1856-O $20 XF45 PCGS. CAC....
Coveted Choice XF 1856-O Double Eagle1856-O $20 XF45 PCGS. CAC. Aside from the noncollectible pattern 1849 twenty, three mintmarked issues stand alone among Liberty double eagles as the titans of the series. The dominant force among Type Two pieces is the 1870-CC, the first double eagle issue struck by Carson City and the rarest, a perennial favorite among Old West gold collectors as well. The other two prominent issues are a pair of antebellum New Orleans dates, the 1854-O and 1856-O. The two of them are oft-compared, and the occasional numismatic rivalry has been played up in various numismatic publications.
To claim that the two issues are rare is an understatement. Focusing on the 1856-O, just 10 certification events are present in the NGC Census Report and a mere 12 pieces are identified in the PCGS Population Report; almost assuredly, there is some overlap between the two sources of certified data, as well as within them due to resubmissions. Add in a handful of impaired examples, and an estimate of 20 to 30 survivors, as published by Doug Winter in his Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint, appears accurate. This is a slightly smaller pool of available pieces than is known for the 1854-O, which holds true through most grades, though in Mint State, the 1856-O actually offers a prospect for owning an unworn example, unlike its earlier counterpart.
Further evidence of the 1856-O double eagle's rarity is offered by a comment made by Doug Winter to the numismatic press. In the January 28, 2008 edition of Coin World, he was quoted as saying that a near-Mint representative of the issue, which he encountered while acting as a liaison between a dealer and a private collector, " ... was the first I have handled in a few years." That Winter, one of the most widely acknowledged authorities on (and one of the best-known dealers in) Southern gold, would go years without coming into contact with an example is perhaps the best contemporary illustration of its rarity.
Interestingly, the past couple of years have offered a number of opportunities for the collector of the higher New Orleans denominations in better grades; not only did the AU58 coin brokered by Winter change hands, but late October 2008 saw the Baltimore Collection specimen, a near-Mint representative, sell at Heritage's Dallas auction. Heritage's May 2009 Long Beach auction also saw the legendary SP63 representative change hands for over $1.4 million. All three of those pieces rank among the finest examples known; coins in less than About Uncirculated have traded only infrequently in years past.
The present Choice XF survivor offers a chance to remedy that situation. While lightly worn as expected, marks are few, and the surfaces certainly are not "very heavily abraded," the way Winter describes the issue at large. Strike is typical, with the usual patches of weakness on the portrait and the eagle's outermost feathers. The green-gold and yellow-gold surfaces show glimmers of their original reflective luster, most notably on the reverse. A small cluster of marks to the left of Liberty's nose are the only flaws warranting specific mention. Population: 2 in 45, 9 finer (6/09).
From The Bay State Collection, Part Two.(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 268Z, PCGS# 8918)
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