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Classic U.S. Gold Coins: The 1854-O Half Eagle Gets “Discovered”

Classic U.S. Gold Coins: The 1854-O Half Eagle Gets "Discovered"

By Doug WinterRareGoldCoins.com ……

CoinWeek Content Partner

The 1854-O is the second-most-available No Motto Half Eagle from the New Orleans Mint. According to the 2020 edition of my book Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint, 1838-1909, there are 225-275+ known – with as many as 80-100 in AU grades, plus another 8-10 in Uncirculated.

But while these numbers remain accurate, they fail to acknowledge that the 1854-O is far scarcer than most collectors realize when it comes to natural color and surfaces. In fact, in choice AU, I now believe that the 1854-O is actually seen less often than such better-regarded New Orleans half eagles as the 1843-O Large Letters, the 1845-O, the 1846-O, and even the 1851-O.

1854-O $5.00 NGC AU58 CAC. Images courtesy Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN)

1854-O $5.00 NGC AU58 CAC. Images courtesy Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN)

It is interesting to note that I have assembled (or am currently assembling) numerous sets of New Orleans half eagles for customers. In most instances, one of the last coins purchased for these sets was the 1854-O. Despite the supposed availability of this issue in AU, I have seen but a handful of coins that meet my criteria for originality.

Clearly, I’m not the only New Orleans half eagle enthusiast who realizes this, and the two recent auction sales of exceptional AU 1854-O half eagles from the Fairmont Hoard have attained breathtaking results for an issue with a market value of $1,750 USD in AU53 and $2,250 in AU55 (according to the PCGS Price Guide as of 6/12/2021).

In the just-concluded Stack’s Bowers auction of June 2021, a really nice 1854-O half eagle graded AU53 by PCGS and approved by CAC realized $4,320. This easily set a record price for this issue in AU53, eclipsing the previous high of $3,840 set by another Fairmont coin sold by Stack’s Bowers in their March 2021 auction. Interestingly, yet another PCGS/CAC 1854-O graded AU53 by PCGS brought just $2,160 in the Stack’s Bowers 2020 ANA auction.

How Did This Coin Suddenly Get “Discovered?”

I’d say there are a number of factors.

The first factor is that New Orleans half eagles have increased in popularity in the last few years. The No Motto set is short (just 13 issues) and completable (with no unobtainable dates), which makes it a very interesting project for many gold coin collectors.

The second is that I have written about the relative unavailability of the 1854-O in AU grades with original color and choice surfaces. It should be noted that many PCGS AU53 half eagles look like this:

1854-O $5.00 PCGS AU53, CERT #41664463

1854-O $5.00 PCGS AU53, CERT #41664463

…and not like this:

1854-O $5.00 PCGS AU53, CERT #41453361

1854-O $5.00 PCGS AU53, CERT #41453361

The third factor is a bit more complex: FOMO or “Fear of Missing out”.

Collectors assume that the Fairmont Hoard is coming to an end and that they will have very few chances to purchases such beautiful, original coins anytime in the future. If the 1854-O that just sold for $4,320 is realistically the only really nice 1854-O half eagle that will be available for potentially many years, is the price for a lovely example really an overpay?

The population figures for this date in AU are fairly high. PCGS shows the following numbers as of June 2021:

  • AU50: 21
  • AU53: 12
  • AU55: 17
  • AU58: 33

These numbers are way inflated due to resubmissions and this is easily verifiable by the fact that no PCGS AU55s have sold at auction since 2009 and only four AU58s have crossed the auction block since 1999.

There is now a clear two-tiered market for rare date gold coins.

There are choice, original coins like those from the Fairmont Hoard (especially those which are PCGS/CAC), and there are commercial quality coins. For a date such as the 1854-O half eagle, it is certainly possible that the market now values a high-end original coin in AU53 at $4,000+, while it values a schlocky AU53 at $1,500.

I, for one, will be very interested to see what the next nice AU 1854-O half eagle brings when it becomes available for sale.

Doug Winter Numismatics, specialists in U.S. gold coins

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Doug Winter
Doug Winterhttps://www.raregoldcoins.com
Doug Winter founded Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN) in 1985. The nationally renowned firm specializes in buying and selling rare United States gold coins. He has written over a dozen books, including the standard references on Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans gold coinage, and Type 1 Liberty Head Double Eagles. Douglas has also contributed to the A Guidebook of United States Coins, Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Coins, Q. David Bowers’ Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars, and Andrew Pollock’s United States Pattern and Related Issues. He is a member of the PNG, the ANA, the ANS, the NLG, CAC, PCGS, and NGC - among other professional affiliations. Contact Doug Winter at [email protected].

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