1854-O Liberty Double Eagle, XF45
1854-O $20 XF45 NGC. Variety 1. The 1854-O Liberty double
eagle is a classic rarity in the American gold series, from a
minuscule mintage of just 3,250 pieces. The 1854-O and 1856-O are
the rarest Type One double eagles from the New Orleans Mint, and
both are key issues in their own right. Traditionally, the 1856-O
has been considered slightly more elusive than the 1854-O, but
recent research indicates the two issues are virtually tied in
terms of absolute rarity. Our latest rosters of known specimens
list exactly 24 examples of each date, with a number of additional
appearances that may, or may not, represent earlier citations of
the coins in the main rosters. In terms of high-grade rarity, the
1854-O is clearly more difficult to locate, as the issue is unknown
in Mint State grades. PCGS and NGC have combined to certify 33
examples of the 1854-O including an unknown number of resubmissions
and crossovers (2/18). Heritage Auctions is pleased to present this
newly discovered specimen in its first identified public
Low-Mintage Branch Mint Rarity
Newly Discovered Example
A substantial number of double eagles were struck at the New Orleans Mint in 1850 and 1851, but the mintage was smaller in 1853, and production plummeted in 1854, when the San Francisco Mint opened for coinage operations. The great majority of gold deposits during that period came from the rich California gold fields, and it was much cheaper and safer for the miners to transport their gold ore to the new facility at San Francisco than to send it on an arduous journey to New Orleans for coinage. Deposits dwindled to a trickle at the Southern mint, and gold coinage never reached pre-1854 levels again, before the facility was closed in 1861, after the start of the Civil War.
Apparently, all the coins from the tiny mintage were released into circulation at the time of issue and none were saved for numismatic purposes. There was little interest in collecting large denomination gold coins in the 19th century because the face value of each coin was so high. Systematically saving date runs of double eagles was prohibitively expensive for the average collector and the few well-heeled numismatists that did collect double eagles were content to update their collections by purchasing gold proof sets from the Philadelphia Mint every year. Interest in collecting branch mint issues only became widespread after Augustus Heaton published his seminal treatise on mintmarks in 1893, by which time the 1854-O twenties had been suffering wear and attrition for almost 40 years. Speaking of the rare New Orleans double eagles (1854-O, 1856-O, and 1879-O) in his 1893-dated work, Heaton noted:
"From the very limited use of gold in the greater part of the United States, these pieces are not to be found by simply waiting for them to appear in circulation as in the case of silver coin, nor will they form part of the collections that revert to dealers for sale."
Ruling out circulation finds, private purchases from dealers, and public offerings, Heaton concluded the only way to acquire one of these rare double eagles was through extensive contacts with bank tellers, Mint personnel who could sift through bullion deposits at the Mint, bullion brokers, and similarly placed employees in other financial institutions. His conclusions seem justified, as the 1854-O was an extremely elusive issue in the 19th and early 20th century. Most of the great gold collectors of the era, like Lorin G. Parmelee, Virgil Brand, William Woodin, John M. Clapp and his son, John H. Clapp, and others, never succeeded in acquiring a specimen of the 1854-O for their collections. The earliest public offering we have been able to locate was the coin in lot 1124 of the Nickerson-Butler-Edwards Collections (Thomas Elder, 12/1933), "1854 New Orleans. Don't believe we ever had it before. It has a sale record of $200. Very fine. Unpriced in Raymond's book." It seems likely that only two examples of the 1854-O double eagle were in numismatic hands before the 1930s, the coin in Waldo Newcomer's collection and the William Cutler Atwater specimen.
Waldo Newcomer purchased Augustus Heaton's collection around 1918, but Heaton did not collect double eagles himself, so it is unlikely Newcomer acquired his coin in this fashion. However, as President of the National Exchange Bank, Chairman of the Board of the Atlantic Trade Bank & Trust Company, and CEO of the Baltimore Trust Company, he was certainly well-placed to pursue his collecting interests through financial channels, as Heaton suggested. The inventory of his collection lists his coin as Very Fine, with a value of $500 and the notation, "Extremely rare. Only other known specimen in the Atwater Collection." (Thanks to Ron Guth for this information).
William Cutler Atwater was a wealthy collector from New York City who pursued a career in the coal business. He formed a fabulous collection of U.S. coins that was sold by B. Max Mehl in 1946, but he stopped actively collecting around 1923, so he must have acquired his 1854-O at an early date, like Newcomer.
After the great Gold Recall of 1933, astute financiers, like Louis Eliasberg and Dr. Charles W. Green began collecting gold coins as a means of legally investing in gold at a time when most avenues to do so were closed to U.S. citizens. It seems likely that the increased collector demand prompted bankers and Mint personnel to ferret out rare gold issues from the massive influx of old gold coinage turned in and sell them to well-connected dealers and collectors for a profit during this period. While always remaining elusive, the 1854-O began appearing with much greater frequency in the 1930s and '40s (see roster below). Previously unknown examples have surfaced in shipwreck finds and European holdings in recent times, as well.
The present coin is an attractive Choice XF specimen that has been a highlight of an old family collection for many years. It is possible this coin first appeared in one of the Additional Auction Appearances listed in the roster below, but we have not been able to trace its history to any previous public offering. Completely fresh to the market, this piece displays sharply struck design elements that show only light wear on the devices. Although the prongs of the coronet and Liberty's curls show some blending, the star centers are all complete, with full radials. A diagnostic die lump appears on Liberty's neck, near the largest curl, and the date is small, slanting up to the right. The vivid orange-gold surfaces exhibit the usual number of minor abrasions for such a large gold coin that spent some time in circulation, but none are large or unduly distracting. Traces of prooflike reflectivity are evident in sheltered areas around the devices. The overall presentation is most appealing for this classic gold rarity. We expect intense competition from series specialists when this lot is called. The 1854-O Liberty double eagle is listed among the 100 Greatest U.S. Coins. Census: 3 in 45, 13 finer (2/18).
Roster of 1854-O Liberty Double Eagles
The following roster was compiled with the assistance of Ron Guth, P. Scott Rubin, and Saul Teichman.
1. AU58 NGC. Gilhousen Collection (Superior, 2/1973), lot 854; Harry W. Bass, Jr.; Bass Collection (Bowers and Merena, 5/2000), lot 780; San Francisco Signature (Heritage, 7/2005), lot 10397.
2. AU58 NGC. Auction '79 (Stack's, 7/1979), lot 934; ANA Building Fund Sale (Steve Ivy, 12/1981), lot 1560; Superior (2/1992), lot 2938; Superior (1/1993), lot 1484; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2002), lot 4011; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2004), lot 3087.
3. AU58 NGC. Recovered from the wreck of the S.S. Republic; Monaco Rare Coins (privately, 2004); private collection.
4. AU58 PCGS. Cicero Collection (New Netherlands, 12/1960), lot 8; H. Jeff Browning; Dallas Bank Collection (Sotheby's/Stack's, 10/2001), lot 10; Hansen Collection.
5. AU55 NGC. Chicago Signature (Heritage, 8/2015), lot 4449; Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2016), lot 4815.
6. AU55 PCGS. Robert Marks Collection (American Auction Association, 11/1972), lot 1056; James and Margaret Carter Collection (Stack's, 3/1986), lot 528; Auction '88 (David Akers, 7/1988), lot 974; Cincinnati Collection (Heritage, 1/2005), lot 8829; Pittsburgh Signature (Heritage, 10/2011), lot 5099; Central States Signature Sale (Heritage, 4/2014), lot 5793, realized $362,500.
7. AU55 PCGS. Lester Merkin (10/1966), lot 372; Stack's (3/1990), lot 1362; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 2/2001), lot 7079; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 8/2007), lot 1906; Dallas Signature (Heritage, 10/2008), lot 3012, realized a record $603,750; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2011), lot 5246.
8. AU55 PCGS. Richmond Collection (David Lawrence, 7/2004), lot 2246; Rarities Sale (Bowers, 8/2010), lot 1818.
9. AU55 NGC. Bowers and Ruddy (6/1975), lot 1129; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 6/2014), lot 4897, realized $381,875.
10. AU53 NGC. Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 2/1994), lot 5521; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/1999), lot 8414; Pre-Long Beach Sale (Goldberg Auctions, 2/2017), lot 1337.
11. AU53 PCGS. A specimen pictured on PCGS CoinFacts website that cannot be plate matched to any appearance on this roster.
12. AU50 PCGS. Alex Shuford Collection (Abe Kosoff, 5/1968), lot 2412; John Jay Pittman; Pittman Collection, Part I (David Akers, 10/1997), lot 1128; Superior (6/1998), lot 2361; ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/2014), lot 5686, realized $329,000.
13. AU50 PCGS. William Van Roden Collection (Stack's, 5/1968), lot 910; Eugene Detmer Collection (Stack's, 2/1983), lot 1078; Auction '89 (RARCOA, 7/1989), lot 450; Denver Signature (Heritage, 8/2006), lot 5592; Baltimore Auction (Bowers and Merena, 11/2007), lot 4668; Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2015), lot 5424.
14. AU50 PCGS. Amon Carter Collection (1/1984), lot 841; ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/1997), lot 7821; Mid-Winter ANA Signature (Heritage, 3/1998), lot 6507; Superior (9/1998), lot 2227; California Sale (Goldberg Auctions, 10/2000), lot 1142; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 1/2004), lot 7239.
15. AU50 PCGS. Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 6/1979), lot 586; DEA and U.S. Marshals Service Sale (Heritage, 12/1988), lot 1370; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2003), lot 4873.
16. AU50. Louis Eliasberg, Sr.; United States Gold Coin Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 883.
17. AU50. R.L. Miles, Jr. (Stack's, 10/1968), lot 833; James and Margaret Carter Collection (Stack's, 1/1986), lot 408.
18. AU50. ANA Convention Auction (Paramount, 8/1974), lot 967; ANA Convention Auction (New England Rare Coin Auctions, 7/1979), lot 427; King of Siam Sale (Bowers and Merena, 10/1987), lot 2011; Charles Kramer Collection (Superior/Stack's, 11/1988), lot 730; Auction '90 (David Akers, 8/1990), lot 1947; James E. Haldan Collection (Sotheby's, 6/1996), lot 136; Americana Sale (Stack's, 1/2008), lot 9111.
19. AU50. Josiah K. Lilly Collection; Smithsonian Institution.
20. XF45 NGC. From an old family collection, off the market for many years. The present coin.
21. XF40 PCGS. Peter J. Schemenauer Estate (Bowers and Merena, 7/2005), lot 2721.
22. XF Details Cleaned NGC. Mann and Smedley Collections (Bowers and Merena, 9/1988), lot 549; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2014), lot 5515.
23. VF30 PCGS. Two sisters with roots in Tennessee; Eldorado Sale (Stack's, 5/2009), lot 158.
24. XF Details Cleaned Net VF30 ANACS. Bell Collection (RARCOA, 4/1963), lot 843; Tollett and Pryor Collections (Stack's, 4/1971), lot 884; James and Margaret Carter Collection (Stack's, 3/1986), lot 529; James A. Stack Collection (Stack's, 11/1989), lot 1494; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 1/1999), lot 1467; Houston Signature (Heritage, 12/2008), lot 2244.
Additional Auction Appearances
(Catalogs not available for comparison or lacking sufficient detail for plate matching.)
A. Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 1/2010), lot 829.
B. ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/1998), lot 5733.
C. Bullet Sale (Heritage, 4/1990), lot 596.
D. Ronald Kessler Collection (Sotheby's, 3/1990), lot 374.
E. Central States Auction (RARCOA, 4/1976), lot 420.
F. Public Auction Sale (Abner Kreisberg, 6/1969), lot 1127.
G. Arrowhead Collection (Sotheby's, 5/1987), lot 345.
H. Pacific Collection (Hughes, 2/1978), lot 1378.
I. Public Auction Sale (Abner Kreisberg, 1/1970), lot 1935.
J. Fontani Collection (Kreisberg and Schulman, 3/1965), lot 182.
K. Baldenhofer Collection (Stack's, 11/1955), lot 1511.
L. Waldo Newcomer, inventory number 973; Colonel E.H.R. Green, via B. Max Mehl, circa 1931; King Farouk, via Stack's; Palace Collections of Egypt (Sotheby's, 2/1954), lot 180; Abe Kosoff.
M. Stephen Allen Collection (Stack's, 12/1950), lot 110.
N. Menjou Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 6/1950), lot 1955.
O. Dr. Charles W. Green (B. Max Mehl, 4/1949), lot 806.
P. Memorable Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 3/1948), lot 759.
Q. Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 12/1947), lot 579.
R. Public Auction Sale (Hollinbeck Coin Co., 11/1947), lot 10.
S. Lee Collection (Stack's, 10/1947), lot 1775.
T. William Cutler Atwater, before 1923; Atwater Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1946), lot 1336.
U. F.C.C. Boyd (World's Greatest Collection, Numismatic Gallery, 1/1946), lot 938.
V. J.F. Bell Collection (Stack's, 12/1944), lot 897.
W. 444th Sale (J.C. Morgenthau, 6/1940), lot 68.
X. 399th Sale (J.C. Morgenthau, 5/1939), lot 452.
Y. Wheeler-Norton Collections (Thomas Elder, 9/1938), lot 1529.
Z. 356th Sale (J.C. Morgenthau, 12/1935), lot 237.
AA. McCaw-Bauer-Leech Collections (Thomas Elder, 1/1934), lot 1204.
BB. Nickerson-Butler-Edwards Collections (Thomas Elder, 12/1933), lot 1124.(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 268T, PCGS# 8912)
Weight: 33.44 grams
Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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