Doug Winter: The 1846-O is one of the scarcer New Orleans eagles from the 1840s. It is especially hard to find in higher grades and coins with good eye appeal are nearly unheard of. It is also an issue that has been the source of much confusion regarding varieties. Both PCGS and NGC list the 1846/5-O as a separate variety but in my opinion this is not a real overdate and it should not be regarded as such. For more information about the numerous interesting varieties of this year, see below.
The 1846-O eagle is among the most interesting New Orleans gold coins of any denomination due to the many major varieties known. It is usually seen in VF and EF grades. Examples that are properly graded AU50 to AU53 are rare and AU55 to AU58 pieces are extremely rare. In Uncirculated, this is an excessively rare coin with just three currently known.
STRIKE: The 1846-O is among the most poorly struck New Orleans eagles from the 1840’s. The obverse is usually weak on the curls around the face and the hair bun. On certain coins, the obverse die has been lapped and stars seven through ten are small and faint. The reverse is better struck with the center well detailed, with the exception of the eagle’s right leg that is often weak.
SURFACES: The 1846-O is one of the most difficult No Motto New Orleans eagles to find with clean surfaces. Nearly every piece I have seen is excessively abraded, with deep, detracting marks seen in the fields on both the obverse and the reverse. I have also seen many that had scratches on the surfaces or rim bumps. There are a small number of 1846-O eagles known with seawater surfaces. They are probably from the same source as the 1844-O and 1845-O eagles described above.
LUSTER: Most examples are worn to the point that they do not show much luster. On the few higher grade pieces that exist, the luster is prooflike and it is considerably more reflective than on other New Orleans eagles from this period. The vast majority of 1846-O eagles have been cleaned at one time and this makes it even less likely to find a piece with original luster present.
COLORATION: The natural coloration ranges from deep green-gold to orange-gold. I have seen very few 1846-O eagles that displayed original color and those that did were usually worn examples in the VF to EF grade range. Any piece grading AU50 or above with its original color intact is very rare and should sell for a strong premium over a typical scrubbed coin.
EYE APPEAL: The typical 1846-O has poor eye appeal. This is the result of a number of factors: heavy circulation, extensive abrasions, poor strikes and numismatic abuse. This is among the most difficult New Orleans eagles to locate with good eye appeal, and any piece that is reasonably attractive is worth purchasing.
DIE CHARACTERISTICS: As on the 1845-O eagle, the curls on the back of Liberty’s neck have been lapped and appear to float.
MAJOR VARIETIES: There are four varieties known, as well as numerous die states for each:
Variety One: Normal date. There is an obverse crack through the letters in LIBERTY. Around this crack, the die has been lapped to remove rust and to hide this crack, leaving an odd “gap” in this area. The die was also lapped to remove rust on the lower part of Liberty’s neck and there is a gap in this area as well. On the latest die state, the top of the 6 is less filled. Extensive die lapping can also be seen on the bun of the hair and the curls on the back of the neck. Stars seven through ten are small and misshapen as a result of die lapping as well. On the reverse, the mintmark is positioned far to the right. It does not show the crack seen on Variety Four, proving it was produced first. Breen-6876. This variety is scarce in all grades and it is very rare in AU50 or better. Breen’s “6874” variety is, in fact, an early die state with some upwards repunching on the 6 still visible.
Variety Two: Normal date. The obverse is the same as on Variety One but the stars are normal and the die lapping on the portrait is not visible. The mintmark is placed to the left, mostly above the right side of the E in TEN. Late die states show varying cracks on the reverse from 4:00 to 8:00 in the lettering. Breen-6873.
Variety Three: So-called “overdate.” This is the same obverse die as on Variety One and Variety Two but a different die state with the top of the 6 almost completely filled and a large dot (or “artifact”) inside the loop of the 6. The mintmark is placed above the EN in TEN. The reverse is usually cracked between the AM in AMERICA. Breen-6875. This is the most common variety of the year. It is very scarce in AU50 or better.
Variety Four: So-called “overdate.” Same obverse and die state as on Variety Three. The mintmark is placed far to the right, well past the N in TEN. The reverse usually shows a crack from the rim up to the bottom of the right side of the second T in STATES and into the field. Breen-6875. This is the scarcer of the two so-called “overdates.” It is rare in AU50 or better.
On page 330 of the Bass II auction catalog (Bowers and Merena 10/99), there is an excellent analysis of the “1846/5-O” $10. Based on original research by Mark Borchardt and Q. David Bowers, it proved conclusively that this variety is not an overdate. Some selected excerpts are reproduced below:
“For many years this variety has been called the ‘1846/5-O overdate’ by numerous numismatists including grading and authentication services. However, recent research…indicates that this is from a curious logotype punch, not an overdate. The study…reveals that the four-digit logotype used to produce this coin and also certain half dollars was in itself slightly doubled.”
“The artifact within the loop of the digit of the 6 on the $10 coin exactly matches the photo of another variety of the 1846-O half dollar, namely WB-104…” [this reference is to Wiley and Bugert’s numbering system for Liberty Seated half dollar die varieties].
“In summary, the same date logotype punch was used to prepare the die for the 1846-O half dollar known today as WB-104 and the $10 gold die sometimes called ‘1846/5-O.’ Neither the ten dollar or the half dollar of 1846-O is an overdate.”
“The numerals 1,8,4 and 6 were punched individually into a soft steel block or matrix using four hardened steel punches. During this process, double punching was done on the 6, thus creating the ‘artifact’ mentioned.”David Akers (1975/88): The 1846-O is similar in overall rarity to the 1845-O and is more rare than the 1842-O, 1843-O and 1844-O. High grade specimens are extremely rare and VF or EF examples are the highest quality generally available. A small number of AU's and perhaps two or three uncirculated examples are known but I have never seen or heard of a truly choice mint state specimen. An overdate exists of this issue, the 1846/5-O. It is very rare but not much more so than the normal date.
Thomas Cleneay Collection - S.H. & H. Chapman 12/1890:??? - James Ten Eyck Collection - B. Max Mehl 5/1922:??? - John H. Clapp Collection, sold intact in 1942 - Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection - Bowers & Ruddy 10/1982:676, $30,800 - Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection - Bowers & Merena 11/2000:616, $48,300 - Ron Karp/New York Gold Mart - Louisiana Collection
Ellen D Collection (PCGS Set Registry) - Simpson Collection