Doug Winter: The following information is from my eBook on Type One Liberty Head Double Eagles at http://doubleeaglebook.com/
In terms of the total number known, the 1853-O is much scarcer than the 1850-O, 1851-O, and 1852-O. It is not as rare as the 1850-O in higher grades (in this case About Uncirculated-55 and above), but it is far rarer than the 1851-O and 1852-O.
STRIKE: This issue is not struck as well as the 1851-O and the 1852-O. The curls around the face and on the back of the neck are often weak. The top of the head and the bun are usually weak as well. The stars are well detailed and some will show full radial lines. On the reverse, the tail feathers and the left side of the banner are often softly impressed. The mintmark is often not fully formed and will show weakness at the top. On early strikes, the stars at the left obverse have noticeable doubling.
SURFACES: Most 1853-O double eagles are noticeably abraded. These marks are often deep and are located in obvious places, such as the left obverse field or on the cheek of Liberty. A small number have been exposed to seawater or have been buried and have grainy surfaces as a result. Some have small mint-made planchet chips or copper spotting. Locating a piece with nice surfaces is very challenging.
LUSTER: The quality of luster seen on this issue is different than on most New Orleans double eagles from this period. Higher grade pieces tend to be either frosty or semi-reflective. A very small number exist which are fully prooflike and these are in demand. The typical 1853-O has impaired luster from having been cleaned or dipped.
COLORATION: The natural coloration is a rich green-gold hue. There are a small number which have really nice coloration and these are worth a considerable premium over the typical “washed out” coins that are offered most of the time.
EYE APPEAL: This issue has below-average eye appeal. Most 1853-O double eagles are not well struck and are very heavily abraded with impaired luster. When the first edition of this book was published (2002) I used to see the occasional very nice coin, but a decade+ later, I almost never see these high quality examples. A CAC quality 1853-O is worth at least a 25-50% premium over a typical example.
INTERESTING VARIETIES: There are two or three minor positional varieties but nothing significant for the collector.
PROOFS: No Proofs were struck this year.
HOARDS: There were five examples in the S.S. Republic and three in the S.S. Central America. A few are known with granular surfaces as a result of exposure to seawater. It is not known what the source of these coins is.
BUYING TIPS: The 1853-O has become an expensive coin in higher grades, so caution should be exercised when making a purchase. Look for a coin with as much original color as possible and with as few marks as possible.
AUCTION RECORD: The current record price at auction for this date is $64,625 for an NGC MS61 which was sold as Heritage 4/14: 5792. This coin was also sold in Heritage’s January 2002 auction where it realized $16,675.
FINEST KNOWN: The finest known 1853-O is, by a large margin, the PCGS MS63 owned by Bill Crawford. It was purchased as Stack’s 5/91: 1674, where it sold for $28,600. An NGC MS62 (pedigree unknown to me) is likely the second finest, but it likely doesn’t remotely compare to the remarkable Crawford example.
TOTAL KNOWN: 400-500
Very Fine: 150-200
Extremely Fine: 160-190
About Uncirculated: 84-102
POPULATION FIGURES: As of the beginning of 2015, PCGS has graded an example in MS63 for a total of just one coin in Uncirculated. NGC has graded three in MS61 and one in MS62 for a total of four in Uncirculated. CAC has not approved any Uncirculated coins (and just one AU58).
PERFORMANCE SINCE 2002: In the current market, a choice Extremely Fine example of this date (equivalent to an EF45) sells for $6,000-8,000. In 2002, this same coin would have sold for $1,500-2,000. In the current market a choice About Uncirculated example (equivalent to an AU55) would sell for $11,000-13,000+. In 2002, the same coin would have sold for $3,500-4,500. This date was not recognized for its true scarcity a decade ago and it has performed well since then.
COMMENTS: The PCGS and NGC population figures for AU55 and AU58 1853-O double eagles are well inflated due to resubmissions. Since the first edition of this book was published in 2002, I have not seen more than a handful of AU55’s and AU58’s which I felt were properly graded. The finest known, by a long shot, remains the superb PCGS MS63 owned by a prominent Midwestern collector. It is ex Stack’s 5/91: 1674 where it sold for $28,600.David Akers (1975/88): This issue is very scarce in all grades and is extremely rare in full mint state. Overall, among O-Mint issues, it ranks fourth most common after the 1851-O, 1852-O, and 1850-O, although it is more likely to be available in high grade than the 1850-O. The vast majority of known specimens grade in the VF to EF range and strictly graded AU-50 or better pieces are seldom seen. Personally, I have seen only one true unc but from the auction records it is certainly likely that another one or two may exist. All specimens that I have seen were either semi-prooflike or prooflike.
David Akers remarked years ago that "All specimens that I have seen [of the 1853-O $20] were either semi-prooflike or prooflike." In keeping with this theme, NGC has certified one example of the 1853-O $20 as an SP61 -- indicating a special striking of some sort. Apparently, the market agrees because when the coin appeared at auction in August 2015, it sold for $352,500. Harry Bass had an 1853-O Eagle that may have been a companion piece at one time. His was an 1853-O $10, also in NGC SP61, that fetched $316,250 at auction in 2010. No documentation exists to explain why these special coins were made, but they are clearly different from their siblings.
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