Doug Winter: After being forcibly closed in 1861 by the beginning of the Civil War, the New Orleans mint reopened in 1879. During the first year, the mint struck silver dollars, eagles and double eagles.
The 1879-O is very popular issue due to its status as the only New Orleans Liberty Head double eagle that employs the Type Three design. It has a very low mintage, making it well known even among collectors who do not specialize in double eagles.
The 1879-O is one of the more popular New Orleans double eagles due to its status as the only Type Three issue from this mint. Its rarity level has remained relatively unchanged since the first edition of this book was published over a decade ago. Most seen are in VF grades and properly graded EFs are rare. In AU this is a very rare coin and there are probably no more than three to five in Uncirculated.
STRIKE: This is among the best struck New Orleans double eagles. The Type Three design tended to have much better hair detail than the Type One issues, and most 1879-O double eagles have good detail in the hair and full radial lines in the stars. The reverse is sometimes a bit less boldly impressed with some lightness seen on the lettering.
SURFACES: Virtually every known example has numerous deep abrasions. In addition, I have seen many 1879-O double eagles that had mint-made spots or areas of discoloration in the planchet. A good percentage of the surviving population has been cleaned and I have also seen many that had scratches in the surfaces. This is an extremely hard coin to find with choice surfaces and only a handful are known as such.
LUSTER: The luster is prooflike although some are seen with a more frosty appearance which has a soft, almost fuzzy texture. The luster is usually impaired by the presence of deep clusters of abrasions or zealous cleanings.
EYE APPEAL: The eye appeal for the 1879-O double eagle is well below average. Most pieces are well worn and heavily abraded with detracting marks or mint-made imperfections. There are a small number of high end pieces known and these are greatly cherished by their owners. The finicky collector may have to wait many years for the chance to buy the “right” example.
DIE CHARACTERISTICS: There is some light repunching seen on some of the obverse stars. The obverse and reverse borders seems very mismatched to the naked eye. On the obverse, the border is wide and the denticles appear somewhat long. On the reverse, the border is more narrow and the denticles have a more stubby appearance.
MAJOR VARIETIES: There is just a single variety known:
Variety One: The date is small and centered perfectly in the field midway between the truncation and the denticles. The mintmark is very small and placed midway between the Y in TWENTY and D in DOLLARS.David Akers (1975/88): Next to the rare and famous 1856-O, the 1879-O has the lowest mintage of any New Orleans Mint Double Eagle. However, in my opinion, the 1879-O ranks only sixth among the 13 O-Mint issues in terms of overall rarity. In particular, it is not nearly as rare, especially in high grade, as the 1860-O, 1855-O and 1859-O. Most known 1879-O twenties grade no better than EF and an accurately graded AU is rare. A few uncs are known, including the choice specimen in a prominent Dallas bank collection (PCGS editor's note; the Browning specimen), but the 1879-O certainly must be considered to be very rare in full mint state.
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