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Legendary 1854-O Twenty Dollar, AU55
Condition Census Example

1854-O $20 AU55 PCGS Secure. The Fort Worth, Texas, branch of the National Archives is home to numerous records from the New Orleans Mint and Assay Office. Among the notable records are two original gold deposit books that provide the details of individual gold deposits. The first book is the Register of Gold Bullion Received from Depositors, and of Coins Paid at the Treasury of the Mint. That book lists every deposit of gold from April 1, 1851, to June 9, 1853, nearly all from California. The second book is the Register of Gold Bullion, Coins & Jewelry Received, covering January 1, 1852, to January 28, 1861.

While the second book is less detailed, it provides extremely important data. For example, in January 1861, the Bank of Louisiana made six different deposits totaling 29,000 sovereigns. However, the earlier years are more interesting in terms of the 1854-O double eagle. While a more detailed study is planned, the number of deposits each quarter from 1852 to 1854 is most telling.

First quarter: 1852: 608 deposits; 1853: 420 deposits; 1854: 237 deposits

Second quarter: 1852: 491 deposits; 1853: 190 deposits; 1854: 164 deposits

Third quarter: 1852: 206 deposits; 1853: 87 deposits; 1854: 55 deposits

Fourth quarter: 1852: 395 deposits; 1853: 217 deposits; 1854: 68 deposits

In every quarter, the number of deposits decreased each year from 1852 to 1854. That downward trend continued for the rest of the decade. While the number of deposits in any quarter was subject to a number of factors, there is no doubt that the opening of the San Francisco Mint in California was one of those factors. Lower third quarter deposits, from July to September, were probably also due in part to yellow fever and other disease in the humid metropolis.

Mint records indicate a total production of just 3,250 double eagles at New Orleans during the year 1854, and only about 1% of that total survives today, an estimated 25 to 35 coins, according to Doug Winter. Current NGC and PCGS population data, including resubmissions, totals 32 pieces in all grades at both services, including six coins certified as AU55 and four coins as AU58 (3/14). There are no Mint State pieces certified, so the present AU55 specimen ranks close to the top of the Condition Census. The certified population probably represents only about 25 different coins, or perhaps even fewer. While we don't have a roster of the finest coins, we feel that there are likely only six or seven different examples that grade AU55 or AU58.

Of course a coin of such great rarity must be examined in order to establish its authenticity. Doug Winter, writing in the second edition of his Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint, 1839-1909, has identified the following die characteristics for genuine specimens, including: small digits in the date which slant up to the right, die lines in the area of TY of LIBERTY on the coronet, and a tiny, raised die lump on Liberty's neck in front of the largest curl. Typically seen striking qualities of the 1854-O are consistent on this piece, as are the aforementioned die characteristics. Slight softness is seen on the hair curls closest to Liberty's face, and on the reverse some weakness can be found on the eagle's tail feathers and the banner. As usual, the denticles are sharply defined and the peripheral stars show significant definition on the centers.

This bright greenish yellow-gold example displays prooflike tendencies in the recesses and bits of reddish patina about the peripheries. Surface marks are scattered and generally unobtrusive. Winter implies that pleasing surfaces are rarely seen: "Most 1854-O double eagles are well circulated and, as a result, they show very heavily abraded surfaces." He continues to note that a prooflike or reflective appearance is the norm for higher grade pieces such as this specimen.

Collector interest (and prices realized) for these prized O-mint rarities has escalated in recent years, as evidenced by two AU55 examples sold by Heritage over the last three years, both in excess of $450,000. According to Winter, "there are not many 1854-O double eagles with good eye appeal and these tend to be in tightly-held collections." We expect the present specimen to soon be in strong collecting hands, where it will likely remain for a long time. A fine bidding opportunity for the serious O-mint or Southern gold collector. Population: 3 in 55, 0 finer (3/14).
Ex: The Cincinnati Collection (Heritage, 1/2005), lot 8829, where it realized $368,000; The Pittsburgh ANA Fall National, U.S. Coins Signature (Heritage, 10/2011), lot 5099, where it realized $431,250.
From The Charles G. Wright Family Collection.(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 268T, PCGS# 8912)

View all of [The Charles G. Wright Family Collection ]

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Auction Dates
April, 2014
23rd-27th Wednesday-Sunday
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 8
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