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The Finest Collectible 1909-O Indian Half Eagle, MS66
1909-O $5 MS66 PCGS Secure. Ex: Eliasberg / O'Neal. The New
Orleans Mint in 1835, and the facility was producing coins three
years later, beginning with silver coins in 1838 and gold coins in
1839. The original legislation provided for the first three branch
mints of the Philadelphia Mint, requiring Congress to consider all
aspects of the distant operations. The first section stipulated
The Mitchelson-Clapp-Eliasberg-Price Coin
Designated by David Akers as 'The Coin'
"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That branches of the mint of the United States shall be established as follows: one branch at the city of New Orleans for the coinage of gold and silver; one branch at the town of Charlotte, in Mecklinburg county, in the state of North Carolina, for the coinage of gold only; and one branch at or near Dahlonega, in Lumpkin county, in the state of Georgia, also for the coinage of gold only. And for the purpose of purchasing sites, erecting suitable buildings, and completing the necessary combinations of machinery for the several branches aforesaid, the following sums, to be paid out of any money in the treasury not otherwise appropriated, shall be, and hereby are, appropriated: for the branch at New Orleans, the sum of two hundred thousand dollars; for the branch at Charlotte, fifty thousand dollars; for the branch at Dahlonega, fifty thousand dollars."
Additional sections of the 1835 Mint Act provided for officers at each branch and their salaries, that the said officers were required to take an oath, and that the direction or control of each branch fell under the jurisdiction of the Mint Director in Philadelphia. The final section of the Act, approved on March 3, 1835, extended all laws for regulation of the Mint to each of the branch mints.
The New Orleans branch mint operated from 1838 to 1861, when Confederate forces captured the facility. At the close of the Civil War, coinage operations remained suspended for a number of years. With the substantial need for Morgan dollars following passage of the Bland-Allison Act in 1878, the New Orleans Mint again produced coins beginning in 1879. Operations continued until 1909, when the last coins were struck in March of that year.
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1910, discusses the idle New Orleans Mint:
"The amount of gold which is available for coinage at New Orleans is small, and the total coinage of the country can be done materially cheaper at three mints and with three organizations than at four mints and with four complete complements of officers and employees. The amount of coinage which could be given to the New Orleans Mint under these conditions did not warrant the continuance of operations there, and they were suspended April 1, 1909, and a large reduction of the force made at that time. At various dates in 1910 further reductions were made, and there appearing to be no likelihood that the mint could advantageously resume operations in the near future, the estimates for 1911 have been made for the conduct of the institution as an assay office only."
Frank Aleamon Leach was the Mint director at the time that New Orleans coinage was suspended. At the time, an option to reopen the New Orleans Mint was reserved, although today we know that never happened.
The O'Neal specimen of the 1909-O Indian half eagle, the only Indian Head gold coin ever minted in New Orleans, has a provenance from J.C. Mitchelson to John H. Clapp, Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr., Dr. Thaine B. Price, and James O'Neal. The Clapp notebook recording acquisitions of coins in that collection indicates that Mitchelson sold the coin to Clapp in June 1909. That means that Mitchelson almost certainly ordered the coin directly from the Mint. We know that the 1909-O half eagles were coined in February or March 1909, and the present piece may have been among the first coins minted.
A description of the O'Neal Collection example was written by gold expert David Akers for the Dr. Thaine B. Price catalog, and we find no improvement is necessary:
"The overall appearance of this coin is exceptional, especially when one considers that it is a 1909-O Half Eagle, not normally one of the more attractive issues in the series. It is fully struck with superb frosty mint luster, original, uncleaned surfaces and magnificent medium orange and greenish-gold color. One would have to look very closely to find even a couple of trivial marks and the coin's overall originality and quality are simply stunning. The mintmark is very prominently double punched."
In the Dr. Price catalog, David Akers called this coin "the finest collectible example of the rarest issue in the entire series." He even dubbed this specimen as "THE COIN." The two major grading services report the following (10/13): MS64 NGC (8), MS64 PCGS (8), MS65 NGC (2), MS65 PCGS (1), and MS66 PCGS (1). The total of 20 PCGS- and NGC-certified examples in MS64 to MS66 compares favorably to the estimate provided in the update of the Akers Handbook, where it is suggested there are 10 to 15 MS64, three to four MS65, and one MS66 specimen.
Roster of Top Six 1909-O Half Eagles
1. MS66 PCGS. The present specimen. J.C. Mitchelson (6/1909); John H. Clapp; Clapp Estate (1942); Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; Eliasberg Estate (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 623, $30,800; David Hall and Gordon Wrubel; Auction '83 (Paramount, 7/1983), lot 404, $46,750; Texas Collector; Auction '89 (David Akers, 7/1989), lot 1405, $71,500; Dr. Thaine B. Price (David Akers, 5/1998), lot 21, $374,000; "Stellar Collection"; Jim O'Neal #1 All-Time Finest Collection of Indian Half Eagles / FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2011), lot 5138, where it brought $690,000.
2. MS65 PCGS. Bowers and Ruddy (2/1978), lot 1315; Auction '79 (RARCOA, 7/1979), lot 1279; Robert Kruthoffer (Paramount, 9/1981), lot 6; Dr. Steven Duckor; Auction '90 (David Akers, 7/1990), lot 1803; David Hall Rare Coins; Private Collection.
3. MS65 NGC. Denver Signature Sale (Heritage, 8/2006), lot 5524; Heritage Internet (12/2006), lot 23749.
4. MS65 NGC. James A. Stack, Sr. (Stack's, 10/1994), lot 1279, $99,000; Great Lakes Collection (Bowers and Merena, 11/1998), lot 4010, $178,500.
5. MS65 NGC. Superior (1/2004), lot 911.
6. MS65. Smithsonian Institution.(Registry values: N1) (NGC ID# 25ZK, PCGS# 8515)
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