Doug Winter: The 1881-O is the scarcest of the three low mintage New Orleans eagles produced between 1880 and 1882. It is about twice as available today as it was a decade ago, due to the discovery of some relatively large groups of coins in the early part of the 1990’s. Most of these were in the VF-EF range and this date remains very scarce in higher grades.
The 1881-O is an underappreciated, low mintage issue that is generally seen in EF40 to AU50 grades. It becomes very scarce in properly graded AU55 and is rare in AU58. In full Mint State, the 1881-O eagle is very rare and extremely undervalued. There are probably fewer than a half dozen known and I have never personally seen one better than MS61.
STRIKE: The strike on this date is not as sharp as on the 1880-O. The curls around the face of Liberty are usually weak especially the curl behind the ear. Weakness is also seen on the top of the hair and the bun. Some of the stars show full radial lines while others are flat. The reverse is better detailed with nearly full feathers. On some, the tips of the wings may be slightly weak.
SURFACES: The surfaces on nearly every 1881-O eagle are very heavily abraded. These marks usually enter deeply into the fields. It appears that these early date With Motto eagles were roughly handled when they were transported to local banks (or overseas). As a result, they are almost never found without comprehensively abraded surfaces.
LUSTER: The luster is satiny with a delicate texture. A few have semi-prooflike fields but these are not as reflective as found on the 1882-O. Most 1881-O eagles have dull surfaces and it is very hard to find an example with good luster.
COLORATION: The range of natural color for this date goes from a light green-gold to yellow-gold with rose overtones. There are very few 1881-O eagles that have not been cleaned or dipped. An example with attractive original color is scarce and desirable.
EYE APPEAL: The level of eye appeal is below average. While most are well struck and do not show excessive amounts of wear, they are heavily abraded and have been cleaned. I have not seen many that I regard as being high end for the grade.
DIE CHARACTERISTICS: There is a very thin die scratch through the R in LIBERTY which is visible only on higher grade pieces. The vertical lines in the shield are thin, especially the first three or four pairs.
MAJOR VARIETIES: There is a single variety known.
Variety One: The date is evenly spaced in the field between the neck and the denticles. It slants up slightly to the right. The mintmark has a very thin, oddly shaped irregular opening and it is distant from the arrow feather. It is placed high in the field and positioned over the right side of the E in TEN.