1856-O Liberty Double Eagle, AU55
1856-O $20 AU55 PCGS Secure. Variety 1. The 1856-O Liberty
double eagle has long been known as the rarest coin from the New
Orleans Mint, although recent research indicates it is virtually
tied with its 1854-O double eagle counterpart for that distinction.
The recorded mintage of 2,250 pieces is the smallest production
total of the series and, except for the single SP63 example saved
by Superintendent Bienvenue and his descendents, all the coins were
placed into circulation at the time of issue. None were saved by
contemporary collectors, as there was no numismatic interest in
mintmarks or large denomination gold coins at the time. As a
result, the survival rate was low and most of the coins we know
about today are in XF-AU grades. Doug Winter estimates the
surviving population at 20-30 examples in all grades, while NGC and
PCGS have combined to certify a total of 26 coins, including an
unknown number of resubmissions and crossovers (4/16). We have
compiled a roster of the 23 specimens we are aware of and some
earlier citations that may or may not represent the coins in the
Rare, Low-Mintage Key
23 Examples Traced
New Orleans was a hub of economic activity in the 1850s, and the 1856-O double eagles circulated heavily in the regional economy. Some coins were shipped out of the busy port and reached distant destinations. One specimen was found in the Baltimore Hoard, which was buried around 1857 and discovered in 1934 by two boys playing in a cellar. Another seemingly made its way up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to the Kentucky-Ohio border country, where it was stashed away by James Bullock and only discovered by his heirs in 2010. It is possible that a few more examples of this rare issue are waiting to be discovered to delight present-day collectors.
The present coin had been off the market for many years until we offered it as lot 4453 in our 2015 ANA signature sale. Prior to that, it appeared in the ANA Convention Auction (Stack's, 8/1971), lot 2424, where the cataloger noted:
"1856 'O' About Uncirculated, with considerable mint lustre still adhering. Unquestionably one of the finest known. Superior in grade to the Van Roden-Miles coin. One of the rarest Liberty Head Double Eagles; a true rival in rarity to the 1870 'CC' in this sale. Plate"
This coin is certainly an attractive specimen and should fit comfortably in the Condition Census for the date. The pleasing greenish-gold surfaces show a few of the minor contact marks that are always present on this issue, but none are obtrusive or overly distracting. As noted by the Stack's cataloger, this specimen retains much original mint luster and just a touch of high-point wear shows on the well-detailed design elements. The overall presentation is undeniably attractive for this classic Southern gold rarity, and it should find a home in a fine collection or Registry Set. The 1856-O is listed among the 100 Greatest U.S. Coins. Population: 5 in 55, 2 finer (4/16).
Roster of 1856-O Liberty Double Eagles
1. SP63 PCGS. Purchased from the New Orleans Mint at the time of issue by Mint Superintendent Charles Bienvenu; passed to Bienvenu's heirs; purchased by Marc Emory of New England Rare Coin Galleries directly from Bienvenu's family in 1979; sold by James Halperin later that year to Larry Demerer for approximately $215,000; sold to Superior for a reported $312,500 in late 1980/early 1981; The Premier Auction Sale (Superior, 1/1995), lot 1645, realized $203,500; The Eagle Collection (Heritage, 1/2002), lot 4147, realized $310,500; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 6/2004), lot 6372, realized $542,800, Long Beach Signature Auction (Heritage, 5/2009), lot 1989, realized $1,437,500.
2. AU58 PCGS. Amon Carter Collection (Stack's, 1/1984), lot 847; Public Coin Auction (Stack's, 10/1986), lot 967, realized $33,000; James A. Stack Collection (Stack's, 11/1989), lot 1500; AWA specimen, per Doug Winter.
3. AU58 NGC. NASC Convention Auction (Paramount, 2/1965), lot 887; William Van Roden Collection (Stack's, 5/1968), lot 916, realized $6,500; James Dines Collection (Stack's, 3/1969), lot 856; Winner F. Delp Collection (Stack's, 11/1972), lot 816; James and Margaret Carter Collection (Stack's, 1/1986), lot 414; ANA Signature Auction (Heritage, 7/1997), lot 7824, realized $80,500; Dallas Signature Auction (Heritage, 10/2008), lot 3018, realized $576,150; Los Angeles Signature Auction (Heritage, 7/2009), lot 1316, realized $460,000.
4. AU55 NGC. ANA Convention Auction (Stack's, 8/1971), lot 2424, realized $5250; Duquesne Collection (Heritage, 8/2015), lot 4452. The present coin.
5. AU55 PCGS. Cicero Collection (New Netherlands, 12/1960), lot 10; Jack Klausen; purchased by Harry W. Bass, Jr. on June 19, 1968; Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection (Bowers and Merena), lot 1711, realized $105,800; New York Signature Auction (Heritage, 7/2002), lot 9472, realized $132,250; San Francisco Signature Auction (Heritage, 7/2005), lot 10399, realized $431,250; Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2015), lot 5428, realized $387,750.
6. AU53 PCGS. R.L. Miles Collection (Stack's, 10/1968), lot 839; Auction '88 (Akers, 7/1988), lot 975; Auction '90 (David Akers, 8/1990), lot 1951, realized $24,200, Long Beach Signature Auction (Heritage, 2/2001), lot 7091, realized $94,875; Chicago Signature (Heritage, 8/2014), lot 5691, realized $425,937.50. The Winter/Crum plate coin, and the plate coin for Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins by Garrett and Guth.
7. AU53 PCGS. European holding; New York Sale (NERCA, 3/1977), lot 935, realized $23,000; Baltimore Auction (Bowers and Merena, 3/2007), lot 5597, realized $356,500.
8. AU53, per Garrett and Guth. National Numismatic Collection, Smithsonian Institution. AU53 per Garrett and Guth. This coin was discovered in the NNC in 1984 with no record of its provenance. It was not listed in the inventory Comparette compiled in the 1912-1914 era, but it may have been in the collection for some time.
9. AU50 PCGS. Dallas Bank Collection (Sotheby's/Stack's, 10/2001), lot 16, realized $92,000; Denver Signature Auction (Heritage, 8/2006), lot 5601, realized $345,000.
10. AU50 NGC. Charles Kramer Collection (Stack's/Superior, 12/1988), lot 736; Auction '89 (RARCOA, 7/1989), lot 453; Long Beach Signature Auction (Heritage, 1/2004), lot 7247, realized $143,750.
11. AU50 NGC. Richmond Collection (David Lawrence, 7/2004), lot 2252, realized $276,000.
12. AU50 Prooflike. Louis Eliasberg, Sr.; United States Gold Coin Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 889, realized $49,500; Manfra, Tordella & Brookes.
13. AU Details ANACS. John J. Pittman, purchased from Ed Bell (11/27/1961); John Jay Pittman Collection (David Akers, 10/1997), lot 1134, realized $35,750; FUN Signature Auction (Heritage, 1/2005), lot 8831, realized $138,000; Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2014), lot 5795, realized $164,500.
14. AU Details NGC. Atlanta Signature Auction (Heritage, 4/2006), lot 2137, realized $161,000; Chicago Signature (Heritage, 8/2014), lot 5690, realized $164,500.
15. XF45+ NGC. James Bullock before 1923; Bullock's heirs; Long Beach Signature Auction (Heritage, 9/2010), lot 5554, realized $345,000.
16. XF45 NGC. Pre-Long Beach Sale (Superior, 5/1999), lot 3766, realized $67,850; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2014), lot 5518, realized $318,875.
17. XF45 PCGS. FUN Signature Auction (Heritage, 1/2009), lot 4131, realized $276,000; Los Angeles Signature Auction (Heritage, 7/2009), lot 1315, realized $253,000; Pittsburgh Fall ANA Auction (Heritage, 10/2011), lot 5100, realized $276,000.
18. XF45 PCGS. Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 3/1986), lot 534; King of Siam Sale (Bowers and Merena, 10/1987), lot 2017, realized $23,100; Broadus R. Littlejohn, Jr. Collection (Schuyler Rumsey, 2/2012), lot 1216.
19. XF40 NGC. European collection; ANA Auction Sale (Superior, 8/1975), lot 1601, which realized $37,500; Arrowhead Collection (Sotheby's, 5/1987), lot 352; FUN Signature Auction (Heritage, 1/2011), lot 5249; the Akers plate coin.
20. XF. Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 11/1994), lot 1600, realized $35,200.
21. XF Cleaned, per Garrett and Guth. Lilly Collection until 1968; National Numismatic Collection, Smithsonian Institution. XF cleaned, per Garrett and Guth.
22. VF30. D.E.A. and U.S. Marshals Service Sale (Heritage, 12/1988), lot 1377.
23. VF20 PCGS. Alex Shuford Collection (Abe Kosoff, 5/1968), lot 2414; Gilhousen sale (Superior, 2/1973), lot 860, realized $7,000; ANA Convention Auction (Paramount, 8/1974), lot 973; Central States Auction (RARCOA, 4/1975), lot 105; Eugene Detmer Collection (Stack's, 2/1983), lot 1084; Charmont Sale (Steve Ivy, 8/1983), lot 4387; Auction '85 (Superior, 7/1985), lot 974, realized $21,850; Century Sale (Superior, 2/1992), lot 2944; January-February Auction (Superior, 1/1993), lot 1477, realized $13,750, Dr. John Kardatzke Collection (Goldberg, 6/2000), lot 1719, realized $21,850; ANA Auction (Stack's Bowers, 8/2011), lot 7753.
A. J.H. Townsend; John Nickerson Collection (Thomas Elder, 12/1933), lot 1126. Fine.
B. A specimen in the Col. Green Collection, sold to King Farouk via Stack's in 1943 for $135, called "Unc. Mint luster," Palace Collections of Egypt (Sotheby's, 2/1954), lot 180, purchased by Abe Kosoff at 180 Egyptian pounds.
C. A specimen in the Baltimore Hoard, Public Auction Sale (Perry Fuller, 5/1935), realized $105 to Samuel Glenn, of Boydton, Virginia (thanks to Len Augsburger for this information).
D. J.F. Bell Collection (Stack's, 12/1944), lot 899, realized $320; possibly the coin in number 12 above, per the Eliasberg catalog. Uncirculated, full mint luster.
E. George H. Hall Collection (Stack's, 5/1945), lot 2243. VF.
F. William Cutler Atwater Collection (Mehl, 6/1946), lot 1338, realized $210; possibly number 12 above, per Eliasberg catalog. Strictly Very Fine, free from any nicks or dents.
G. H.R. Lee Collection (Stack's, 10/1947), lot 1777. Strictly Very Fine.
H. Dr. Charles W. Green Collection (B. Max Mehl, 4/1949), lot 808, realized $180; Strictly Very Fine.
I. Adolphe Menjou Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 6/1950), lot 1957, realized $280. Very Fine.
J. Thomas Melish Collection (Abe Kosoff, 4/1956), lot 888. Very Fine.
K. J.F. Bell Collection (RARCOA, 4/1963), lot 849. XF obverse, AU reverse.
L. Pre-Long Beach Sale (Superior, 5/2001), lot 4170D. AU50 sharpness, Net XF45 due to harsh cleaning on both sides. Described on a tipped-in sheet at the front of the catalog.
M. Two specimens reported as sold at private sale in the 3/1977 New England catalog. One in XF40 with a planchet defect sold in 1976 for $30,000. Another in XF45 sold in 1975 for $65,000.
N. Another specimen referred to in the lot description of the Cicero catalog (number 5 above) "the miserable cleaned coin in one of our Numisma auctions some years ago."
(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 268Z, PCGS# 8918)
Weight: 33.44 grams
Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper
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