More than 80 bids have been recorded in the sale of an uncirculated 1859-O $20 gold double eagle being offered by GreatCollections.com. Certified MS-60 by PCGS (one of two examples reported in that grade by the service), the top bid on this specimen has broken into six figures at the time of writing. The sale closes on Sunday, December 19.
The New Orleans Mint struck 9,100 double eagles in 1859, the fourth-smallest mintage of the denomination from that facility behind 1854, 1855, and 1856. The 1860 United States Mint Annual Report offers a possible insight into the small mintage. The report noted that “wealthiest and most civilized nations of the globe” generally did not strike gold coins larger than an American half eagle and that the Mint was capable of handling the increased workload of striking more smaller-denomination gold coins. New equipment, “the division of labor, and the present efficiency of the mint establishments” seemed to give Mint officials confidence that they could handle the increased workload.
The report made clear that the Mint would still produce double eagles. The report explains: “It is not by any means assumed that the coinage of the eagle and the double eagle should be discontinued. On the contrary, they will be indispensable at San Francisco; they may, in some emergencies, be required at Philadelphia and at New Orleans; but, as a general rule, adapted to the principal mint and to the branches in the Atlantic States, it is believed that the time has come to return to the smaller denominations of gold coin, issuing almost the whole in pieces not larger than the half eagle…”
Another reason for the scarcity of the 1859-O (and other 1850s New Orleans issues) could be the lack of numismatic interest in the series at the time the date was issued and that collecting by mint mark had not yet emerged as a serious collecting goal. Many well-capitalized collectors bought Proofs struck at the Philadelphia Mint for their date sets, resulting in most branch mint double eagles making their way into circulation. This extensive circulation accounts, at least in part, for the minuscule uncirculated population of 1859-O double eagles.
Doug Winter, an expert on U.S. gold coinage, acknowledges in his book Type One Liberty Head Double Eagles that the 1859-O issue is often compared to the 1860-O in terms of rarity, but claims to have encountered more of the 1860 issue. The PCGS Population Report estimates that 75 to 100 examples of the date are known.
Winter describes the 1859-O’s strike quality as poor and the eye appeal “well below average.” The weakest areas include Liberty’s hair curls and face, the hair on the top of her head, and the obverse stars (especially the first five), as well as the eagle’s wingtips and tail feathers. Winter describes the date’s luster as “[P]rooflike with a slightly grainy texture” and “worn to the point that they have impaired (or virtually no) luster.” He also says that the luster on coins in higher grades is “impaired by heavy abrasions and/or repeated cleanings.” The example offered by GreatCollections is “straight graded”, a remarkable condition rarity.
Two interesting aspects of this example are its relatively strong strike, with only slight weakness on the left side stars, with star three being the weakest, and that it exhibits bold clashmarks at Liberty’s ear and curls near the bust truncation. Winter notes that clashmarks are present on all 1859-O double eagles.
PCGS records 55 grading events for 1859-O double eagles, two of which were MS-60 grades. No finer examples are reported. NGC reports one example in MS-61 Prooflike, the only example that received a Mint State grade from the service; the highest non-Prooflike grade reported is AU-58 – NGC reports 61 grading events for non-Prooflike 1859-O double eagles.
83 bids, the highest of which was $117,500, were recorded at the time of writing. The lot had been viewed 704 times and 37 GreatCollections members were tracking the sale, which closes on December 19 at 7:56:11 PM Pacific Time. To search through GreatCollection’s archive of over 600,000 certified coins the company has sold over the past seven years, please visit their Auction Archives.
Another 1859-O double eagle certified MS-60 by PCGS sold in April of this year for $150,000. This result suggests that the bidding on the example offered by GreatCollections isn’t over. Winter wrote in his ebook that all uncirculated 1859-O double eagles were “off the market in tightly-held collections.” If these coins’ new owners are similar to their prior owners, they might not appear on the market again for some time.
A number of other gold double eagles are being offered by GreatCollections in sales that close around the same time as that of the 1859-O, most of which are for coins dated 1904; a single 1903 coin is being offered.