In circulated grades the price guides would suggest the 1854-O $3 gold piece is common at least by the standards of the $3 gold coins, which are never common. In upper grades, however, the 1854-O becomes a very different story, suggesting that perhaps the 1854-O deserves a little serious attention as a condition rarity in a set that never receives much attention.
It is probably no surprise the gold $3 receives relatively little attention today as it probably did not get all that much attention even when it was in circulation. That at least in part can be traced to the fact that it did not really fit into the monetary system of the time. The silver 3-cent coin of 75 percent silver had a role of sorts when other silver coins were being hoarded.
Adding the $3 coin to the 3-cent coin was a large leap of faith in the idea that Americans were somehow desperate for such denominations. That was not really the case, but California had a lot of gold it wanted minted into coins.
It could probably be argued that the $3 gold piece went in like a lamb and went out like a lamb chop. Mintages declined from modest beginnings.
The big 1854 mintage was in Philadelphia, which produced a total of 138,618 of the new denomination. Dahlonega added just 1,120 and New Orleans chipped in 24,000. Never again would any mint or combination of mints top even 85,000 in a single year and rarely would the total reach even 10,000.
The Dahlonega and New Orleans $3 coins of 1854 were the only ones struck by both facilities for the duration of the denomination. The 1854-D is a significant rarity. The 1854-O has been basically in its shadow. In fairness, for a $3, a mintage of 24,000 was on the high side. There were only five higher mintages from any facility 1854-1889.
We can assume the 1854-O circulated throughout the South until at least the Civil War at which time all gold and silver would have been hidden away in hoards to be used to pay for any imports that might get through. Any that emerged after the war probably just kept moving through circulation. That helps explain why the 1854-O lists for $760 in F-12, less than $100 more than the $675 price of the most common $3 coins in the F-12 grade.
Going up the scale, it becomes slightly better at $1,150 in VF-20. At $2,650 in XF-40 it is one of nine dates priced higher than $2,000. In MS-60 it rockets to $50,000 and this is the highest price except for the $77,500 for the 1854-D.
It would seem that few were saved at the time of issue.
We see similar patterns in the case of any number of other New Orleans issues of the period and later. There may be a handful of known uncirculated examples, but very few as there appears to have been few active collectors in the South at the time of issue.
Also, a $3 face value in the middle of the 19th century was more than most people could afford to put aside, limiting possible savings by the public.
It is also worth noting that there were proofs struck by Philadelphia, so the few collectors who were active at the time would have considered an 1854 proof to be all they needed to be current with a $3 gold coin set. Modern collectors might find that funny, but perhaps not, as proofs are still more highly prized than uncirculated coins of the same design.
All of these factors weighed on the possible survival of 1854-O gold coins in top grades. If you want something better than F-12, be prepared to pay for it.
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