In the first part of this article, I discussed the ins and outs of assembling a year set of Liberty Head eagles from 1838 through 1866. In case you've already forgotten the premise, it's that a collector can purchase one example of each year that this denomination/type was produced in order to save money and still be an active participant in this very interesting (and very long-lived) series. Without further ado, let's go to the videotape, Bob...
1867: Only two mints struck eagles this year. Philadelphia is rarer and less expensive than San Francisco. I'd go with a nice 1867-P eagle and might even stretch a bit as it is undervalued.
1868: Neither the Philadelphia or San Francisco eagle of this year is hugely rare or even all that interesting. Either one, in EF45 to AU53, seems like a good purchase. Look for a coin with nice original surfaces.
1869: The 1869-P is a rare, low mintage date that is still not all that expensive. I'd go with a nice example with original surfaces and would even stretch for a high end (AU50 or better) example.
1870: This is a numismatically significant year as the Carson City mint began operations. The 1870-CC would be a great choice for this set but it is rare and expensive. The P and S mint eagles are both scarce and undervalued. It is hard to choose from one or the other!
1871: The 1871-CC is among the more affordable eagles from this mint produced before 1880 so it would be a good choice for this set. The 1871-P has a mintage of only 1,820 and it is very undervalued in all grades.
1872: The only affordable eagle dated 1872 is the San Francisco coin which is fairly common up to AU55. The 1872-P is very rare as is the 1872-CC. I'd probably settle for a nice AU 1872-S.
1873: For gold collectors, this is a banner year with many interesting issues. I love the 1873-P with its mintage of 800 and the 1873-CC is one of the three rarest eagles from this mint. Even the 1873-S is scarce but it is the most available of the three. Still, I'd splurge and go for a nice 1873-P.
1874: Mintages increased this year and the 1874-CC is the most available CC eagle struck before 1880. I'd look for a nice example in EF45 to AU55.
1875: The stopper this year is the 1875-P which has a mintage of just 100 business strikes and fewer than ten survivors. San Francisco didn't make eagles this year so your only realistic option is the 1875-CC which is very scarce but not impossible like the 1875-P.
1876: Another very interesting year with three possible dates available and all scarce. I personally like the 1876 as just 687 business strikes were made. The 1876-S is a sleeper which is far rarer than its mintage of 5,000 would suggest. A nice example of any of the three issues would be a great addition to this year set.
1877: The Philadelphia eagle is very rare (797 struck) while the CC is very scarce. The 1877-S is fairly common but a bit boring. I'd personally look for a nice AU 1877.
1878: Mintages increase beginning with this year as does availability. While the 1878-CC is very rare, the 1878-S is only semi-scarce in AU and the 1878-P is the first date in this set that is actually available in Mint State for less than $10,000+.
1879: For the first time, four mints struck Liberty Head eagles as the New Orleans mint reopened. I personally love the 1879-O, given its very low mintage (1,500 coins) and its numismatic significance. The 1879-CC is very rare also but much more expensive than the 1879-O.
1880: Another four mint year. Nothing struck this year is rare although the CC and O issues are extremely hard to llocate in AU58 and above. I'd select a nice 1880-O or 1880-CC in AU55 to AU58.
1881: Yet another four mint year. The scarcest issue is the 1881-O while the 1881-CC is actually somewhat available in higher grades. I think I'd pursue a nice 1881-CC.
1882: The second to last of the four mint years and another with no real rarities. I would look for a nice 1882-CC or 1882-CC in the middle to upper AU grades.
1883: The last four mint year of the eagle denomination for many years (until 1906) and one with a notable rarity: the 1883-O which had a mintage of only 800 coins. This issue has become quite expensive so it might make sense to look for a nice AU example of the 1883-CC.
1884: The New Orleans mint stopped making gold coins until 1888 so only three mints made eagles this year. The scarcest is the 1884-CC. The 1884-P is a sleeper and I would look for a nice, original MS62.
1885: Only two mints made eagles in 1885. Both are common and not especially interesting.
1886: Same comments as with the 1885. Look for a nice MS62 to MS63 coin.
1887: Ditto. The 1887-P is slightly scarcer and undervalued in MS62 to MS64.
1888: The New Orleans mint restarted production of eagles in 1888 and I'd suggest an 1888-O in MS62. The 1888-P is scarce and undervalued in Uncirculated.
1889: Of the two issues made this year, the 1889-P is the more interesting with a low mintage of only 4,485. It is very rare above MS62.
1890: Carson City resumed production of eagles in 1890 but San Francisco ceased striking this denomination until 1892. I personally like the 1890-CC in the lower Uncirculated grades as a choice for this set.
1891: Only the Philadelphia and Carson City mint made eagles in 1891. The 1891-CC is common in grades up to MS63 and a nice, original example is sure to add some "oomph" to this year set.
1892: After a three year hiatus the New Orleans mint struck eagles again. The 1892-O is available in MS62 for less than $2,500.
1893: As this is the last year that Carson City struck coins, I'd go with an 1890-CC as a ceremonial sign-off to this mint's coins. It is very rare in Uncirculated but available in AU grades.
1894: For the nest two years, there were three mints making eagles. The 1894-S has a mintage of just 25,000 and it is very underrated.
1895: The same is true with the 1895-S. A nice MS61 to MS62 is a hard coin to find and a good value at current levels.
1896: Now we are back to two issues: Philadelphia and San Francisco. The 1896-S is moderately scarce and probably more interesting than the dirt common 1896.
1897: And now we're back to three as the New Orleans mint resumed eagle production. I would go with an MS62 1897-O.
1898: A ho-hum year with two common issues, the 1898-P and the 1898-S.
1899: This year sees three issues with the 1899-O being the scarcest and most interesting. This is the hardest of the late date New Orleans eagles to find. Look for a nice MS62 to MS63 example.
1900: New century, two issues, both kind of nondescript. I'd go with the 1900-S.
1901: The 1901-S is the single most available Liberty Head eagle in higher grades. Buy a beautiful MS65 coin so that your set has at least one Gem coin.
1902: Two choices, both boring.
1903: New Orleans resumed operations this year and a nice MS62 to MS63 would make a good addition to the set.
1904: Two choices this year with the New Orleans being the more interesting. I would opt with a nice MS63.
1905: New Orleans didn't make eagles this year but San Francisco did. The 1905-S is actually a bit of a sleeper.
1906: We are back to a final four issue year as Denver made eagles for the first time in 1906. While the 1906-D is a common coin, I would include a nice Uncirculated piece as it is numismatically significant.
1907: The last year of issue. Three coins are available with the 1907-S being the scarcest. Your choice here, Mr. Eagle.
Do you have questions about assembling a set of Liberty Head eagles? If so please contact Doug Winter by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
One of the most interesting and completable sets for the beginning branch mint gold collector is the short set of With Motto New Orleans eagles. This set features the New Orleans eagles produced from 1888 through 1906. In all, there eleven issues in this set. A set in the lower Uncirculated grades could be assembled for less than $10,000. Unlike the No Motto eagles produced at the New Orleans mint from 1841 through 1860, the With Motto issues tended not to readily circulate. This is especially true with the issues from 1888 onwards. Many dates are virtually unknown in grades below AU55 and significant numbers have been located in Europe where they were sent a century ago to pay down foreign trade debts. These “Euro” coins have a distinctive dirty-gold appearance (if they haven’t been dipped) and are typically in the MS60 to MS62 range as a result of rough handling and subsequent abrasions on the surfaces.
In the AU55 to MS60 range, many issues sell for just a very small premium over generic With Motto eagles from this era. This makes these dates very good value, in my opinion, as they are many, many times scarcer than generics and have the added advantage of coming from the highly collectible and historically significant New Orleans mint.
What appeals to many collectors is the fact that the Short Set With Motto New Orleans eagles are legitimately scarce but they are not “too rare” like their No Motto counterparts. The No Motto eagles from New Orleans include a number of rare and expensive issues and even the most common dates are quite rare (and highly priced) in any Uncirculated grade. Even the two hardest Short Set dates (the 1897-O and the 1899-O) can be found in the lowest Uncirculated grades for less than $1,000-1,500.
A few of the Short Set dates can be found in grades up to and including MS63 and these dates (namely the 1901-O, 1903-O and 1904-O) are reasonably affordable even in this comparatively high grade. All eagles from New Orleans become rare in MS64 and Gems (MS65 and above) are very rare. Some of the dates in this series are virtually unknown above MS63; see the date-by-date listings below for more information.
Let’s take a brief look at each of the eleven dates in the Short Set:
1888-O: Until a few decades ago the 1888-O was quite rare in Uncirculated but today it is easily located in grades up to and including MS62. Properly graded MS63’s are scarce and I am not aware of an example finer than this.
1892-O: This is one of the more available New Orleans eagles from the 1890’s. It is usually seen in AU55 to MS61 and it is somewhat scarce in MS62. Properly graded MS63 examples are extremely rare and I only know of one or two.
1893-O: A formerly scarce date that has become the most available New Orleans eagle from the 19th century due to overseas hoards. It is common in grades up to and including MS62 but properly graded MS63’s are quite scarce. I have never seen or heard of one above MS63.
1894-O: Despite a mintage that is greater than the previous three issues combined, the 1894-O is much scarcer. It is a reasonably scarce coin in properly graded MS62 and it is rare in MS63. There are a few very choice pieces known including at least one Gem (ex ANR 9/05: 1319 @ $21,850).
1895-O: The 1895-O is similar to the 1892-O in terms of rarity and availability. It is sometimes available in MS62 but it is very scarce in MS63. I only know of one with claims to a higher grade (ex Heritage 8/06: 2038 @ $18,400).
1897-O: This is the second scarcest date in the set although it is far more available in very high grades (MS64 and above) than the 1888-O, 1892-O, 1893-O and 1895-O. The “look” of the 1897-O tends to be different from the early dates as well and examples can be found without abundant marks. I know of at least three Gems including the Eliasberg coin which is graded MS67 by PCGS.
1899-O: The 1899-O has proven to be the scarcest date in the Short Set and after years of neglect, prices have risen accordingly. It is scarce in properly graded MS62, rare in MS63 and very rare above this. There is an amazing PCGS MS68 that is ex Eliasberg and it is the single finest New Orleans gold coin of any date or denomination.
1901-O: Beginning with this issue, the next few New Orleans eagles are comparatively common. The 1901-O can be found in grades up to and including MS63. It is very scarce in MS64 and extremely rare in Gem. In my experience, nice examples of the 1901-O are much harder to locate than the 1903-O and the 1904-O.
1903-O: This is the most common New Orleans and it has the highest mintage figure (112,771) of any With Motto eagle from this mint. It can be found in grades up to and including MS63 without much difficulty and MS64’s are sometimes available. In MS 65 and above it is very rare.
1904-O: The 1904-O is the second most available date in this set. Like the 1903-O, it is reasonably available in grades as high as MS63. In MS64 it is very scarce and Gems are very rare with around six to eight accounted for. This includes one graded MS68 by NGC (ex Eliasberg and later sold in Auction ’89 where it brought $104,500) and another graded MS67 by PCGS (last sold as Heritage 1/05: 30059 @ $63,250).
1906-O: This last year of issue has proven to be a real “sleeper” in the Short Set. It has often been lumped with the other 20th century issues but it is quite a bit scarcer, especially in MS63 and above. I know of six or seven Gems including at least two graded MS66 by PCGS.
As I mentioned above, I think this set is perfect for beginning collectors. It is challenging without being overwhelming and it allows collectors on a somewhat limited budget to buy relatively high grade, interesting large-sized U.S. gold coins at reasonable levels.
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.
Let’s say you want to assemble a set of Liberty Head eagles. You’ve got a daunting task ahead of you. This design lasted from 1838 through 1907 and it features over 180 issues including numerous rarities which are very expensive and/or extremely rare in higher grades. Unless you have a large coin budget, you are going to be priced out, right? Maybe you just need to look at gold collecting differently. How about doing a year set of Liberty Head eagles? A year set includes one example of every year in which this design was produced; in this case a total of seventy years. By choosing a year set (instead of a date set), the collector can significantly reduce the number of coins he needs to complete a set.
Another great feature of a year set is that you can avoid having to buy prohibitively rare and expensive issues like the 1875. The year set collector can fill his 1875 hole with a far more affordable 1875-S or 1875-CC.
The two most intimidating things about assembling a date set of Liberty Head eagles are the length and the cost. As I just pointed out, a year set reduces both of these immeasurably. It also allows the condition-oriented collector the chance to pursue higher grade coins.
Take, for instance, the eagles struck in the year 1849. There are two: the Philadelphia and the New Orleans issues. The former is relatively affordable in comparatively high grades (the collector should be able to find an MS60 to MS61 coin for around $5,000) while the latter is not only expensive in higher grades (an MS60 if available would sell for $30,000+) but it is incredibly rare.
Even the collector on a relatively tight budget can participate in the Liberty Head eagle series. How about a 20th century Liberty Head eagle set? This would consist of 21 coins, produced from 1900 to 1907. The beauty of this set is that every single date can be purchased in MS60 or better and most of these dates can be found in reasonably high grades for under $1,000.
What if you only buy Gem coins and can’t “deign” to own anything below MS65? How about a year set of 20th century Liberty Head eagles? This consists of just eight issues and every one can be found in MS65 (or in some cases better).
It’s about time that the popularity of Set Registry collecting which has fueled the market for 20th century gold coinage starts to take hold with the far rarer but less popular issues from the 19th century. How many collectors who pay $50,000+ for a St. Gaudens double eagle with an in-grade population of, say, ten or more (plus others in higher grades) would reassess their collections if they know that they could buy far rarer Liberty Head eagles for a fraction of the price?
Are date sets of Liberty Head eagles going to suddenly replace St. Gaudens double eagles as the hot new trend in gold collecting? Probably not. But what if set collecting of Liberty Head eagles were better marketed? What if more (and better) categories for these existed in the PCGS and NGC Set Registries? Could this change in the next few years? I contend that this is a possibility. After all, who would have ever thought that collectors would pay $10,000++ for high grade modern coins?
In recent years, a number of "short sets" have become popular within certain series of United States coins. As examples, there are short sets in the Mercury Dime and Walking Liberty half dollar series. These sets offer excellent opportunities for collectors who want to purchase high grade coins but who can not afford the expensive early date issues. This concept has not yet become popular in United States gold coinage but there are a number of potentially collectible short sets. Among these are the eleven Liberty Head eagles produced by the New Orleans mint between 1888 and 1906.
This is an interesting set for a number of reasons. All of the coins are affordable. In fact, a collector could assemble a nice complete set of Mint State-61 to Mint State-62 pieces for around $10,000. All of the coins become extremely scarce above Mint State-62. Most can be found with nice color, good luster and eye appeal that is comparable to the Philadelphia and San Francisco eagles of this era. And they are very undervalued at current price levels.
To better understand the appeal of this short set, let's look at some basic information about each date.
At one time, the 1888-O eagle was very hard to find in any Uncirculated grade. A large number of low-end Mint State pieces have come onto the market in the past five years, making it relatively available in grades up to and including Mint State-62. The 1888-O is still very rare in Mint State-63 and above. It is usually seen with excellent frosty luster and nice green-gold or orange-gold color. The surfaces are almost always very heavily abraded and the obverse border may show some weakness of strike. It is extremely hard to locate without heavily abraded surfaces but the overall eye appeal is often good due to nice color and luster. Mint State-62 coins are worth $1100-1400. I would recommend a Mint State-62. Mintage: 21,355
The 1892-O eagle is similar in rarity to the 1893-O. It is usually seen in About Uncirculated-55 to Mint State-61 grades and it is very rare in Mint State-63 or better. The luster is typically soft and frosty but it is interrupted by excessive abrasions. The 1892-O is perhaps the hardest New Orleans eagle of this era to find with clean surfaces. Original, uncleaned coins are often seen with attractive deep orange-gold color. A relatively clean Mint State-62 is currently worth in the area of $1750-2000 and is excellent value. I would recommend either a very high end Mint State-61 or a Mint State-62. Mintage: 28,688
The 1893-O is a rarer coin overall than the 1892-O but it is very similar in high grade rarity. This date did not see much circulation and most survivors are in the About Uncirculated-55 to Mint State-60 range. The luster is a bit more satiny than on the 1892-O. Like the 1892-O, the 1893-O is usually found with excessively abraded surfaces. Original coins often show handsome orange-gold and greenish color. The 1892-O is almost never seen above Mint State-62 and in this grade it is scarce and undervalued. A nice Mint State-62 is worth $1850-2150 and is, again, an outstanding value. I would recommend either a very high end Mint State-61 or a Mint State-62.Mintage: 17,000
At one time, the 1894-O eagle was a very rare coin in Uncirculated. In the mid-1990's, a hoard of 100 or so Uncirculated pieces entered the market. Today, the 1894-O is more available in lower Mint State grades but it is seldom seen above Mint State-62. The surfaces tend to be a bit cleaner than on the 1892-O and the 1893-O and the strike is a bit sharper than on those two dates. Original coins have hard, frosty luster with orange-gold and pale green coloration. I can remember paying $2000 for an MS-60 1894-O in the mid-1990's. Today, such a coin can be bought for $650-750. A Mint State-62 is worth $1750-2000 while an MS-63 is worth $4000-4500. I would recommend either a very high end Mint State-61 or a Mint State-62. Mintage: 107,500
The same hoard which contained the 1894-O eagles mentioned above also contained a number of 1895-O eagles. This formerly rare coin is now very similar in rarity to the 1894-O and it sells for less than half of its pre-hoard price level. This date is most often seen in Mint State-60 to Mint State-61. It has a somewhat blunt strike on the high spots but this is often compensated for by good color and luster. The surfaces are often heavily abraded and this is why the 1895-O is almost never seen above Mint State-62. In MS-62, the 1895-O is a great value at its current level of $1000-1200; in MS-63 it sells for $3000-3500 and is another very good value. I would recommend either a very high end Mint State-61 or a Mint State-62. Mintage: 98,000
The aforementioned hoard contained some 1897-O eagles but not as many as with the earlier dates. Because of this, the 1897-O has remained scarce in all Uncirculated grades. Most examples grade About Uncirculated-58 to Mint State-61 and are somewhat softly struck with heavily abraded surfaces. This date becomes quite scarce in Mint State-62 and it is rare in Mint State-63. There are a few more very choice pieces known than for the earlier issues in the "short set." A nice Mint State-62 is currently worth $1000-1200 while a Mint State-63 is worth $1750-2000. It would be hard to think of a 19th century gold coin that is a better value than an 1897-O eagle in nice Mint State-63 in the $2000 range! This would be a great date for the collector to "stretch" for and if you can find a Mint State-63, I'd urge you to buy it. Mintage: 42,500
The 1899-O is the scarcest coin the New Orleans eagle short set. It is sometime seen in Mint State-60 and Mint State-61 but it becomes very hard to find in Mint State-62. In Mint State-63, this issue is rare and extremely undervalued. It is the best struck coin in this set from the 19th century. But most are heavily abraded and have impaired luster and a result. The current Trends (as of 4/23/01) value for this coin is $2250 in Mint State-63; exceptionally low when one considers that PCGS has graded just six in Mint State-63 and one better. A Mint State-62 is currently worth $900-1000; another great value given the true scarcity of this date in this grade. I would recommend a Mint State-62 example. Mintage: 37,047
The 1901-O is significant as the first New Orleans eagle produced in the 20th century. Unlike its 19th century predecessors, it can be found in the higher Uncirculated grades with a bit more regularity. This date is characterized by a good strike and excellent frosty luster. Original coins often have attractive rich yellow-gold or pale green-gold color. The 1901-O eagle is most often seen in Mint State-60 to Mint State-62. It is scarce in Mint State-63 and very rare in any grade higher than this. Current price levels are $700-800 for a Mint State-62 and $1500-1750 for a Mint State-63. A high end Mint State-62 or a Mint State-63 would be my suggestion for a nice quality short set. Mintage: 72,041
The 1903-O has the highest mintage figure of any New Orleans eagle in the short set and it is the most common date in terms of overall and high grade rarity. It is relatively common in Mint State-60 to Mint State-62 grades but it becomes scarce in Mint State-63 and very rare in Mint State-64 or above. The 1903-O is not as well struck as the 1901-O and it tends to have slightly inferior soft luster. The natural coloration is most often a medium to deep green-gold hue. A Mint State-62 can be bought for $500-600 while a Mint State-63 will cost $1400-1700. A high end Mint State-62 or a Mint State-63 would be my suggestion for a nice quality short set. Mintage: 112,771
This is one of two dates in the short set with a mintage of more than 100,000 and it is one of the more available single coins. The 1904-O is available in the Mint State-60 to Mint State-62 range with a good degree of regularity. It becomes scarce in Mint State-63 and it is quite rare in any grade higher than this. The 1904-O is a well-produced issue that is generally very well struck with nice luster and color. Most pieces are very heavily abraded and, thus, fall into the lower Uncirculated grades. In Mint State-62, this is a very affordable coin, selling for $600-700. In Mint State-63 it is valued in the $1600-1800 range. I would suggest a nice quality Mint State-62 or a Mint State-63 for a short set. Mintage: 108,950
The 1906-O eagle is the final gold coin of this denomination to be produced at the New Orleans mint. It is also among the most underrated. It is scarcer than the 1903-O and the 1904-O in the lower Uncirculated grades and it is surprisingly scarce in Mint State-63. It is actually the most available New Orleans eagle of the With Motto type in very high grades (Mint State-64 and above) but it is still a rare issue in this range. The 1906-O is usually seen with a very good strike and excellent luster. Most pieces are heavily abraded and have somewhat dark color. A Mint State-62 is currently valued at $700-900 while a Mint State-63 is worth $1750-2000. I would suggest a nice quality Mint State-62 or a Mint State-63 for a short set. Mintage: 86,895
In closing, here is an interesting statistic to ponder when regarding the level of value for higher grade coins in the New Orleans eagle short set. A very common date Liberty Head eagle, such as a 1901-S, is currently worth $400 in Mint State-63. This date has a PCGS population, as of April 2001, of 3,450 coins in MS-63 with 2,513 graded higher. The most common high grade New Orleans date in the short set is the 1906-O which has a population of 24 in MS-63 with 13 graded higher. A nice PCGS MS-63 is currently valued at $1750-2000. This means that a coin which is over 143 times rarer is only priced at 4.5 times more.
I. CERTIFIED COINS, BY GRADE Date Grade Range/Service MS-60-62 PCGS/NGC Grade Range/Service MS-63 and above PCGS/NGC Total PCGS/NGC 1888-O 160/262 14/2 174/264 = 438 1892-O 167/230 1/0 168/230 = 398 1893-O 125/112 2/0 127/112 = 239 1894-O 118/103 15/7 133/110 = 243 1895-O 144/117 11/5 155/122 = 277 1897-O 79/58 14/4 93/62 = 157 1899-O 76/30 8/4 84/34 = 128 1901-O 162/117 40/15 202/132 = 334 1903-O 379/258 41/22 420/280 = 700 1904-O 210/198 37/28 247/226 = 473 1906-O 105/82 37/32 142/114 = 256
II. RARITY RANKINGS, BY TOTAL NUMBER CERTIFIED
Date Total Number Certified Ranking 1899-O 128 1st 1897-O 157 2nd 1893-O 239 3rd 1894-O 243 4th 1906-O 256 5th 1895-O 277 6th 1901-O 334 7th 1892-O 398 8th 1888-O 438 9th 1904-O 473 10th 1903-O 700 11th
III. HIGH GRADE COINS (MINT STATE-63 AND ABOVE) - TOTAL GRADED Date Total Number Certified 1888-O 16 1892-O 1 1893-O 2 1894-O 22 1895-O 16 1897-O 18 1899-O 12 1901-O 55 1903-O 63 1904-O 65 1906-O 69
IV. RARITY RANKINGS - HIGH GRADE COINS (MINT STATE-63 AND ABOVE) Date Number Graded Ranking 1892-O 1 1st 1893-O 2 2nd 1899-O 12 3rd 1888-O 16 4th 1895-O 16 4th (tie) 1897-O 18 6th 1894-O 22 7th 1901-O 55 8th 1903-O 63 9th 1904-O 65 10th 1906-O 69 11th