HomeUS Coins1879-O Liberty Head Double Eagle : A Collector's Guide

1879-O Liberty Head Double Eagle : A Collector’s Guide

1879-O Liberty Head Double Eagle. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.
1879-O Liberty Head Double Eagle. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.

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

The American Civil War officially ended coining operations at the three Southern mints of Charlotte (North Carolina), Dahlonega (Georgia), and New Orleans (Louisiana). Only the New Orleans Mint reopened after the Civil War. Recognizing the strategic importance of controlling the Mississippi’s waterways, Union forces seized the city of New Orleans on April 25, 1862, making it the first major Southern city to fall to the Union during the conflict. The New Orleans Mint was again under federal control during the occupation, but no coinage was produced there. A Union flag desecrator was hung for treason from the rooftop, however.

The New Orleans Mint returned online, first as an Assay Office in 1876 and then as a branch mint in 1879. The Bland-Allison Act and its annual requirement for producing millions of unnecessary silver Morgan Dollars were the primary cause for the resumption of coinage at the Southern mint. The passage of the Specie Payment Resumption Act in 1875 provided the necessary incentives to justify a limited production of gold coins at the location.

After its introduction in 1850, the Liberty Head Double Eagle became the dominant gold coin of the United States. Americans seldom used the coin for everyday purchases, as its value exceeded their average weekly wage. It was, however, used to back currency, traded amongst banks, and exported as payment for imported goods. In 1879, Liberty Head Double Eagles were produced at Philadelphia, Carson City, New Orleans, and most abundantly at the San Francisco Mint. Of the four issues, the Carson City and New Orleans Mints are rare in any grade approaching Mint State. For the New Orleans Mint, the 1879-O Liberty Head Double Eagle was its first $20 double eagle gold coin issued since 1861. It is also the only Type 3 Liberty Head Double Eagle struck at the facility.

The 1879-O was struck with one set of dies.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Fewer than 100 pieces are likely to have survived in all grades. This date is prohibitively rare in Mint State and seldom encountered in AU58.

Top Population: PCGS MS62 (1, 5/2024; had been pop 3 as recently as 11/2019), NGC MS63 (1, 3/2024), and CAC AU58 (1:0 stickered:graded, 5/2024).

  • PCGS MS62 #42583675: Imaged at PCGS CoinFacts. Copper spot below 9. A cluster of thin hairlines in the left and right obverse fields. Hit in front of Liberty’s mouth. Long light scratch above LLAR on the reverse.
  • NGC MS61 #3856707-001: Superior, January 1993, Lot 1539; Bowers & Merena, August 1996, Lot 425. As NGC MS60 #587196-083. “The Eagle Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 2002, Lot 4082. EAGLE COLLECTION on insert; Heritage Auctions, January 9, 2014, Lot 5548 – $135,125. As NGC MS61 #3856707-001. Heritage Auctions, April 24, 2021, Lot 5188 – $138,000. EAGLE COLLECTION on insert. Upgraded by one point. Deep hit above lip. Scattered small ticks in the right field. Small gouge above 7. Small tick between stars 2 and 3. Toning streak from I of UNITED to M of AMERICA.
  • NGC AU58+ #4909365-001: “The Cameron Collection,” Heritage Auctions, April 24, 2021, Lot 5187 – $78,000. More lustrous than most. Series of repeating scratches from lip to mid-neck. Rim hit at 10 o’clock. Deep cut to the left of 1. Hit above nostril. Four small ticks above PLURIBUS.
  • PCGS AU58 #44882807: “The Fairmont Collection – Hendricks Set,” Stack’s Bowers, April 6, 2022, Lot 5443 – $114,000. The Fairmont Collection on insert. “Crusty” appearance. Hit on chin. Thin diagonal mark from forehead to left field. Scattered dark streaks across eagle’s wing and shield on the reverse. Scruffy fields.
  • NGC AU58 #910000-001: Heritage Auctions, February 2011, Lot 7215; Heritage Auctions, January 2003, Lot 9040; “The Genau Collection,” Heritage Auctions, August 14, 2019, Lot 3941 – $75,000. Diagonal mark above 79. Hit at the top of 9. Thin diagonal scratch in field from hair to star 13.
  • PCGS AU58 #10002600: Heritage Auctions, April 27, 2017, Lot 4336 – $70,514.10. Toning at stars 1 and 2 and to the right of the date. Deep hit the right of the nostril. Wear evident above LIBERTY and high curls. Two small dents in hair. Dark streak from B of PLURIBUS to shield and from eagle’s beak to T of TRUST.
  • PCGS AU58 #21957383: “The Baltimore Collection,” Heritage Auctions, October 24, 2008, Lot 3087 – $74,750; Heritage Auctions, May 29, 2009, Lot 1921 – $69,000; “The Renz Family Collection of $20 Gold Coins,” Heritage Auctions, January 5, 2017, Lot 6041 – $70,500. Copper spot below chin. Two hits on the tip of 9. Two deep hits at the top of Liberty’s hair. Diagonal mark between stars 7 and 8. Deep hit above N of TWENTY.
  • NGC AU58 #1828000-083: “The Duquesne Collection,” Heritage Auctions, August 12, 2015, Lot 4486 – $70,500. DUQUESNE on insert. Copper spot below E of LIBERTY. Another at the top of Liberty’s hair. Diagonal hit in hair. Cluster of heavy hits on the neck. Deep hits above date and to the left of star 13. Dark streak on the reverse from F to the arrows. This coin is scruffy all over. On the reverse, deep diagonal hit from eagle’s left wing to arrow tips. Planchet issue at C of AMERICA.
  • NGC AU58 #2019196-002: “The Donald E. Bently Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 9, 2014, Lot 5547 – $88,125. Copper spot in field in the space between neck and stars 1 and 2. Rim hit at 12 o’clock. Small cluster of hits on neck. Hits above star 11. Gouge on reverse below UN. Deep hit in the field above UNUM.
  • PCGS AU58 CAC #15517234: Heritage Auctions, December 4, 2009, Lot 1999 – $74,750. When offered, the top pop CAC-approved coin. “Crusty” appearance. Small cluster of depressions on the neck. Horizontal hit behind the head. Dark spot to the left of this hit. Thin scratch below the lowest curl. Diagonal dark mark to the right of 9. Hit on the eyebrow. Dark spot above the second T of TWENTY. Dark streaks on the eagle’s right wing and in the area of IB of PLURBIUS.
  • NGC AU58 #1854501-007: “The Grand Lake Collection,” Heritage Auctions, February 6, 2009, Lot 3056 – $63,250. Gouge on the neckline and a thin diagonal scratch from star one to neck.
  • NGC AU58 #3164125-002: Heritage Auctions, December 5, 2008, Lot 2478 – $71,875. Gouge in the field to the right of star 3. Gouge in neck. Deep hit below eye. Ticks in hair below diadem. Scratch below R of LIBERTY. Long thin scratch above stars 11 and 12. Hits behind head. Tick above 7. Bottom right serif of 1 is disfigured. Hit through 9.
  • NGC AU58: Stack’s, June 25, 2008, Lot 2109 – $78,200. Horizontal mark in field from lowest curl to star 13. Hit above eye brow. Deep hit in hair near bun. Two rim hits near 12 o’clock.

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Design

Obverse:

Chief Engraver James Barton Longacre’s classical left-facing Liberty on the obverse is said to be modeled after an old Hellenistic sculpture, the Crouching Venus. A beaded-edged coronet with the word LIBERTY is placed on her head, and curled locks both drape down the back of the neck and sweep from the front to form rolled curls at the back of her head. Thirteen six-point stars encircle inside a denticulated rim, and the date is centered at the bottom.

Reverse:

The reverse displays UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around the top two-thirds inside a denticulated rim, and the denomination TWENTY DOLLARS is centered at the bottom. An eagle with outstretched wings is in the center, clutching three arrows in the left claw and a small olive branch in the right, with a shield placed across its breast.

The eagle, head turned to its right, is holding in its beak one of two top extensions of an elaborately curled and parted double scroll or ribbon, which some suggest represents the double eagle denomination. The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM is divided, with E PLURIBUS in the center of the ribbon to the left and UNUM in a similar location on the ribbon to the right.

Above the eagle’s head, below STATES OF, 13 small six-pointed stars form an oval. Seven of the stars are on the blank field, and six overlap sunburst-like rays, forming an arc between the eagle’s wings. Within the oval is the motto IN GOD WE TRUST.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1879
Denomination: One Dollar (USD)
Mintmark: O (New Orleans)
Mintage: 2,325
Alloy: .900 Gold, .100 Copper
Weight: 33.40 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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