and lesss marked thaan usual. The dates I like best are the 1855, 1856, 1857 and 1858 and $3,000 or so will get you a really presentable example of any of these four.

     7.  Early Type Three Double Eagles From San Francisco.

     My logic on these coins is the same as for the Philadelphia double eagles listed above but with one difference. These are "jump grade" coins in which a tiny difference in quality (say MS61 to MS62) can mean thousands of dollars.

     The dates I like are the 1877-S, 1878-S, 1880-S, 1881-S and 1882-S in MS60 to MS61. They aren't tremendously expensive and if you are very patient and very selective you might find an MS61 example of any of these that looks almost identical to an MS62 of the same date; at a greatly reduced price!

     Just so you know I'm not pay lip service to Mr. Mlaker, I have handled numerous examples of nearly every coin on this list during 2012 and will continue to make an active two way market in undervalued sub-$3,500 coins in 2013 and beyond.

     For more information on undervalued U.S. gold coins (in any price range, even over $50,000!) please feel free to call me at 214-675-9897 or email me at dwn@ont.com.

Assembling A Year Set of Liberty Head Eagles: Part One, 1838-1866

For most collectors, assembling a comlete set of Liberty Head eagles is a daunting task, to say the least. There are 184 different issues (including major varieties) struck from 1838 to 1907. While none of these individual coins is impossible to locate, many are rare to very rare and nearly every issue struck prior to 1878 is rare in higher grades and quite expensive. So how can a collector of more average means approach what, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting and overlooked denominations in all of American numismatics. The answer is to assemble a year set of Liberty Head eagles. This set would include one example of each year that this denomination was produced. Instead of being close to two hundred coins in order to finish the set, it is now only 69 coins. Even better, the savings is immense as it eliminates some of the very costly issues like the 1863, 1864-S, 1870-CC and 1875 and lets the collector replace these with interesting but much less costly alternatives.

Let's take a look at each year from 1838 until 1866 in this set (in Part Two, we'll look at the 1867-1907 issues). I'll list what I think is the best issue for each year in this set along with suggested grades.

1838: Only one issue, from Philadelphia, is available. This issue is very popular and significant as the first eagle produced with the new Liberty Head design and it is the first coin of this denomination produced since 1804. I'd splurge on this and buy as nice a coin as you can afford; certainly at least an EF40.

1839: This is another one-mint year but with two types available: Head of 1838 and Head of 1840. The former is far more available and can be obtained in nice EF without great difficulty. This is another issue I'd splurge on as it is a limited type with a novel design.

1840: The last of the three Philadelphia-only issues at the beginning of the set and a significant first-year coin. I've always liked the 1840 eagle and find it to be underrated. I'd buy a nice AU53 to AU58 for this set.

1841: This is the first year in which more than one mint made eagles as the New Orleans facility began production in 1841. The 1841-O is a really neat issue but it is rare and expensive, so I'd probably go with an 1841 Philadelphia. I'd choose a nice original AU55 to AU58 coin.

1842: Beginning this year, the collector can select from Philadelphia and New Orleans issues. In a year like 1842, both are reasonably common although the 1842-O becomes very rare in higher grades. I'd go with the 1842-O in the AU50 to AU55 range.

1843: Surprisingly, the Philadelphia eagle dated 1843 is scarcer than its high mintage New Orleans counterpart. I'd go with a nice Choice AU 1843.

1844: The little-known 1844 is actually a rare coin in all grades and a real stopper in AU50 and above. Thus, I'd go with the 1844-O and look for a nice mid-range AU that had good color and surfaces.

1845: Again, the Philadelphia eagle is rarer but the 1845 is not nearly as hard to locate as the 1844. I'd look for a nice 1845-P in the lower AU grades as I think this issue is very good value in this range.

1846: This is the last of the tougher date Philadelphia issues for the next decade+. I'd stick with a nice AU50 to AU55 and I'd be patient for one with good color and fewer marks than average. In my opinion, nice 1846-P eagles remain undervalued at current levels.

1847: Both the 1847-P and 1847-O are common issues. I'd go for a nice AU55 to AU58 example of the New Orleans coin.

1848: The 1848-O isn't really rare but it is a tough coin to locate above AU53 to AU55, especially with original color and surfaces. I'd look for a nice example, keeping in mind that all pieces known have weak overall strikes.

1849: I'm a big fan of the 1849-O eagle as a date and believe that nice examples in all grades above EF40 are much harder to locate than generally believed. The Philadelphia issue is affordable in grades up to and including MS61/62.

1850: There are two varieties of 1850-P eagle: the Small Date and the Large date. The former is much scarcer and it is very overlooked. I'd look for a nice mid-range AU example.

1851: Both the Philadelphia and New Orleans eagles from 1851 are fairly non-descript issues. I'd stick with an 1851-P and look for a pleasing AU58.

1852: The 1852-P is very common while the 1852-O is a scarce to rare issue. I like the latter quite a bit and would probably rather have a pleasing EF45 for the same price that I'd be spending on an MS60 to MS61 1852-P.

1853: The most interesting issue struck in 1853 is the 1853/2 overdate from Philadelphia. This is the only confirmed overdate in the entire Liberty Head eagle series and it is an underappreciated coin in all grades. I'd look for a nice AU50 to AU55.

1854: With the opening of the San Francisco mint, the number of facilities coining eagles grows to three in 1854. The 1854-S isn't a really scarce coin but it is a neat date and it is certainly the issue I'd choose to represent this year for my date set. Look for an AU50 to AU55 example with minimal bagmarks.

1855: Of the three eagles struck in 1855, the Philadelphia coin is common, the New Orleans coin is scarce and the San Francisco coin is rare. I would personally choose the 1855-O and I'd look for a coin in the EF45 to AU53 range.

1856: For this year, Philadelphia and San Francisco are common while the 1856-O is scarce to very scarce. I like the 1856-O eagle and would vote to include a choice EF45 to AU53 example in my year set.

1857: The mintage figures for all three issues are lower in 1857 than they were in the previous few years. The 1857-P is a sleeper that is still a good value in circulated grades while the 1857-O is undervalued. But I'd probably go with the 1857-S because of its historic association with the popular S.S. Central America double eagles dated 1857-S.

1858: The 1858-P is a famous rarity with just 2,521 struck. If you can find (and afford) a pleasing EF example, I'd strongly recommend including it in this set. The 1858-S is a rare coin as well. For practical purposes, you might want to pursue the more affordable 1858-O in AU50 to AU55.

1859: As this decade draws to a close, mintages continue to shrink. The 1859-P is fairly common while the 1859-O is very rare and the 1859-S is rare. To keep your powder dry for the rare coins that await in the 1860's, I'd suggest looking for a choice AU 1859-P.

1860: This is the final issue from New Orleans until 1879 so it seems natural to choose the 1860-O. The Philadelphia issue is common while the San Francisco issue is very rare. An 1860-O in AU50 to AU55 is affordable yet historic.

1861: Beginning with this year, we are back to two mints striking eagles: Philadelphia and San Francisco. The former is common while the latter is scarce to very scarce. I'd choose a nice AU58 to MS61 1861-P eagle as it is by far the most affordable Civil War issue.

1862: Until recently the 1862-P was an undiscovered sleeper but prices have risen as collectors learn of its true scarcity. The 1862-S is very rare and seldom seen above EF45. I'd stick with an Extremely Fine example of the 1862-P.

1863: This year is among the most challenging in this set as both issues are very rare. The Philadelphia eagle is a major rarity with just 1,248 examples produced. The San Francisco eagle has a mintage of 10,000 and it is more available. I'd stick with a nice EF example of the 1863-S but if a sensible 1863-P became available I'd consider it strongly as it is still very undervalued.

1864: Think the 1863 eagles were tough? Try the 1864. The 1864-P is rare with 3,580 struck while the 1864-S is one of the great rarities in the series with only 2,500 struck. You really can't go wrong with either coin for your set but as you as more likely to find an 1864-P than an 1864-S, I'd have to suggest going for the former. I'd splurge on this date and buy the nicest quality you can afford.

1865: Things don't get much easier in 1865. The Philadelphia issue is very rare while there are two varieties from San Francisco: the Normal Date and the Inverted Date. I'd choose the latter due to its "coolness factor" and the difficulty of locating the other issues. An EF40 to AU50 is going to be about the best you'll see for this year.

1866: This is a numismatically significant issue as it represents a transitional year. The San Francisco mint struck eagles with and without the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on the reverse while Philadelphia only made with motto coins. I'd opt for the rare 1866-S No Motto which had a mintage of only 8,500. Anything grading higher than EF45 will be very expensive.

So there you have it. A total of 28 issues make up the No Motto part of the Liberty Head eagle set. There are three mints to choose from for some years and only a few dates (the 1863, 1864 and 1865 in particular) that will be hard to find and high priced. Assuming you follow the suggestions for dates and grades that I made above, we are probably talking about an overall average per coin cost of around $4,000-5,000. This translates to a low cost of around $112,000 and a high cost of around $140,000. If you were to pick the most common issue for each date and stick with coins in the EF40 to AU50 range, this would probably lower the cost to less than $100,000.

In Part Two of this article, which will be published in February 2012, we will look at the 1867-1907 dates. We'll see the introduction of the Carson City mint, the resumption of the New Orleans mint, the short duration of the Denver mint...and we'll have a good ol' numismatic time.

A Secret Hoard of No Motto Liberty Head Eagles Revealed

With little fanfare, an important group of half eagles and eagles were sold at the recent Heritage Long Beach auction. I was intrigued by the source of this group of coins and since the Heritage catalog had nothing about their origin, I decided to do a little digging. What I found out is extremely interesting for any collector of No Motto Liberty Head gold. The coins that initially got me intrigued were a small group of eagles produced between 1844 and 1847. The two coins that I thought were especially interesting were an 1846 eagle graded MS62 by NGC (Lot 3852) and an 1846-O eagle graded MS62 by NGC (lot 3858). I am pretty aware of all the high grade examples of these two dates and the two coins in the Heritage sale were unknown to me.
1846 $10 N62
But what really got my interest were some of the secondary coins surrounding these two eagles. Lot 3851 in the Heritage sale was another 1846 eagle. This would also have graded MS62 except for the fact that it had hairlines from a cleaning and also a slight “environmental damage” sort of appearance which, in my opinion, looked liked the result of having been buried at one time. Another odd coin appeared as Lot 3857. This was an 1846-O eagle that had the sharpness and details of an MS62 but which had a dull and very grainy reverse with a very “ED” appearance.

My first reaction was that these coins might have been from shipwreck; specifically from the S.S. New York which contained some high quality gold from this era. But why, I asked myself, would coins from this wreck not be packaged in the special NGC holder that designated these coins as being from the shipwreck? After all, the recent Stack’s 7/08 sale of these coins had conclusively proven that the S.S. New York pedigree added considerable value.

The answer to the mystery was solved when I looked at Lot 3851 in the Heritage sale. This was an 1846 eagle with Uncirculated details but which had reverse rim damage at 2:00. When I saw this damage I thought “backhoe.” And when I thought “backhoe damage” I thought “Jackson, Tennessee hoard.”

Let me explain. Back around 1984-85, while a parking lot was being excavated in the little town of Jackson, Tennessee, a sizable hoard of gold coins was uncovered by workers. Upon the discovery of these coins there was a literal feeding frenzy and dozens of workers ran off with “loot” in their pockets. Because of this fact, there has never been a full inventory of what was in this hoard but as far as I know, there were Philadelphia, Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans coins ranging from around 1843 to as late as 1858.

I have personally owned dozens of coins from this hoard. And once you’ve seen a Jackson, Tennessee coin, it is fairly easy to identify. Most of the coins from this group show some signs of environmental damage; probably from iron oxides in the earth which have attacked the gold in the two centuries in which they were buried.

The quality of the coins in this group has also ranged from the spectacular (the two finest known Dahlonega gold dollars of any date) to the average (a group of 1853 Philadelphia quarter eagles in EF/AU grades that were attractive if not terribly impressive). The eagles (and half eagles) in the Heritage sale from the Jackson hoard seem to fall within the parameters of grade and appearance of coins from this group.

So what coins from Jackson were in the group? As far as I can tell, they included the following:

  • Lot 3649, 1844-O Half Eagle, NGC MS62. NGC #3165682-005
  • Lot 3651, 1845 Half Eagle, NGC MS62. NGC #3165682-007
  • Lot 3653, 1846 Half Eagle (Large Date variety), NGC MS62. NGC #3165682-009
  • Lot 3655, 1846 Half Eagle (Large Date variety), NGC MS63. NGC #3165682-010
  • Lot 3656, 1846 Half Eagle (Small Date variety), NGC AU58. NGC #3165682-008
  • Lot 3658, 1846-D/D Half Eagle, NGC MS62. NGC #3165682-011
  • Lot 3850, 1844-O Eagle, NGC MS60. NGC #3165682-012
  • Lot 3851, 1846 Eagle, NCS "Uncirculated details"
  • Lot 3852, 1846 Eagle, NGC MS62. NGC 3165683-002
  • Lot 3857, 1846/5-O (sic) Eagle, NCS "Uncirculated details"
  • Lot 3858, 1846-O Eagle, NGC MS62. NGC #3165683-005

This list is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, it is clear to note that the coins were submitted in consecutive order on at least two different invoices. And given the numbers of the invoices (the “316” series) I know that they were submitted by Heritage and not by the consignor(s).

Even more interesting is the fact that the next Heritage auction (October 2008 in Dallas) is going to have still more coins from this deal including another 1846 eagle in MS62 (NGC #3165683-001) and an 1846-O graded AU58 by NGC (#3165683-004). There are also high grade but damaged examples of the 1845-O eagle (with reverse rim damage) and the 1846-O eagle (reverse scratches).

It will be very interesting to monitor how many more of these half eagles and eagles appear at auction in the coming months. If I were a collector of Condition census quality No Motto gold, I would watch these offerings very carefully to make certain that the populations of many currently-rare issues such as the 1846 and 1846-O eagles do not take large upward jumps.

Philadelphia No Motto Half Eagles & Eagles

I’m beginning to gain a new-found appreciation for --gasp!-- No Motto half eagles and eagles from the Philadelphia mint. Read on for some thoughts about these coins and why I’m beginning to see them in a new light. As I’ve mentioned more than once, No Motto half eagles and eagles from Philadelphia have never ranked high on the list of popular coins in the world of DWN. I’ve found these coins to be somewhat mundane and boring and haven’t really bothered all that much with them. So what’s happening to change my mind?

I love originality. It saddens me to see that such a large percentage of branch mint gold issues have been scrubbed and processed and now look like Frankencoins. Ironically, because of their lack of popularity, the major coin doctors have (temporarily) ignored No Motto Philadelphia half eagles and eagles. In essence, the connoisseur of truly original mid-19th century coins has almost nowhere to turn other than Philadelphia.

This was really clear to me when I was viewing the recent auctions in Milwaukee as part of the ANA festivities. I disliked most of the branch mint coins. But I saw a decent number of No Motto Philadelphia half eagles and eagles in the AU50 to MS63 range that were choice, original and quite attractive. Had my anti-Philadelphia gold prejudice begun to fall by the wayside?

Now, before you drop your jaw on the table and think that I’ve committed numisheresy, let me expand on what I just stated. I’m certainly not abandoning my strong interest in branch mint coins and starting to focus on Philadelphia coins; that’s far from the case. What I am realizing, though, is that these Philly issues may be more interesting than I thought.

Here’s a few reasons why I like these coins:

    The collector of average means can put together nice date runs from the 1840’s and the 1850’s. As an example, there are really no rare Philadelphia half eagles struck between 1839 and 1861. Nearly every date can be found in nice AU55 to AU58 for well under $2,000 (in some cases under $1,000). If you can’t afford a nice collection of Charlotte, Carson City, Dahlonega or New Orleans gold, you can still participate in the Philadelphia gold market.

    The coins are well made and are found with original surfaces with greater frequency than their branch mint counterparts. For the collector who insists on originality, you will find many more attractive pieces than in the branch mint series.

    This is a virtually uncollected area. Good news: you have very little competition. Bad news: when you go to sell your collection, no one may care.

    If you like varieties, this is a very fertile area. Other than Harry Bass, almost no one has ever searched through these issues for major varieties and I’m willing to bet some very interesting coins are awaiting discovery.

    No Motto Philadelphia half eagles and eagles are close to a century older than Indian head half eagles and eagles yet they offer the gold coin collector a lot more bang for the buck. $2,500 won’t buy you very much in the way of an interesting or rare Indian Head half eagle. But it will buy you a pretty scarce Liberty Head half eagle from the 1840’s.

    Unlike some of the 20th century gold series, No Motto Philadelphia gold has never really been promoted or heavily marketed. Price levels have stayed flat for many years and there are some real sleepers in both the half eagle and eagle series awaiting discovery by the student of the series. As I stated above, I’m not planning on abandoning my focus on branch mint gold coins any time soon. But after some careful thinking, I’ve decided that maybe No Motto Philadelphia gold coins aren’t the Numismatic Pariah that I thought they were for many years.

State of the Market Report: New Orleans Eagles

A few weeks ago I did a State of the Market Report on New Orleans gold. In that report, I barely touched on Eagles from this mint. Afterwards, I received a number of perturbed emails from readers who wanted to know my thoughts about New Orleans eagles. I hear you loud and clear Unhappy Nawlins Eagle Collectors and this blog’s for you. I’ve written a number of times that I regard New Orleans eagles as the “next best thing” for collectors who can’t afford high quality examples of New Orleans double eagles. But I think this is short-changing what is truly a collectible and very interesting series in its own right.

New Orleans eagles can be neatly divided into two distinct groups: the No Motto series (1841-1860) and the With Motto series (1879-1906). There are twenty–one issues in the former group, sixteen in the latter.

The No Motto series has become extremely popular in the last two years. Collectors have learned that even the common dates (such as the 1847-O and the 1851-O) are, in reality, very scarce to rare in the higher circulated grades and genuinely rare in Uncirculated. Something that I find remarkable is the lack of Uncirculated No Motto eagles that have been available in the last two years. The one exception to this was the coins from the S.S. Republic but the “cream” of this deal was quickly sold and virtually none of the important No Motto eagles from this source have ever re-appeared for sale.

There have been a few very important No Motto eagles sold in the last year or two. The finest known 1843-O, graded MS64 by NGC, brought nearly $60,000 when it was auctioned by Bowers & Merena in 2006 and Heritage sold what I feel may have been the finest known 1857-O (graded AU58 by PCGS but better than this in my opinion) in their October 2006 auction for a touch over $40,000. But for the most part, it has been remarkable how few important No Motto New Orleans eagles have been available since the release of my book on New Orleans gold in the fall of 2006.

My experience in buying No Motto New Orleans eagles at coin shows hasn’t been much different in the last year or two. I have been able to acquire a couple of very interesting coins but, overall, the pickings have been very slim. I see a few dates (1843-O, 1844-O, 1847-O and 1851-O) in AU55 to AU58 but these coins are usually scrubbed and very low end for the grade. The key dates have become exceedingly hard to locate. I’ve owned two 1841-O and two 1859-O eagles in the past year and I am certain I could have sold each of these coins to a long list of eager collectors.

The demand for the keys in the No Motto series is quite high but so is the demand for the second-tier issues such as the 1849-O, 1852-O, 1855-O, 1856-O and 1857-O. Around two months ago, I listed a nice PCGS AU53 example of the 1852-O on my website and within a day I had received seven orders for it. The same would probably be true if I were to list a coin such as a nice EF45 1849-O or an AU55 1856-O. These coins are really scarce and there is clearly a strong demand for them.

The With Motto New Orleans eagles have also increased dramatically in popularity in the last few years. Unlike their No Motto counterparts, there have actually been a number of significant pieces that have been available in the last year or two. In the Stack’s January 2007 auction, I purchased the finest known 1879-O (graded MS61 by NGC) for a client for $52,900 and a Condition Census 1880-O (graded MS61 by NGC) for $16,100. In the 2007 ANA auction, one of the two finest known examples of the 1882-O (graded MS63 by PCGS) sold for $37,375 and in the same auction, a PCGS MS63 1892-O brought $10,350 which is a record price for this issue.

One thing I’ve noticed about the With Motto New Orleans eagles is that higher grade examples of the common dates (1901-O, 1903-O and 1904-O) are not nearly as available as they once were. I used to buy nice PCGS MS63 and NGC MS63 1903-O eagles at nearly every major show I attended. Today, these are still available but not with any degree of regularity. Plus, the few I do see tend to be lower quality pieces that look as if they were recently upgraded from MS62 holders.

My favorite With Motto New Orleans eagle is still the 1883-O. After years and years of being neglected, people are finally recognizing the true rarity of this issue. For some reason, Trends is still far behind on this date and the few examples that I have purchased or know of trading between knowledgeable sources have brought far in excess of published price levels. I fully expect values to continue to rise for this date and would strongly suggest acquiring one posthaste if you are specializing in this series (if you can find one that is...)

My overall perspective on both No Motto and With Motto New Orleans eagles is that they have become very popular and that the demand for the rare dates and high grade examples of the more common issues has soared in the last few years. Collectors are quickly learning that a seemingly mundane coin like an 1845-O in AU55 is actually quite scarce if it is attractive and original. At the high end of the market, there is intense competition for finest known and Condition Census pieces. This is also the case with the key issues from this mint.

The Finest Known 1858 Eagle

One of my all-time favorite United States gold coins is coming up for sale soon. The coin in question: the finest known 1858 Eagle, graded MS64 by PCGS. The venue of sale: the Heritage May 2007 Platinum Night auction at the Central States Convention. The 1858 is among the rarer and more noteworthy issues in the entire Liberty Head eagle series. There were only 2,521 examples produced of which an estimated three to four dozen exist. While both NGC and PCGS show other examples having been graded in Uncirculated, I believe that the 1858 is unique in strict Mint State. The present example has been graded MS64 by both PCGS and NGC and is very choice for the grade.

This coin has a very interesting history. In 1972, it walked into a coin shop in New York. According to the dealer who purchased it, the owner had acquired the coin from the legendary dealer Wayte Raymond sometime in the 1920’s or the 1930’s. It was placed into a specialist collection and was first sold at auction in 1980 where it realized an impressive $115,000.

After bouncing around between a number of dealers, the coin was sold to Warren Miller, a collector from New Jersey who was assembling what, at the time, was the finest collection of Liberty Head eagles ever attempted. It remained in the Miller collection until 1995 when this set was sold by Heritage. Amazingly, the coin did not meet its reserve and it was retained by Warren Miller. It took Miller quite a while to sell this coin, as the market in the 1990’s was not especially good for esoteric high five-figure/low six figure coins; no matter how rare or neat they were.

Eventually, it was purchased by a type collector who was putting together a set of high grade coins designed by Christian Gobrecht. (And hats off to a type/design collector who chooses one of the single greatest Liberty Head eagles in existence as his ten dollar gold representative...that’s my kind of type collector!). He kept it for a decade or so and then made the decision to sell the coin in the auction mentioned above.

So, what is it about this piece that makes it worthy of so much praise? After all, isn’t it “just” an expensive, esoteric coin? In a sense that is true but the market has become far more appreciative of coins like this since the Dog Days of the mid-to-late 1990’s. While few people “need” this coin to complete their date set of 1858 coinage or their Liberty Head eagle set (and don’t snicker at the last comment; more people collect $10 Libs. by date than you think...) lots of people now appreciate one-of-a-kind coins with a real mystique. Just like this 1858 eagle.

Looking at this piece from a more global perspective, here’s what you need to know. It’s the finest known example of a coin that is genuinely scarce in all grades. It’s a No Motto eagle in a very high grade and even the “common dates” of this design type are very rare in MS64. For many years it was the world-record holder for a Liberty Head eagle (business strike) sold at auction and it has a cult following among gold coin specialists. Most importantly, it’s a gorgeous coin for the grade with choice surfaces, lovely original color and luster and incredible eye appeal for the issue. In short, it’s a true trophy coin and a piece which could be a runaway if two or three savvy, big-budget collectors or investors decide they’ve got to have it.

So what’s the 1858 eagle going to sell for this time around? I’d give it a conservative estimate in the $100,000-125,000 range although I think it’s possible it could bring a lot more This is a coin which I will be excited to watch sell in a few weeks when I’m at the Heritage auction in St. Louis.

No Motto Liberty Head Eagles

was recently working on a research project involving No Motto Liberty Head eagles and I was amazed at just how rare most of these coins are, especially in higher grades. Even the “common” dates like the 1847, 1849 and 1853 still have relatively low surviving populations in the higher AU grades and in Mint State. But there were a few dates that really stood out. One of my favorite No Motto eagles has always been the 1839 Head of 1840. There were two varieties of eagles produced in 1839. The first—and more common—has the same type of head as that seen on the popular 1838 eagles. The rarer shows the same style of Liberty head as seen on eagles produced in 1840. Unlike with the 1839 Head of 1838, there do not seem to have been many 1839 Head of 1840 eagles saved. I doubt if more than four or five dozen examples are known and most of these grade EF40 or lower. The finest known example of this issue is the Pittman II: 1912 coin which is now in an NGC MS64 holder. One other Uncirculated piece is known: a PCGS MS62 which is probably from the 1976 ANA sale and earlier from the Charles Jay collection sold by Stack’s in the 1960’s.

Another date that always been a favorite “sleeper” of mine is the 1843. With an original mintage figure of 75,462 you would think this date would be common but it isn’t. I would estimate that 175-225 pieces are known but the vast majority are in circulated grades and this date becomes really hard to find in AU55 to AU58. But where this date is truly rare is in Uncirculated grades. Both PCGS and NGC have just graded one example in Uncirculated and both of these coins are in MS61 holders. The PCGS MS61 was last sold by Superior as Lot 414 in their April 2003 sale where it realized $15,525. Imagine what this coin would have brought if it were struck at the New Orleans mint or, better yet, at Carson City!

A date that gets virtually no recognition but which is rare in all grades is the 1855-S. With an original mintage figure of 9,000 you’ve got to figure this issue is rare and the combined number graded at PCGS and NGC is just 73 coins. My best estimate is that 60-80 examples are known but at least 80% of these are in EF45 and lower grades. In AU the 1855-S is a major rarity and I have never personally seen an example that graded better than AU53 to AU55. Despite this fact, you can buy a nice EF45 example for around $3,000 and an AU50 will run in the $5,000-7,000 range. No, it’s not a popular coin and yes I realize it’s an S Mint $10 but, man, that seems like a lot of coin for the money.

Speaking of rare but unsalable San Francisco eagles, how about the 1860-S? Until the recent discovery of two Uncirculated pieces in the S.S. Republic treasure, this date was unknown in Mint State and I had never seen one better than AU55. It’s still a majority rarity in all grades with an estimated total population of 25-35 pieces. If San Francisco gold coinage ever gets the recognition it deserves, a coin like this will be considered a stopper in the eagle series.

What is the rarest No Motto Liberty Head eagle? I would have to say that the unquestioned rarity of this type is the 1864-S. Until an example was sold at auction in the Summer of 2006, I think at least three to five years had passed since an example was offered for sale. (I know for a fact that the best collection of Liberty Head eagles assembled in recent history was missing this date until recently). Only 2,500 examples of the 1864-S eagle were struck and I’d be very surprised if more than 20-25 are known. What is very interesting about this date, though, is the fact that it has been offered for sale so infrequently in recent years. One has to wonder if someone hasn’t quietly put together a small hoard of pieces and has kept these off the market.

If your budget can handle coins in the $2,500-20,000 range I’d give the No Motto Liberty Head eagle series some serious consideration. It’s a completable set but one which is very challenging and lots of fun to collect.