There are almost certainly less than 350 1854 Eagles around in the present, maybe even fewer than 250! In Nov. 2011, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded AU-50 1854 for $1035. In Feb. 2014, Heritage sold an NGC graded AU-50 1854 for $910.63. In Aug. 2011, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded AU-55 1854 for $1092.50. Although these might not be stunning, original coins, they are sharp, genuine representatives of a true rarity from the mid-nineteenth century. Other 1854 Eagles could be obtained for less than $1000 each. Overall, market prices for 1854 Eagles seem reasonable, in comparison to prices for relevant gold coins of other types.
III. New Orleans Mint Eagles
More than a few truly rare New Orleans Mint Eagles have market values below $5000 each. Some cost less than $2000!
For 1842-O Eagles, the total of grading events reported by PCGS and NGC is more than 380. Many of the same coins, however, have been submitted over and over again, in hopes of receiving higher grades. Additionally, a New Orleans Mint gold coin that graded “EF-45” twenty years ago may very well certify as grading “AU-50” now.
I theorize that there are fewer than 275 1842-O Eagles in existence. This estimate includes some that have failed to receive numerical grades from PCGS and/or NGC.
In July 2014, Heritage auctioned an NGC graded EF-45 coin for $1527.50. In Oct. 2012, a PCGS graded EF-45 1842-O was auctioned for $1703.75.
Also, the CAC has approved just thirteen 1842-O Eagles. This service evaluates submitted coins that are already PCGS or NGC graded. The CAC was founded in 2007 by John Albanese.
Back in Jan. 2011, Heritage auctioned an 1842-O that is PCGS graded VF-20 and has a CAC sticker of approval. Images suggest the possibility that this coin scores higher in the category of originality than some of the other coins mentioned in this discussion. At $920, it may have been a good deal, from a logical perspective.
The 1843-O may be rare. It is especially hard to tell whether there are more than five hundred 1843-O Eagles in existence. The 1847-O is definitely not rare and is often a choice of collectors who seek a relatively low cost ‘No Motto’ Eagle. For a small premium, however, a collector may buy a New Orleans Mint Eagle this is truly rare.
The 1844-O is more likely to be rare than the 1843-O. I tentatively figure that there are 425 to 450 in existence. In Dec. 2013, Heritage auctioned an NGC graded ‘EF-45’ 1844-O for $1175. In March 2011, a PCGS graded AU-50 1844-O sold for $1840.
Unquestionably, the 1846-O is rare. Probably fewer than 200 survive. The combined PCGS and NGC grading total of 208 probably amounts to 140 to 150 different coins. Surely, at least another twenty-five have failed to receive numerical grades from PCGS or NGC.
In Feb. 2014, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded EF-40 1846-O for $2232.50. In June 2013, however, Heritage auctioned another PCGS graded EF-40 1846-O for $1410. Generally, I do not draw a conclusion about an auction price for an individual coin, if I have not examined that coin.
The 1848-O is not as rare as the 1846-O. More than two hundred survive. The premiums that 1848-O Eagles sometimes command are hard to understand. Unless a collector is seeking to complete a set of ‘No Motto’ Eagles or some kind of comprehensive set of New Orleans Mint gold coins, it is not necessary to add an 1848-O to a collection.
The 1860-O is a noteworthy rarity. Fewer than two hundred survive, including dozens that are non-gradable. Very recently, in June 2014, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded EF-45 1860-O for $2585. In Nov. 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an NGC graded AU-50 1860-O for $3290.
Generally, except the 1841-O and the 1859-O, which are each extremely rare, all New Orleans Mint dates of the ‘No Motto’ Eagle type can be found for less than $5000 each. For most New Orleans Mint, ‘No Motto’ Eagles, an AU grade coin retails for less than $3900, sometimes much less, and a lower circulated grade coin can be found for less than $2000. Overall, market prices for New Orleans Mint, ‘No Motto’ Eagles are low, in contrast to prices for other rare gold coins, especially early U.S. issues.
IV. San Francisco Mint
As the San Francisco Mint did not begin striking coins until 1854, there are fewer dates of ‘S’ Mint ‘No Motto’ Eagles than of Philadelphia or New Orleans issues. Curiously, although the 1854-S Quarter Eagle and the 1854-S Half Eagle are Great Rarities, the 1854-S Eagle is not quite rare. I tentatively suggest that there are around 550 in existence. Recently, in June, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded EF-45 1854-S for $1292.50.
The 1855-S Eagle, in contrast, is rare, indisputably so. The PCGS CoinFacts site provides an estimate that seventy-two survive and this seems to be an excellent working hypothesis. Of the eighty-six that have been graded by PCGS or NGC, maybe forty-five to fifty-five are different coins. There must be at least fifteen 1855-S Eagles and maybe at most twenty-five that have failed to receive numerical grades or have never been submitted to PCGS or NGC.
The CAC has approved just three, though it might be true that only a very small number of 1855-S Eagles have been submitted to CAC. A reality to keep in mind is that surviving, pre-1880 U.S. gold coins often have problems. There are many gold coins with problems that have been PCGS or NGC graded and later CAC rejected. A coin, however, can fail to receive a CAC sticker for any one of several reasons. It should not be assumed that a coin that has been rejected by CAC necessarily has problems.
Decent 1855-S Eagles are available for less than $5000. In Jan. 2014, Heritage auctioned the NGC graded EF-45, Bently Collection 1855-S for $3290. In 2010, Stack’s auctioned a PCGS graded EF-45 1855-S for $4312.50. A PCGS or NGC graded EF-40 1855-S would probably retail for less than $3000. The ‘EF’ 1855-S that Heritage auctioned in Jan. 2013 for $1527.50 was determined to be non-gradable by experts at NGC and to have the ‘details’ of an Extremely Fine grade coin.
The 1856-S is rare, not very rare. Even so, it is fun to acquire true gold rarities for less than $2000 each. A PCGS or graded EF-40 1856-S may retail for around $1250 or less. A particularly appealing coin, however, would probably be worth a substantial premium over an ‘average quality for the grade’ 1856-S.
The 1857-S is much rarer than the 1856-S. Indeed, it is very rare, nearly extremely so. Perhaps there are around 110 1857-S Eagles in existence. At the recently held ANA Convention in Illinois, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded EF-45 1857-S, with a CAC sticker. That coin brought $3378.13. In Feb. 2014, Heritage auctioned an NGC graded ‘EF-45’ 1857-S for $1762.50.
The 1858-S is rarer than the 1857-S and is very likely to be even rarer than the 1855-S. A collector, though, should be able to eventually obtain a PCGS or NGC graded, Extremely Fine-40 to -45 grade 1858-S at auction for less than $4500.
Except the 1861-S, the remaining San Francisco Mint ‘No Motto’ Eagles are extremely rare. These tend to be sought by collectors who are seeking to complete sets of ‘No Motto’ Eagles or of San Francisco Mint Eagles overall.
V. A Whole Set?
A whole set ‘by date’ (and U.S. Mint location) of ‘No Motto’ Eagles probably cannot be completed without spending more than $5,000 on at least four coins. An 1839 ‘Head of 1840’ could probably be found for less than $5,000. It would be more difficult to find an 1841-O for less than $5000, though it is possible. A gradable 1858 Philadelphia Mint Eagle could probably be acquired for less than $7500. A non-gradable 1858 might be found for less than $5000.
There is no chance of acquiring a gradable 1859-O for less than $5000, though a non-gradable 1859-O might possibly be found. A gradable 1859-S would likewise be out of reach, though a non-gradable 1859-S could be purchased for less than $5000 within a few years. Moreover, there are dates in the 1860s for which even a non-gradable representative probably could not be acquired for less than $5000. Indeed, it would not make sense to attempt to acquire an 1863 or an 1864-S for less than $5000.
In sum, for a collector who has a $5000 per coin limit, acquiring a group of three truly rare ‘No Motto’ Eagles, one from each of three U.S. Mints, is a realistic, sensible and rather meaningful objective. It need not take long to acquire such a trio. ‘With Motto’ Eagles and Indian Head Eagles from multiple mints could later be added to such a set.
Plus, there are truly rare gold coins, of other types, that could be obtained for less than $5000 each. The first part of this series is on Classic Head Quarter Eagles.
Also, collectors who seek coins that score high in the category of originality should be patient when pursuing pre-1880 gold coins. It is best for quality-conscious collectors to hire experts to analyze coins of interest.
©2014 Greg Reynolds