Doug Winter: The following information is from my eBook on Type One Liberty Head Double Eagles at http://doubleeaglebook.com/
The 1854-O is, along with the 1856-O, one of the rarest Type One double eagles from the New Orleans mint. Examples are usually only sold at auctions which contain major “name” collections. Ownership of an 1854-O is regarded as a hallmark of a truly great collection of Liberty Head double eagles.
STRIKE: This is generally a well-struck issue. On the obverse, there is sometimes weakness on the curls around the face, at the top of the head and on the curls below Liberty’s ear. The overall detail is sharper than on many Type One double eagles from this mint. The obverse stars are well-defined with some displaying full radial lines. The denticles are clear and sharp. The reverse may show weakness on the eagle’s tail feathers and on the banner. This is such a rare coin that the quality of strike is not an important factor. Collectors should be more concerned with the overall and appearance of an 1854-O which they are considering buying.
SURFACES: Most 1854-O double eagles are well circulated and a s a result they show heavily abraded surfaces. There are some diagnostic criteria which are seen on all genuine examples and these are important to note:
The date is small and it slants upwards towards the right.
There are raised die lumps at TY in LIBERTY which can be seen even on lower grade coins.
A tiny raised die lump is located on Liberty’s neck, close to the largest curl. None of these are present on 1854 Philadelphia and San Francisco double eagles and they serve as good hallmarks of authenticity.
LUSTER: Many 1854-O double eagles are worn to the point that they show little remaining mint luster. On higher grade pieces the luster tends to be semi-prooflike and it can be quite reflective. This makes sense considering how few were struck.
COLORATION: The natural coloration is a medium to deep green-gold hue. Nearly all 1854-O double eagles have been cleaned and most now show a lighter yellow-gold hue as a result. Any piece with most of its original color intact is very rare and desirable and should command a premium.
EYE APPEAL: When examples are offered for sale, they tend to be overgraded as is the case with many very rare date United States gold coins. There are just a few 1854-O double eagles which show good overall eye appeal and most of these are off the market in tightly-held collections.
INTERESTING VARIETIES: There is just a single variety known.
PROOFS: No Proofs were struck this year.
HOARDS: A single example, later graded AU58, was found in the S.S. Republic.
BUYING TIPS: 2014 has been the most fertile year ever for appearance of this date with four having been sold so far. Generally, this date is offered at an average of maybe once per year. The collector should be patient and wait for the “right” coin. It should be understood that this may take two, three or even five years. Once the right coin has been targeted, be aggressive.
AUCTION RECORD: The auction record for this date was set in October 2008 when Heritage sold a PCGS AU55 for $603,750. The previous auction record was set by Bowers and Merena in August 2007 when they sold a different PCGS AU55 for $494,500. The NGC AU58 coin from the S.S. Republic (see above) was sold via private treaty by Monaco rare Coins for a reported $675,000.
FINEST KNOWN: This is a frustrating date to reach a conclusion about a finest known example as there is no clear-cut “best coin.” The highest graded are four AU58’s at NGC (most likely two distinct coins) and three AU55’s at PCGS (likely two distinct coins). The best I have seen include the NGC AU58 owned by Bill Crawford, the PCGS AU55 in a New England collection (obtained from me as Bowers and Merena 8/07: 1906), and Heritage 10/08: 3012, a PCGS AU55 which set the current auction record for this date at $603,750. Until I have an opportunity to compare the best examples of this date in person, I am not able to conclude which is the finest.
TOTAL KNOWN: 30-40
Very Fine: 7-10 (this includes coins which have been cleaned or damaged and will not grade numerically at PCGS or NGC.)
Extremely Fine: 13-16
About Uncirculated: 10-14
POPULATION FIGURES: As of the beginning of 2015, PCGS had graded three in AU50, two in AU53 and three in AU55 for a total of eight coins in About Uncirculated. NGC had graded three in AU50, four in AU53, three in AU55 and four in AU58 including one from the S.S. Republic for a total of 14 in About Uncirculated. These figures are inflated by resubmissions, especially in AU53 and AU55. CAC has approved only one 1854-O, a single VF30 example.
PERFORMANCE SINCE 2002: In the current market, an average quality About Uncirculated example (equivalent to AU50) would sell for an estimated $300,000-350,000. In 2002, this coin would have sold for $80,000-100,000. A Choice About Uncirculated example (equivalent to AU55) would sell for an estimated $450,000-550,000 in today’s market. In 2002, this coin would have sold for $125,000-150,000.
COMMENTS: Prices for the 1854-O have soared since the first edition of this book was published in 2002. I am aware of at least four which have traded for close to or over $500,000. The current auction record of $603,750 in October 2008 probably represented the exact height of the market for this date and prices dropped 20-30% in the next few years; they have been slowly working their way back up towards their previous highs.
The grade distribution for the 1854-O has changed since this book was first published. This is due to a relaxing of grading standards for this date. Many of the coins that might have been graded Extremely Fine-45 in 2002 and now graded About Uncirculated-50 or even About Uncirculated-53. Population figures at PCGS and NGC skew heavily towards the AU grades but this is misleading. There are some resubmissions and clearly a number have been “market graded.” I still feel that a true About Uncirculated 1854-O double eagle is extremely rare and there are probably not more than a half dozen which meet my personal criteria of “About Uncirculated” standards.
In their 2014 ANA sale, Heritage Auctions provided an excellent detailed list of higher grade 1854-O double eagles which have sold at auction in the last two decades. This list is reprinted here, courtesy of Heritage.
Roster of High-Grade 1854-O Double Eagles
The following roster includes high-grade examples of the 1854-O double eagle that have appeared at auction over the past two decades, with earlier appearances of the various specimens when they can be traced.
1. AU58 NGC. Gilhousen Collection (Superior, 2/1973), lot 854; Harry W. Bass, Jr.; Bass Collection, Part III (Bowers and Merena, 5/2000), lot 780; San Francisco Signature (Heritage, 7/2005), lot 10397, realized $431,250.
2. AU58 NGC. Auction ’79 (Stack’s, 7/1979), lot 934; ANA Building Fund Sale (Steve Ivy, 12/1981), lot 1560; January-February Auction (Superior, 1/1993), lot 3087; 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; sold by private treaty for $675,000 in 2004, per Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.
4. AU58 NGC. Cicero Collection (New Netherlands, 12/1960), lot 8; H. Jeff Browning; Dallas Bank Collection (Sotheby’s/Stack’s, 10/2001), lot 10.
5. AU55 PCGS. Robert Marks Collection (American Auction Association, 11/1972), lot 1056; James and Margaret Carter Collection, Part II (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, realized $431,250.
6. AU55 PCGS. Public Auction Sale (Lester Merkin, 10/1966), lot 372; Public Auction Sale (Stack’s, 3/1990), lot 1362; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 2/2001), lot 7079; Milwaukee Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 8/2007), lot 1906, realized $494,500; Dallas Signature (Heritage, 10/2008), lot 3012, realized $603,750; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2011), lot 5246, realized $460,000.
7. AU55 PCGS. Richmond Collection (David Lawrence, 7/2004), lot 2246; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 8/2010), lot 1818, realized $488,750.
8. AU50 PCGS. Alex Shuford Collection (Abe Kosoff, 5/1968), lot 2412, realized $2,750; John Jay Pittman; Pittman Collection, Part I (David Akers, 10/1997), lot 1128, realized $28,600. Later Heritage 2014 ANA: 5686, where it sold for $329,000.
9. AU50 PCGS. William Van Roden Collection (Stack’s, 5/1968), lot 2414; Eugene Detmer Collection (Stack’s, 2/1983), lot 1084; Auction ’89 (RARCOA, 7/1989), lot 450; Denver Signature (Heritage, 8/2006), lot 5592; Baltimore Auction (Bowers and Merena, 11/2007), lot 4668, realized $368,000.
10. 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; California Sale (Ira and Larry Goldberg, 10/2000), lot 1142; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 1/2004), lot 7239.
11. AU50 PCGS. DEA and U.S. Marshals Service Sale (Heritage, 12/1988), lot 1370; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2003), lot 4873.
12. AU50. Louis Eliasberg, Sr.; United States Gold Coin Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 883.
13. AU50. ANA Convention Auction (NERCA, 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.
14. AU50. National Numismatic Association, Smithsonian Institution.
15. AU50 Brushed. ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/1998), lot 5733.David Akers (1975/88): The 1854-O is one of the most famous dates in the Double Eagle series and it also one of the rarest. In particular, it is the second rarest O-Mint twenty after the 1856-O and it is comparable overall to the 1870-CC and business strikes of 1881 and 1885. It is not as rare as a business strike 1882 or 1886 and, of course, it is not nearly as rare as the 1861 Paquet. However, other than the aforementioned dates, the 1854-O is more rare than any other regular issue Liberty Head. (The proof-only 1883 and 1884 are also a bit more rare than this date, particularly the 1884.) The only specimen catalogued as "uncirculated" was in the 1944 Bell sale. I have not seen that piece so I cannot say if it is really uncirculated. In fact, I have not seen a strictly mint state example in any collection although I have seen three very nice AU's, the finest being an AU-55 coin in a prominent Dallas bank collection. When available, and that is not likely to be very often, the typical 1854-O is VF or EF with a partially prooflike or fully prooflike surface.
Horseshoe Collection - Bowers & Merena 8/2010:1818, $488,750
Cincinnati Collection - Heritage 1/2005:8829, $368,000 - Rubic Collection - Heritage 10/2011:5099, $431,250 - Charles G. Wright Family Collection - Heritage 4/2014:5793, $440,625
Heritage 10/2008:3012, $603,750 - Las Vegas Collection - Heritage 1/2011:5246, $460,000