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HomeUS Coins1856-O Liberty Head Double Eagle : A Collector's Guide

1856-O Liberty Head Double Eagle : A Collector’s Guide

1856-O Liberty Head Double Eagle. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.
1856-O Liberty Head Double Eagle graded PCGS SP63. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

The Liberty Head Double Eagle, the largest circulated gold coin denomination issued by the United States Mint, was introduced in 1850 to offer a more convenient way to convey the massive amounts of ore mined in California. Until the establishment of the San Francisco Mint in 1854, the Philadelphia Mint handled most of the coining. The Charlotte and Dahlonega mints, established to deal with a much smaller gold rush in the Carolinas, were too far out of the way to economically produce any gold coin denomination higher than $5. The New Orleans Mint, located in an important port city, received sufficient quantities of gold to justify striking the higher denomination gold eagle ($10) and double eagle ($20) coins, but not to the extent of the “Mother Mint”.

While Philadelphia would strike one or two million coins each year, New Orleans would strike a hundred thousand to three hundred thousand coins over the course of the series’ first four years. In 1854, New Orleans struck only 3,250 Liberty Head Double Eagles – tiny compared to Philadelphia’s output of 757,899. After striking only 8,000 pieces in 1855, the New Orleans Mint, using one set of dies, struck only 2,250 1856-O Liberty Head Double Eagles. Both the 1854-O and 1856-O issues are considered major rarities and are the keys to the Type I Liberty Head Double Eagle set. Comparable in the number of extant pieces, the 1854-O might be scarcer by a handful of specimens, but the 1856-O is rarer in high grade.

Pinpointing the exact number of known surviving examples of the 1856-O is tough, even with the last 30 years of auction data published online. In his 1982 book United States Gold Coins: An Analysis of Auction Records, Volume IV: Double Eagles, 1849-1933, David W. Akers estimated the number extant to be between 15 and 18, writing, “there is one very nice uncirculated piece known that was sold by Superior in 1980 and at least two others that grade Almost Uncirculated, including the Eliasberg coin which grades AU-55.”

Akers organized the coins in the following way under the header “Auction Records”:

  • (1) UNC: Bell 1944
  • (2) AU: New England 3/77; ANA 1971
  • (8) EF: Stack’s 6/79; ANA 1975; Delp 1972; Stack’s 3/69; Shuford 1968; Stack’s 5/68; Paramount 2/65; Bell 1963
  • (11) VF: RARCOA 4/75; ANA 1974; Gilhousen 1973; Miles 1968; Cicero 1960; Melish 1956; Farouk 1954; Menjou 1950; Lee 1947; Atwater 1946; Hall 1945

Today’s foremost expert on United States gold coins, Doug Winter, with the help of Ron Guth, P. Scott Rubin, and Saul Teichman, compiled a list of 25 known examples of the 1856-O Liberty Head Double Eagle in his 2018 book Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint, 1839-1909—3rd Edition.

Greg Reynolds, writing for CoinWeek, questioned whether 20 coins actually exist, positing his opinion that a small number of 1856-O Liberty Head Double Eagles appeared “two to six times at auction over the past quarter century. Especially during the period from 1988 to 2004, many of the same 1856-O Double Eagles bounced around dealers and were often consigned to auction, sometimes without selling.”

Attitudes toward double eagles started to change after Adam Crum heavily marketed thousands of Type One Liberty Head Double Eagles recovered from the SS Central America shipwreck site. Still, the series remains somewhat underrated by collectors, in large part due to its complexity, the difficulty of acquiring high-end, attractive pieces, and the staggering cost of completing the set.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Top Population:  PCGS SP63 (1, 5/2024). NGC AU58 (2, 5/2024), and CAC AU50 (1:0 stickered:graded, 5/2024).

  • PCGS SP63 #14648274: Mint Superintendent Charles Bienvenu; Bienvenu family; Bienvenu family sold to Marc Emory of New England Rare Coin Galleries, 1979; James Halperin of New England Rare Coin Galleries to Larry Demerer, 1979, $215,000; Demerer to Ira Goldberg of Superior Galleries, 1980, $312,500; As PCGS MS63 #14648274. Superior, January 1995, Lot 1645 – $203,500. As NGC SP63 #1624742-001. “The Eagle Collection, Heritage Auctions, January 2002, Lot 4147 – $310,500; As NGC SP63 #1624742-001. Heritage Auctions, June 3, 2004, Lot 6372 – $542,800; As PCGS SP63 #14648274. Heritage Auctions, May 29, 2009, Lot 1989 – $1,437,500. Planchet flaw above 5 and below 8 with further planchet issues around star 13. Same issues found on the AU58+ Amon Carter coin. Initially graded MS63 by PCGS, but later redesigned as a Specimen. Doug Winter no longer believes that this is a specimen, but instead is an early strike with Prooflike surfaces. Greg Reynolds, after reviewing the coin in person wrote for CoinWeek: [The coin] is truly astounding. It is perhaps the most memorable and important New Orleans Mint gold coin.
  • PCGS AU58+ #81722130: Planchet flaw above 5 and below 8 with further planchet issues around star 13. Hit across cheek. Criss-crossing hits on cheek. Hit in hair below TY. Rim hit to the left of Liberty’s mouth.
  • NGC AU58 #1821032-001: Paramount, February 1965, Lot 887; “The William Van Roden Collection”, Stack’s, May 1968, Lot 916 – $6,500; “The James Dines Collection” Stack’s, March 1969, Lot 856; “The Winner F. Delp Collection”, Stack’s, November 1972, Lot 816; “The James and Margaret Carter Collection”, Stack’s, January 1986, Lot 414; Heritage Auctions, July 1997, Lot 7824 – $80,500; “The Baltimore Collection”, Heritage Auctions, October 24, 2008, Lot 3018 – $576,150; “The Bay State Collection, Part Two”, Heritage Auctions, July 31, 2009, Lot 1316 – $460,000. Small hit on nose and to the left of nose. Rim hit at and to the right of the top of 6. Thin scratch between stars 9 and 10. Dark mark in rays in glory. Hit to the left of O mintmark and above Y in TWENTY.
  • PCGS AU55 #42583893: Imaged on PCGS CoinFacts. Deep cluster of hits to the right of date. Fields are marked throughout. Pronounced rim hit from another coin between stars 6 and 7.
  • PCGS AU55 #25618032: Stack’s, August 1971, Lot 2424 – $5250; As NGC AU55 #182800-017. “Duquesne Collection”, Heritage, August 12 2015, Lot 4453 – $340,750; As PCGS AU55 #25618032. Heritage Auctions, June 9, 2016, Lot 4843 – $364,250. Clusters of hit on the chin and neck. Rim ding and series of diagonal hits to the left of stars 12 and 13. Two dings to the left of Liberty’s nose. On the reverse, hit below S and O. Certification number no longer active.
  • PCGS AU55 #06858314: “The Cicero Collection”, New Netherlands, December 1960, Lot 10; Jack Klausen; Harry W. Bass, Jr., June 19, 1968; “Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection, Part II”,  Bowers and Merena, October 1999, Lot 1711 – $105,800; As NGC AU55 #956401-001. Heritage Auctions, July 2002, Lot 9472 –  $132,250; As PCGS AU55 #50167320. Heritage Auctions, July 28, 2005, Lot 10399 – $431,250; As PCGS AU55 #0685314. Heritage Auctions, April 23, 2015, Lot 5428 – $387,750. Curved scratch from the left of Liberty’s chin to the bust truncation. Gouge on the join between the neck and jaw. Hit below star 2. On the reverse, a horizontal hit that touches the bottom right of the mintmark.
  • PCGS AU53 #83087135: Imaged on PCGS CoinFacts.
  • PCGS AU53 #50167302: GreatCollections, June 12, 2022, Lot 1162682 – View.
  • NGC AU53 #4194365-001: Stack’s Bowers, November 14, 2019, Lot 3188 – $264,000. Long V-shaped mark in front of Liberty’s forehead. Deep hit to the top right of star 1. Numerous hits on Liberty’s cheek and neck. On the reverse, a long cut below OF.
The R.L. Miles 1856-O Liberty Head Double Eagle. Image: Heritage Auctions.
The R.L. Miles 1856-O Liberty Head Double Eagle. Image: Heritage Auctions.
  • PCGS AU53 #07409447: “The R.L. Miles Collection”, Stack’s, October 1968, Lot 839; David Akers, July 1988, Lot 975; David Akers, August 1990, Lot 1951 – $24,200; Heritage Auctions, Lot 7091 – $94,875; “The Charles G. Wright Family Collection”, Heritage Auctions, August 7, 2014, Lot 5691 – $425,937.50.  Diagonal hit in field to the left of Liberty’s chin. Diagonal tick on neck. Three ticks in Liberty’s hair. 
  • NGC AU50 #4624987-001: Heritage Auctions, January 4, 2018, Lot 5097 – $288,000. The coin has since been reholdered with the same certification number and pedigreed to the C.S. Wong Collection. Deep scratch across Liberty’s cheek. Hit on star 3 mangles the top right and right center points. On the reverse, diagonal cut above Y in LIBERTY.
  • NGC AU50 #3717003-001: “The Dallas Bank Collection”, Sotheby’s/Stack’s, 10/2001, Lot 16 – $92,000; As PCGS AU50 #10178047. “The Wyoming Collection”, Heritage Auctions, August 14, 2006, Lot 5601 – $345,000. As NGC AU50 #3717003-001. Heritage Auctions, August 14, 2019, Lot 3925 – $408,000. Deep hit to the right of star 4. Diagonal hit across neck, hit at bust truncation above 1. On the reverse, two ticks in the glory.
  • NGC AU50 #567449-002: “The Charles Kramer Collection”, Stack’s/Superior, December 1988, Lot 736; Rarcoa, July 1989, Lot 453; As NGC AU50 #567449-002. Heritage, January 30, 2004, lot 7247 – $143,750. Circular scratch from Star 1 to date. Double scratch above star 12. Deep diagonal hit across shield on the reverse.
  • NGC XF45+ #3422835-001: James Bullock; Bullock Estate, unknown to the numismatic community until 2010; Heritage Auctions, September 24, 2010, Lot 5554 – $345,000. Sharply struck. Myriad small scratches on the cheek. Scratch to the right of star 4. Thin scratch at the base of star 5.  Scratches in the right obverse field to the left of star 13.

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Design

Obverse:

The obverse features a left-facing portrait of Liberty wearing an ornamental crown emblazoned with the word LIBERTY. On the bust truncation, Chief Engraver James Barton Longacre’s initials appear as JBL. Thirteen six-pointed stars encircle the design at the top. Date below. Beaded denticles at the rim.

Reverse:

On the coin’s reverse is the depiction of a bald eagle with its wings spread and its chest protected by a Coat of Arms comprised of a vegetal ribbon and a federal shield. The eagle clutches an olive branch is clutched in its right talon and a bundle of arrows in its left. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA wraps around the design at the top. The denomination, written as TWENTY D., wraps around below. The mintmark “O” for New Orleans appears immediately below the eagle’s tail feathers. Beaded denticles at the rim.

Edge:

The edge of the Liberty Head double eagle coin type is reeded.

Designer(s):

James Barton Longacre (1794-1869) served as the fourth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint. Appointed by President John Tyler in 1844, Longacre had no prior experience with die-sinking when he took the position after the passing of Chief Engraver Christian Gobrecht. Longacre’s tenure at the Mint was marred by internal conflict with Coiner Franklin Peale and Mint Director Robert M. Patterson. Longacre outlasted both men and is credited as the designer of dozens of medals and U.S. coins, including the Liberty Head Double Eagle and the Indian Head Cent.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year of Issue: 1856
Denomination: Twenty Dollars (USD)
Mintmark: O (New Orleans)
Mintage: 2,250
Alloy: .900 Gold, .100 Copper
Weight: 33.44 g
Diameter: 34.00 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: James Barton Longacre
REV Designer: James Barton Longacre
Quality: Business Strike

 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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