Doug Winter: Due to its lower mintage, the 1897-O eagle is scarcer than the earlier issues from this decade. It is more common, however, in high grades (in this case MS63 and better) and it appears that some were saved by collectors at the time of issue as a few exceptional Gems exist.
The 1897-O has become a relatively available issue in AU55 to MS61 grades. It is scarce in MS62 and very scarce in MS63. It is rare in any grade above this but more Very Choice to Gem examples exist than for all of the other dates from the 1890’s combined. There is one coin known that is nearly flawless and at least two other Gems.
The population of this date has at least doubled in the past decade as a result of a few groups of coins that were located overseas. These were first seen around 1995 and have slowly continued to become available since then.
STRIKE: The strike is usually sharp at the centers. Many are weak on the stars, especially the first four or five. Interestingly, the 1897-O eagles that have been recently found overseas seem to be weaker on the stars than the pieces that were available a decade ago.
SURFACES: Most 1897-O eagles are very heavily abraded but there are more relatively unmarked examples known than for any other New Orleans eagle from this decade. I have seen a number that had mint-made spotting. Some show an “inner ring” of color at the periphery that nicely contrasts the centers.
LUSTER: There are two types of luster seen on this date. Most are frosty with a slightly grainy subdued texture. A smaller number are semi-prooflike with partially reflective fields.
COLORATION: The coloration is different than that seen on the other New Orleans eagles from the 1890’s. This suggests that the hoards that have been located in the past decade might not be from the same source(s). The coloration ranges from orange-gold to greenish-gold. There are some 1897-O eagles known with outstanding color and the collector should be able to find a pleasing piece with some amount of patience.
EYE APPEAL: The 1897-O is the most common New Orleans eagle from the 1890’s in high grades. There are some known with outstanding color and luster as well as relatively clean surfaces. The typical piece is weak on the radial lines of the stars and has some abrasions in the fields.
DIE CHARACTERISTICS: There is a thin die scratch up from a denticle opposite star twelve towards the northeast point of this star. There is roughness on the portrait. Two small die scratches can be seen through the bases of the ER in LIBERTY.
MAJOR VARIETIES: There is a single variety known.
Variety One: The date is slightly high and slants upward to the right. The 1 and the 7 are closer to the truncation than the denticles. The reverse is very similar to that seen on the 1894-O and 1895-O eagles. Early die states show very light doubling on the outside right of the O.