David Akers (1975/88): This date is one of the classic rarities of the Double Eagle series and is certainly one of the most famous and popular. It is the rarest O-mint $20 (although not really all that much rarer than the 1854-O) and, except for the 1861 Paquet and 1882 business strike, it is the rarest regular issue Liberty Head Double Eagle. In terms of number of specimens known it is more rare than the heralded 1870-CC (although it usually comes in higher grade than the 1870-CC) and is about the same rarity as the proof-only 1883. There is one very nice uncirclated piece known that was sold by Superior in 1980 and at least two others that grade Almost Uncirculated, including the Eliasberg coin which grades AU-55. The rest of the known population grades only VF or EF. All known specimens have semi-prooflike or prooflike fields.Doug Winter: The 1856-O is the rarest New Orleans double eagle and the rarest gold coin struck at the New Orleans mint. It narrowly eclipses its counterpart, the 1854-O double eagle, in terms of its overall rarity and is very similar in rarity in high grades (AU50 and better).
The 1856-O is the rarest New Orleans double eagle. There are only twenty to thirty pieces known and most are in the VF25 to EF40 range. This is a very rare coin in About Circulated and pieces that qualify as such are generally offered for sale only when great collections are auctioned. There is one truly spectacular piece known and it is generally regarded as the single most significant New Orleans double eagle.
STRIKE: The strike seen on the 1856-O is fairly similar to that seen on the 1854-O. The curls around the face are well detailed but those beneath the ear are weak. The hair at the top of Liberty’s head is always weak as is the bun. The stars are sharper with some higher grade pieces displaying full radial lines. The central reverse is well detailed with the exception of the wing tips and tail feathers which are not fully formed.
SURFACES: Most every 1856-O double eagle is very heavily abraded. These marks are typically deep and detracting. An example that is minimally bagmarked is extremely desirable.
LUSTER: As one would expect on an issue with such a small mintage, the luster is prooflike. It is often impaired due either to the excessive abrasions discussed above or harsh cleaning(s). There are not many 1856-O double eagles that have not been cleaned.
COLORATION: The natural coloration is a medium to deep green-gold. A few have rich yellow-gold overtones. There are just a handful known that have original color.
EYE APPEAL: The 1856-O has below average eye appeal. The typical piece is very heavily abraded, well worn and has been cleaned repeatedly. As with the 1854-O, this is such a rare and desirable coin that the concept of eye appeal has to be applied differently than on a more available issue.
DIE CHARACTERISTICS: The obverse denticles are longer and finer in their configuration from 3:00 to 5:00 than the other areas. This may be the result of die lapping. There are no other readily definable die characteristics but the 1856-O has a “look” that is unique to the issue and is easily distinguished from the Philadelphia and San Francisco double eagles of this year.
MAJOR VARIETIES: There is only one variety known:
Variety One: The date is low in the field with the 1 closer to the denticles than to the truncation. The 185 in the date are even at the top while the 5 is closed and the 6 is more distant and lower. The bottom half of the date is often weaker than the top. The mintmark is placed directly above the N in TWENTY and is often seen weakly impressed.
Louis Eliasberg -
Bowers & Ruddy 10/1982:889, $49,500 -
Midwestern Collector (per Doug Winter)
Summit Numismatics, sold for $525,000 -
New England Collector
Cicero Collection - New Netherlands 12/1960:10 - Jack Klausen, sold privately on 6/19/1968 - Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection - Bowers & Merena 10/1999:1711, $105,800 - Heritage 7/2002:9472, $132,250 - Heritage 7/2005:10399, $431,250 - Heritage 4/2015:5428, $387,750
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