Doug Winter: The 1856-O eagle is similar in overall rarity to the 1852-O and 1855-O. It is very slightly less rare in AU than these two dates but it is comparable in Uncirculated. Despite the obvious scarcity of this issue, it is still not well known and can be accurately described as a “sleeper” given its comparatively low value in current pricing guides.
The 1856-O is nearly always seen in VF to EF grades. In the lower range of AU it is slightly less rare than the 1852-O or the 1855-O but it is still a very tough issue to locate. It is very rare in properly graded AU55 to AU58 and it appears to be unique in Uncirculated with just a single MS60 known to me.
STRIKE: The 1856-O eagle is not a well struck issue. The obverse is often weak on the top of Liberty’s hair, the bun and the curl below the ear. The stars are nearly always flat although some coins may show radial lines on stars four-eight and ten-eleven. The reverse is always much better struck and often shows strong detail on the feathers. The mintmark is sometimes faintly impressed.
SURFACES: This appears to be an issue that is essentially unknown without heavily abraded surfaces. I have never personally seen an example that did not have scattered deep marks in the fields, and most of the 1856-O eagles I am aware of are very heavily marked. A number show light copper stains on the surfaces, especially on the obverse.
LUSTER: Most pieces do not exhibit good luster. This tends to be the result of extensive circulation which has removed all of the original luster except in the protected areas near the stars and between the digits of the date. The few higher grade pieces known have two types of luster: either soft and frosty or semi-prooflike.
COLORATION: The natural coloration tends to be an orange-gold which is very different than that seen on the 1855-O. There are just a handful of uncleaned pieces and most of these are lower grade coins. Any 1856-O eagle grading AU50 or better with fully original color is extremely scarce.
EYE APPEAL: The level of eye appeal for this date is below average. Most 1856-O eagles have heavily abraded surfaces, are to well struck on the obverse and have been cleaned or dipped at one time. Attractive, original coins are worth a strong premium over “typical” quality examples.
DIE CHARACTERISTICS: There is die rust visible along the back of Liberty’s neck. On the reverse, there are patches of fine die lines under the eagle’s beak and left wing.
MAJOR VARIETIES: There are three varieties known, which is surprising given the comparatively low original mintage figure of this date:
Variety One: All three varieties share the same obverse. The 5 is Upright. The 6 is distant from the 5 with the latter digit somewhat high. The mintmark is placed low in the field and placed over the left side of the N in TEN. There is usually a small die crack through the I in UNITED, and there is always a distinctive clashmark behind the head of the eagle that is shaped differently than that seen on Variety Two.
Variety Two: On this reverse, the mintmark is not as heavily punched as on the last and it is more oval in shape than on either of the other two varieties. It is high in the field and placed more to the right than on Variety One. There is usually a crack from the outside of the eagle’s right wing to a denticles. There are a number of light clashmarks along the back of the eagle with a pronounced one behind the neck.
Variety Three: The mintmark is heavy and more round in shape than on the other two varieties. It is placed high in the field. This variety can be quickly identified by the presence of a heavy die crack at the E in UNITED that extends into the field.
David Akers (1975/88): The 1856-O is very rare in any condition, similar in overall rarity to the 1852-O and 1855-O and nearly on a par with the 1848-O and 1849-O. Almost all known examples are low grade with VF being typical. A very few AU specimens are known but I am unaware of the existence of a strictly uncirculated piece.