Doug Winter: The 1859-O is the fourth rarest New Orleans double eagle, narrowly trailing the 1855-O. It is usually grouped along with the 1860-O but it is slightly rarer in all grades. The availability of this date in higher grades was slightly improved by the discovery of the S.S. Republic, and the 1859-O is now more available in choice condition than the 1860-O or 1879-O.
The 1859-O double eagle is a very scarce issue in all grades. It is most often seen in Very Fine to Extremely Fine grades and it is rare in About Uncirculated. Most pieces in this grade range are no better than AU53, and the 1859-O becomes very rare in properly graded AU55. There are currently four Uncirculated pieces known.
STRIKE: This is not a well struck issue. Most 1859-O double eagles are flat on the curls around the face and below the ear. The hair at the top of Liberty’s head is approximately 50% defined while the bow is fairly sharp. The stars are often weak with the first five showing less detail than the remaining eight. On the reverse, the wing tips and tail feathers are always weak. Many have slightly beveled edges, with this being more prominent on the obverse than the reverse. A diagnostic hallmark seen on all 1859-O double eagles is a group of obverse clashmarks above and below the ear of Liberty and at the nape of the neck within the recesses of the lowest two curls. These are present even on low grade coins.
SURFACES: Almost every known 1859-O double eagle shows deep abrasions on the surfaces. These are compounded by the fact that the surfaces are typically reflective, making these marks appear especially bad. Some show mint-made streaks in the planchet or copper spotting. Many have scratches on the surfaces as well.
LUSTER: The luster is prooflike with a slightly grainy texture. The typical 1859-O double eagles is worn to the point that they are not very lustrous. On higher grade coins, the luster is often impaired by heavy abrasions and/or signs of repeated cleanings or dippings.
COLORATION: The natural coloration is a medium to deep yellow-gold. This color is considerably different than that seen on New Orleans double eagles from the earlier part of the decade; due to the fact that the gold used to strike the 1859-O was probably from California. Most have been cleaned or dipped and it is very hard to locate one with original color.
EYE APPEAL: The eye appeal for the 1859-O is below average. The typical piece is well worn, heavily abraded and shows signs of having been cleaned. Even most of the higher grade pieces that exist do not have a pleasing appearance.
DIE CHARACTERISTICS: As mentioned above, all 1859-O double eagles have some clashmarks from the reverse visible on the obverse. The latest die state that I have seen was on the Heritage 1/05: 10401 coin. On this piece, the obverse showed a number of clashmarks. One set was located to the left of Liberty’s ear while another was located in front of the lowest curl. A star from the reverse was visible at the inner part of the throat. On the reverse, a die break began at a denticle to the left of the top of the E in UNITED and went through this letter and into the wing. The A in STATES is patched as on many other New Orleans double eagles.
The cataloger of the Bass II: 1731 coin noted the following interesting detail about the reverse of the 1859-O double eagle:
“In the leftmost recess of the small field below the glory of rays on the reverse are seen many interesting raised die lines, perhaps clashmarks from Miss Liberty’s hair, but if so, the dies were in a different orientation than they are now.”
MAJOR VARIETIES: Only one pair of dies was used to strike 1859-O double eagles. However, pieces are seen with heavy and light dates and varying degrees of strength on the mintmark. These differences are related to strike and are not different die varieties.
Variety One: The date is small and squat with an unusual sharp on the serif of the 5 that is seen only on coins dated 1859. The mintmark is placed directly between the serifs of the N in TWENTY and is about midway between the tailfeathers and the N.David Akers (1975/88): The 1859-O is one of the rarest regular issue Type I Double Eagles and I rank it as the fifth rarest of the 13 O-Mint issues behind only the 1856-O, 1854-O, 1860-O and 1855-O. It is definitely more rare than the lower mintage 1879-O, especially in high grade. I have seen only one uncirculated 1859-O and just a couple of AU's. The most likely grade one will encounter is VF and prooflike specimens are the norm. The 1859-O is sufficiently rare that it ranks in the top 10% of the entire series according to rarity based on both average grade and frequency of appearance.
Baltimore Collection - Heritage 10/2008:3027, $97,750 - Heritage 3/2009:3232, $74,750 - Heritage 7/2009:1976, $71,875
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