ARGUABLY THE FINEST KNOWN 1852-O NEW ORLEANS MINT GOLD DOUBLE EAGLE, PCGS MS62+
- This is the cover coin, front and back, for the Q. David Bowers Liberty Head $20 Double Eagles — The Gilded Age of Coinage reference book. It is also seen on pages xiii, 54, 55, and 354.
- Only about 400 to 600 examples of the date can be accounted for today, most of those in the VF and EF range.
- Fewer than 10 or so different examples of the 1852-O can be considered truly Mint State today. 6 are certified MS62 by PCGS with none finer.
- Noted gold expert, researched and author Robert Galiette states: “If the (above) three coins were placed next to each other, and observers — either numismatists or those who have no experience with rare coins — were asked to choose, I believe the Bass coin (this coin) would be consistently selected.” Therefore, we conclude it is head-and-shoulders finer than any other Mint State 1852-O $20 double eagle.
Well defined in all areas, far finer than usually seen, especially important to note as New Orleans coins are often more casually struck than are those of Philadelphia. On the obverse the center star points are complete, the date is bold, and the dentils are perfect. The reverse is likewise sharp in all details and of incredible quality. This is the cover coin selected for the book, U.S. Liberty Head $20 Double Eagles, with enlarged illustrations on the front and back covers.
The surfaces show off a scintillating satiny luster, evident on both sides. If graded separately the reverse may well qualify for a notch or two higher. The typical 1852-O double eagle is well worn with many marks, however, this piece is absolutely incredible. While we haven’t seen all that exist, it is difficult to imagine any piece being finer than this. Just 190,000 examples of the date were struck, equaling a face value of $3,800,000. Only about 400 to 600 examples of the date can be accounted for today, most of those in the VF and EF range, with AU pieces few and far between.
When we consider that probably fewer than 10 or so different examples of the 1852-O can be considered truly Mint State today, we are faced with an unsung rarity that is known to few collectors outside of the Liberty Head double eagle discipline. It’s important to understand Population reports actually reflect events rather than separate coins. If a single coin is submitted four times, it shows up as four different coins, whereas only one piece is represented. We would not be surprised if the present example were submitted dozens of times for a higher grade – it’s just that nice! If it were a 1904, it would certainly grade MS64 or better. But it’s not, and Mint State New Orleans mint gold double eagles are scrutinized with extra discretion because each grade point is worth tens-of-thousands or dollars, if not more.
It is notable that several examples of this date and mint were found in the shipwrecks of the S.S. Central America and S. S. Republic (20 coins) but none of these coins were mint state, having been in circulation for some time before those ships were lost.
This Mint State 1852-O double eagle coin resides in an extremely conservative PCGS MS-62 holder graded the same as it was 17 years ago when it was sold as lot 771 of our (Bowers and Merena’s) sale of the Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection (May 26, 2000).
Since the time of the 1999 and 2000 Bass auctions there have been claims regarding what may constitute the finest overall quality for a New Orleans Mint State $20 Liberty Head double eagle coin, not simply for any one year, such as 1852, but for all 13 years in which $20 Liberty double eagles were coined there: 1850 through 1861, inclusive, and the one later year of 1879. There have been three candidates for such status:
(1) The coin offered here, the Bass 1852-O $20. In the May 2000 Bass III auction catalog it was described in part as:
“Lively yellow gold with a definite olive blush. A superb specimen with brilliant and lustrous surfaces that display areas of prooflike reflectivity. Significantly finer than the choice AU-58 specimen we offered in Part II of the Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection, Lot 1694, October 1999. Harry Bass outdoes himself once again! The opportunity to obtain this piece is probably more important than the price paid – as it combines very high grade with very high aesthetic appeal.”
The Bass Collection and the present collection are the only cabinets in which this coin has resided since it was acquired from Paramount International Coin Corporation over four decades ago.
(2) A second candidate for the finest of any known $20 Liberty Head double eagle from the New Orleans Mint appeared at auction in the year following the Bass III coin, and was cataloged as lot 6 in the landmark October 29 & 30, 2001, Sotheby’s/Stack’s auction of the Jeff Browning “Dallas Bank” Collection. There it was given a positive description, although no allusion was made to the Bass III coin of only the prior year, even though the Bass coin was personally known to the catalogers:
“1852-O Choice Brilliant Uncirculated. A glorious coin. Undoubtedly the finest known. The Akers plate coin, of which he wrote: ‘The finest O Mint $20 I have ever seen was an 1852-O, a real gem that is now in a prominent Dallas bank collection.’ Rich color with smooth, virtually blemish-free, satiny surfaces and splendid lustrous cartwheels in the fields. Sharply struck in the centers, with all design details full, including the arrow feathers on the reverse, while Liberty’s features are well frosted. Winter concurred with Akers, also calling it, ‘The finest known New Orleans Mint double eagle of any date.’ John Dannreuther’s research revealed not a single specimen sold in the past decade that even remotely rivaled this coin. The closest was sold at Auction ’90 by David Akers, who in his description alluded to the superiority of the present, marvelous, example.”
Robert Galiette comments, “In an auction where bids ran very high, the 2001 Dallas Bank coin realized $26,450 (with 15% buyer’s fee included) against a $40,000 to $50,000 estimate printed in the catalog.”
(3) A third $20 1852-O coin that has been offered as the finest known of any of the 13 New Orleans Mint years of Liberty Head double eagle production is Lot 5243 of the January 2011 Heritage Auction Galleries sale of the Henry Miller Collection. That coin had a prominent planchet defect pit about the size of a reverse letter, situated below the eagle’s wing between the letters “I” and “T” in UNITED STATES. The coin had blackened material in the reverse shield, dentils and along the scroll, and scruffiness on the obverse cheek. It was sold in an NGC MS-65 holder, and at that level hammered for $276,000, including a 15% buyer’s premium.
Robert Galiette adds: “If the above three coins were placed next to each other, and observers — either numismatists or those who have no experience with rare coins — were asked to choose, I believe the Bass coin would be consistently selected.”
Q. David Bowers: The terms “Mint State” and “New Orleans” are not often found together with regard to gold coins of the early 1850s. The present piece is an exception. Not only is it high in the PCGS Population Report, with none finer, I reiterate that the number given in this and other reports do not necessarily reflect the different coins involved. In addition, I would not be at all surprised if this and other examples graded at this level were put together side by side, a connoisseur would reach for the Galiette coin first.
Provenance: From the Gilded Age Collection. Earlier from Douglas Winter; from our (Bowers and Merena’s) sale of the Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection, Part III, May 2000, lot 771. Harry Bass acquired the coin from Paramount International Coin Corporation on July 16, 1976. Cover coin, front and back, in U.S. Liberty Head $20 Double Eagles — The Gilded Age of Coinage, also pages xiii, 54, 55, and 354.
If you are a specialist in New Orleans coinage, or just appreciate high quality branch mint pieces, then be sure to carefully consider this opportunity, for once it is sold, it may not appear again for many years to come. This coin was once in a NGC holder and should cross back if so desired.