Doug Winter: The 1883-O is the rarest eagle produced at the New Orleans mint. In my book, "Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint 1839-1909," I suggested that 35-45 examples are known from the original mintage of just 800 coins. I still agree with this estimate. Since my book was published in 2006, very few 1883-O eagles have become available and the demand for this issue seems to have greatly increased.
Virtually every example that I have seen grades in the EF40 to AU50 range and is characterized by heavily abraded surfaces. Most are Proof-like and have had their luster disturbed by rough handling and/or numismatic abuse.
The 1883-O eagle is an issue that can best be described with a glowing list of superlatives. It is the rarest New Orleans eagle and it is among the rarest New Orleans gold coins of any denomination. It has the lowest mintage figure of any branch mint Liberty Head eagle and only two Philadelphia issues (the 1875 and 1876) have lower mintage figures than the 1883-O. Despite this issue’s unquestionable rarity, it still does not receive the acclaim it deserves.
At one time I believed that the 1859-O was the rarest New Orleans eagle. I now feel that this honor belongs to the 1883-O, which is very hard to find in any grade and is generally only offered for sale at important specialized gold auctions. Known examples are well-worn and unappealing. Accurately graded EF45s are rare, while AU50 to AU55 coins are very rare. I know of two or three AU58s. Only one has been certified as Uncirculated...
STRIKE: The date is nearly always seen with a poor strike. The stars are very flat with just a few displaying any detail on the radial lines. Liberty’s curls are weak around the face and the hair behind the ear is not brought up. The reverse is generally sharper and it is not uncommon for an 1883-O eagle to appear a full grade lower on the obverse than on the reverse. As a result, this is a very hard coin to grade accurately.
SURFACES: The surfaces are invariably covered with heavy abrasions which are accentuated by the reflectiveness of the luster. I have seen a few that had planchet cracks or laminations and others which showed light spotting on the surfaces.
LUSTER: As one might expect for a coin with such a small mintage figure, the luster is usually proof-like. However, the typical 1883-O eagle shows enough wear that much of the luster is gone. On some of the higher grade pieces, the luster is slightly frosty and it is usually adversely affected by the presence of deep marks and numismatic mishandling.
COLORATION: The natural coloration is an attractive rich orange-gold hue. Most 1883-O eagles have been cleaned at one time and I have not seen more than three or four pieces that could be described as “original.”
EYE APPEAL: The level of eye appeal for the 1883-O eagle is well below average. Most are well worn, poorly struck and show a lack of “balance” between the obverse and reverse. Any piece that is original and which is not covered with deep marks is extremely desirable and should command a strong premium over a typical unappealing example.
DIE CHARACTERISTICS: There are raised diagonal lines at the top of the vertical lines in the shield and a raised die line connects the bottom of the ribbon loops below GOD and WE.
MAJOR VARIETIES: There is a single variety known.
Variety One: The 1 in the date has an odd blunt tip. The date is a bit low in the field and slightly closer to the denticles than the neck; it slants down slightly. The 3 is larger than the 8’s and it is lower at the base. The mintmark is far from the narrow feather and it leans distinctly down to the left. It is positioned over the space between the E and N in TEN. A fine crack on the reverse joins the top of UNITED; another can be seen at the top of the letters in OF and this extends through the left wing tip.
There is no eagle from this mint that is rarer than the 1883-O. One might expect a coin with just 800 pieces struck (!) to be a rarity but few non-specialists are aware of the extreme difficulty that acquiring this date presents. There are around three dozen pieces known with most in the VF-EF range. I am are of around seven or eight in AU and one coin in Uncirculated; an NGC MS61 that I sold via private treaty in 2000 and again in 2008. The 1883-O is nearly always seen with very poor eye appeal due to excessive abrasions on the surfaces. Most pieces are proof-like and this tends to accentuate the aforementioned marks and further reduce the eye appeal. And nearly all pieces exhibit a soft strike, as if the eye appeal needed to be further challenged. Price guides tend to severely undervalue the 1883-O eagle and this date is beginning to be regarded as the true rarity it is by savvy specialists.