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Gold piece goes home

It’s a $10 gold piece that has definitely appreciated in value over the past 164 years. In fact it’s now insured for $2.5 million.

The 1844-O proof eagle, a one-of-a-kind gold coin struck at the New Orleans Mint, has returned “home” with the help of New Orleans coin dealer, Paul Hollis.

The unique gold piece apparently was specially struck as a presentation piece, and over the decades it’s been in the famous coin collections of a former U.S. Treasury Secretary and an early 20th century Chicago beer baron.

It is certified by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation as Proof-65 Ultra Cameo.

“This coin is certainly among the most important Southern gold coins ever struck, combining rarity, beauty, technical quality and a fascinating story,” said Mark Salzberg, NGC chairman.

The coin will be publicly displayed at the Louisiana State Museum’s Old U.S. Mint in New Orleans, beginning when the museum re-opens Nov. 1, according to Greg Lambousy, Louisiana State Museum Director of Collections.

This first-ever public exhibit in Louisiana was arranged by Hollis and the anonymous Florida collector who has quietly owned the historic gold piece since acquiring it in 2006.  Hollis personally carried the valuable coin from Florida to Louisiana, clutching it in his hands during the entire journey.

In a pre-arranged, secret rendezvous, Hollis was met at Louis Armstrong International airport in New Orleans on Sept. 23 by a State Police escort for the trip to the museum where he presented the unique gold piece to officials there.

“I had goose bumps when the plane landed in New Orleans and I realized the coin I was holding in my hands was home in Louisiana for the first time in over a century and a half,” Hollis said. “I got goose bumps again when we arrived at the Old U.S. Mint.  I’ve been trying to get this coin back to New Orleans for the past six years when it was owned by someone else.”

Slightly larger than a modern quarter-dollar and containing a half-ounce of gold, the 1844-O proof Eagle is the most valuable rare coin struck in Louisiana.

“The Old U.S. Mint was constructed under authorization by President Andrew Jackson. It struck its first coins in 1838 and ended coin production in 1909.  During the Civil War, the Confederacy briefly struck coins there,” said Lambousy.

“A total of 118,700 New Orleans Mint $10 gold pieces were made for circulation in 1844, but only one presentation proof Eagle was specially struck.”

The obverse depicts a Liberty Head design by Christian Gobrecht and the date, 1844.  The reverse shows an eagle with shield clutching an olive branch in one talon and arrows in the other; the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA TEN D.; and a large letter, O, as the New Orleans mintmark.

The first known sale of this coin dates back to the Parmalee Sale conducted by New York Stamp & Coin Co. in June 1890.  Over the past century, owners of the coin have included former U.S. Treasury Secretary William H. Woodin, and roaring ‘20s era Chicago brewer, Virgil Brand. Other prominent former owners include Abe Kosoff, John J. Ford, John Murrell and Robert Lecce.

Beginning Nov. 1, the mint museum will be open Tuesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Mondays. The mint was closed for about two years after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 and reopened in October 2007 after a $5 million renovation. In addition to exhibits dedicated to the building’s time as a mint, the museum also includes archived maps and documents dating back to Louisiana’s days as a French and Spanish possession.

“Collectors should definitely take advantage of the special opportunity to view this coin in person,” Salzberg said. “After all, this coin was not publicly seen from the 1950s to the 1990s.  By looking at coins of this type, we better understand the role and capabilities of the Southern Mints in the 1840s.”

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