Doug Winter: The 1851-O is the second most common No Motto eagle from the New Orleans mint, trailing the 1847-O. However, it is much rarer in high grades than most people realize.
The 1851-O is the second most common New Orleans No Motto eagle. It is common in VF and EF grades and somewhat scarce in the lower AU grades. It becomes very scarce in AU58 and it is very rare and much underrated in Uncirculated. There are just seven to eight Mint State pieces known, with most of these grading MS60 to MS61. I am aware of two very choice pieces, both graded MS64 by PCGS.
STRIKE: After a period in which properly striking eagles appeared to be difficult for the New Orleans mint, the quality improved dramatically in 1851. This is generally a much better produced issue than the 1848-1850 eagles. The obverse does not have the “sunken” look seen on the previous three issues but does generally display weakness on the radial lines of the stars. The center is fairly sharp with good hair detail, with the exception of the curls around the face which are not fully struck. The reverse is usually sharp except for the eagle’s right leg feathers which are often weak.
SURFACES: Many 1851-O eagles show severe handling marks on the surfaces and it is hard to find a coin that has not been adversely affected by abrasions. I have seen a number that had scratches on the surfaces and some with rim nicks.
LUSTER: There are two distinct types of luster found on 1851-O eagles. The more common of the two is frosty in texture. Some pieces are semi-prooflike and have a good degree of reflectiveness noted in the fields.
COLORATION: The natural coloration is a medium to deep green-gold. Some have a lighter orange-gold shade. Pieces that are uncleaned and original can be very attractive and these are often among the most aesthetically appealing New Orleans eagles of this era. There are enough original pieces left that collectors should be able to locate one with patience. Unfortunately, it is getting harder to find coins like this all the time.
EYE APPEAL: The 1851-O has better eye appeal than the New Orleans eagles from 1848 to 1850. It is a well produced issue with a comparatively good strike and nice luster. It is popular with type collectors as it tends to be one of the nicer No Motto issues from this mint.
DIE CHARACTERISTICS: There are no significant die characteristics seen on the obverse or reverse.
MAJOR VARIETIES: There are at least two and possibly three varieties known:
Variety One: The date is large and high in the field but both 1s are clear of the neck. There is a hollow ring at the top of the second pair of vertical stripes in the shield, as seen on other dates of this era. The mintmark is far from the arrow feather and placed over the gap between the E and N in TEN. Breen-6898.
Variety Two: The date is not as high as on Variety One. The reverse is the same as on Variety One. Unlisted in Breen. Scarce.
Variety Three: The reverse is said to lack the hollow ring on the shield as seen on the other varieties of this year. Harry Bass was never able to find an example and I have never seen one either. Described by Breen but most probably inaccurate. “Breen-6897.”David Akers (1975/88): The 1851-O is only moderately scarce and it is not particularly difficult to obtain in VF and EF condition. In AU condition, however, it is rare and strictly uncirculated examples are extremely rare. I have seen two bagmarked uncirculated pieces but never a choice one. As a date, the 1851-O is the second commonest O-Mint No Motto Eagle (the 1847-O is the most common) but from a standpoint of "condition rarity", it is on par with most of the others.
Ellen D Collection (PCGS Set Registry) - Simpson Collection