By Jay Turner for PCGS ……
Discoveries of rarities, especially in the United States gold coin series, can occur in Paris submissions as tons of United States gold moved its way to Europe. Recently submitted in a three-coin box was an 1859-O Liberty Head $20. The 1859-O $20 is a rare coin, with only 9,100 examples minted and far fewer surviving today.
Founded in 1838 as one of the three original branch facilities of the United States Mint, the New Orleans Mint eventually produced over 427 million gold and silver coins representing 300 different dates and denominations. Yet, the goal of the New Orleans Mint wasn’t to craft collectibles, but rather to create money for commerce – and this could only be accomplished with bullion delivered to the mint. From this, we get several rare “O” mint coins, scarce mainly due to the lack of production. Since silver and gold were not mined in New Orleans, the bullion came from other circulation-issue coins or deliveries of refined ore from Mexico and California.
During its years of operation, the New Orleans Mint struck $20 gold pieces representing 13 different dates. The highest mintage of these is the 1851-O, which saw 315,000 produced; the lowest mintage is the 1856-O, which saw only 2,250 made. The 1859-O ranks sixth in terms of mintage, following behind the 1856-O, the 1879-O (2,325 struck), the 1854-O (3,250 struck), the 1860-O (6,600 struck), and the 1855-O (8,000 struck). Yet mintage and survival are two different things, and the 1859-O $20 seems to have fewer survivors than many other dates, making it the third or fourth rarest (depending on the estimators’ list), with some suggesting 75 to 100 coins extant of this date from the 9,100 minted.
By the 1850s, the New Orleans Mint’s gold deposits had shrunk since the opening of the United States Mint in San Francisco. Gold Rush deposits could now be easily coined in San Francisco or taken to New York, where they would be transferred to Philadelphia for coining there. The gold that continued to be mined in Dahlonega, Georgia, was coined at the branch mint there. The New Orleans Mint’s source for bullion continued to be foreign coinage, and more was deposited there than at any other United States Mint location. For 1859, just $517,000 had been deposited in gold, from which 9,100 double eagles and 2,300 eagles were struck. These coins were released into circulation in New Orleans, where they traveled and eventually disappeared over time.
Finding a problem-free original example of an 1859-O is a difficult and expensive task, yet an unadulterated example from Europe appeared in an Express submission from the PCGS Europe office in Paris – and that’s something to write about. The coin graded PCGS AU53, making it just the 11th example at that grade in the PCGS census; only 13 are counted in higher grades. The PCGS Price Guide gives an AU53 1859-O a value of $70,000 USD, with the last sale in a PCGS holder appeared in a June 2018 Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction that saw a specimen hammer for $66,000.
What’s fun about a submission like this is to think about how that coin originally came from New Orleans more than 160 years ago, traveled to Europe, and now is back in the United States for grading.
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