David Akers (1975/88): The 1859-O is the rarest O-Mint Eagle and is actually one of the rarest dates in this entire 224 coin series. In fact, based on 369 auctions surveyed, the 1859-O ranked thirteenth in the series in terms of overall rarity. The Bell 1944 coin was called "Choice Uncirculated" but I have not seen the piece. The best I have personally examined was a single AU specimen and the relatively few others I have seen were only VF or EF.Doug Winter: The 1859-O is the rarest No Motto New Orleans eagle. It is also the poster child for the change in grading standards that have characterized the United States rare gold coin market in the past decade. When I wrote the first edition of this book in 1992, I estimated that just one or two AU coins were known. Today, this number has swelled to seven to nine. This isn’t necessarily the result of a number of choice new pieces coming onto the market, but rather coins that graded EF40 and EF45 a decade ago are now regarded as AU50 to AU53 (or better).
The 1859-O is the scarcest No Motto eagle from this mint. It is usually seen in VF and accurately graded EF coins are rare, while a properly graded AU50 to AU53 is very rare. This is an exceedingly rare coin in AU55 to AU58 and there is just one known in Uncirculated, a remarkable MS62 that was found on the S.S. Republic.
STRIKE: The quality of strike is similar to that seen on the 1858-O. The obverse is fairly well detailed at the center with the exception of the curls behind the ear which is often flat. The stars are always flat and have little or no definition on the radial lines. On many pieces, the obverse rim is weak from 4:00 to 7:00 and may have little or no detail on the denticles in this area. The reverse is better struck with good sharpness seen on the feathers. The eagle’s right leg is sometimes weak.
SURFACES: Nearly every 1859-O eagle that I have seen has numerous abrasions on the surfaces. Interestingly, these marks tend to occur singly and not in clusters as on most other dates of this era.
LUSTER: There are not many 1859-O eagles that show more than a slight amount of mint luster. This is due to the face that most are either well-worn or have been processed to simulate luster. On the few original higher grade pieces known, the luster is mostly frosty with some slightly prooflike flashes in the protected areas.
COLORATION: The coloration is a medium green-gold. Most examples have been lightened and no longer have original color. Interestingly, the few I have seen with original color tend to be lower grade, which in this case refers to coins in the VF-EF range.
EYE APPEAL: This date has below average eye appeal. The typical 1859-O eagle is well worn and shows scattered deep abrasions on the obverse and reverse. In addition, most have been cleaned. Because of the rarity of this date, the major services tend to be somewhat lax when grading it and most pieces I have seen in the past few years have been overgraded by a considerable margin.
DIE CHARACTERISTICS: There are a number of raised die marks in the vertical stripes of the shield.
MAJOR VARIETIES: There is just a single variety known:
Variety One: The date is placed low and is closer to the denticles than the truncation of the neck. The mintmark tilts slightly to the left and is placed above the gap between the E and N in TEN. The 1859-O eagle employs the old style reverse which has thick, closed claws. Philadelphia eagles from this year use the new Type II reverse with thinner, more open claws.
In the decade since the first edition of this book was published, the 1860-O eagle has become far more available, especially in high grades. This suggests that a small hoard of nicer quality examples has been found. Interestingly, every example that has been graded MS60 or better by the two major services has been encapsulated since 1999.
Blue Hill Collection