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Seated O-mint quarters offer solid values

Seated Liberty quarters are an interesting group. There are a number of good values to be found in Seated Liberty quarters and probably plenty of sleepers as well. The Seated Liberty quarter, after all, was a high denomination for someone to collect back when they were released and that keeps numbers of Mint State examples low.

It’s not just in Mint State that supplies today have to be seen as suspect. The Seated Liberty quarter was produced at a time when many collectors did not collect by date and mint. It was natural, especially during the early days of the Seated Liberty quarters, to simply collect by date, in large part because branch mints were just getting established.

In the later years this collecting method did not change as the popularity of collecting by date and mint would not really emerge until after the Seated Liberty quarter had been replaced by the Barber design. As a result, the Seated Liberty quarters in circulation were already well worn as there had been no major increases in collector numbers for upper denominations like quarters.

The supply situation in terms of Seated Liberty quarters produced at New Orleans is compounded by a number of factors. New Orleans quarters tended to have lower mintages. In addition, New Orleans had few, if any collectors in the immediate area and with collectors not assembling sets by date and mint that meant that most of the new quarters saved were not from New Orleans but rather Philadelphia.

Also, with the except of the 1891-O,  the New Orleans Seated Liberty quarter production was over by the Civil War, meaning many of the New Orleans quarters were produced at a time when collecting in general was very limited.

Finally, as a port city a quarter produced at New Orleans had a much better chance to leave the area possibly for foreign countries from which they would never return. The numbers might not have been large, but when you start with low mintages and limited saving, the loss of even small numbers of a specific date can be important and all these factors had an influence on the supply of New Orleans Seated Liberty quarters today.

The first New Orleans Seated Liberty quarter was the 1840. In fact it appears that New Orleans, which had produced its first coin a couple years earlier was slow in getting around to producing quarters. The 1840-O would also be an old design as there was no drapery on the obverse and that design was used in 1838 and 1839 at Philadelphia, but in its 1840 production, the Philadelphia Seated Liberty quarter had drapery at Liberty’s left elbow. That would be the case in part, but not all of the 425,200 mintage of the 1840-O.

It appears, at least based on prices that the 1840-O mintage was split in such a way as there are more surviving drapery types. The no drapery 1840-O is $46 in G-4 while the with drapery 1840-O is $29. In MS-60, the no drapery 1840-O is $1,350 while the with drapery is $1,000.

At the Professional Coin Grading Series they show 12 examples of the no drapery 1840-O in Mint State while the with drapery Mint State total is 24 with two being called MS-65 while the no drapery type has not been seen above MS-64.

New Orleans back at the time might have still been really getting established as a new mint. The fact that it was producing both gold and silver made it the only facility other than Philadelphia to be producing a variety of issues. This  might have resulted in sporadic and low mintage totals, but that was not really the case.

While the other facilities at Dahlonega, Ga., and Charlotte, N.C., seemed to struggle simply to produce relatively small numbers of gold coins, New Orleans was close to a full service facility producing larger totals of assorted denominations in both gold and silver.

We see that in a 452,000 mintage of the 1841-O, which was actually far higher than the Philadelphia quarter mintage of 1841. The 1841-O is relatively available in circulated grades at $21.50 in G-4, but like most New Orleans issues it is a problem in Mint State, with a current listing of $700 in MS-60. In fact the PCGS total is fairly large in Mint State with a total of 35 pieces graded.

In the case of the 1842-O there would be large and small dates as there were in Philadelphia and there is a very big difference between the two. The 1842-O with a large date is available at $28 in G-4 and $900 in MS-60 where PCGS reports 19 examples graded. The small date, however, has a price of $425 in G-4 and $4,000 in XF and no listing for higher grades. That is supported by the fact that PCGS has yet to grade an example above AU-58 and the total in assorted AU grades has been just four coins.

New Orleans would continue to produce more quarters than the main facility in Philadelphia as its 1843 total was perilously close to 1 million, with the final count being 968,000, which makes the 1843-O a $25 date in G-4, but $2,000 in MS-60 where PCGS reports only three examples seen.

In 1844 the New Orleans Seated Liberty quarter total would be 740,000, which again was higher than Philadelphia. In the case of the 1844-O a G-4 lists at $25 while an MS-60 is priced at $1,000 and an MS-65 is placed at $6,000. Realistically, the Mint State total of a dozen pieces means the 1844-O can be found, but in MS-65 the $6,000 is probably far too low as is the case for virtually any MS-65 listing for a New Orleans quarter from the 1840s.

Many dates have listings like the 1844-O, but there are virtually no coins. In the case of the 1844-O. The PCGS total in MS-65 or better stands at two pieces. If you can get one of the two for $6,000, it is certainly a good deal as even if there are a few others, which is likely, you will still have a very nice coin at a very reasonable price. The probability is, however, that the owners of the few certified MS-65 1844-O quarters or other dates as well know precisely how tough their coins are, making it unlikely they will sell them at any price, or at least not at the listed prices.

The pattern changed for 1845 and 1846. New Orleans would have no quarter mintages. It is hard to point to any specific reason for the lack of quarter production as the only unusual thing to happen during those two years was that the facility made its first silver dollars in 1846.

The Seated Liberty quarter would return to production in 1847 at New Orleans with a mintage of 368,000. As that total was below average for New Orleans, the 1847-O has a slightly higher $30 G-4 price while an MS-60 is at $1,900 and if anything that is low as PCGS has graded only two Mint State examples.

Again in 1848 there would be no quarter mintage and the records indicate there was also no mintage in 1849, but an 1849-O, while tough, does exist. The best way of explaining the situation is that in all probability the 1849-O was actually produced in 1850. We cannot be certain of that, but there are a couple other cases involving New Orleans issues where something similar is suspected.

The best guess from experts has been that the 1849-O had a low mintage of perhaps 16,000 pieces and that the total is part of the 1850-O mintage. It all makes sense, although falls short of proof.

The 1849-O currently is at a price of $550 in G-4 and $5,750 in AU-50, with no higher grade listings. In fact, PCGS does report a couple examples of the 1849-O in Mint State, so any owner can basically dictate the price if you happen to want to buy one.

The 1850-O mintage, which possibly included a small number of 1849-O coins, is put at 412,000. That makes an 1850-O $20 in G-4 and an MS-60 at $1,300. The price accurately reflects the situation as PCGS reports 11 examples in Mint State.

The 1851-O mintage was just 88,000, which was probably a reflection of things at the time. The discovery of gold in California in the late 1840s had upset the traditional gold-to-silver price ratio and that saw the cost of producing silver coin rise to a price above their face value. The Congress should have reduced the amount of silver slightly but instead in 1851 the Congress authorized a 75 percent silver three-cent piece. New Orleans would try the three-cent piece in 1851, but never after that.

In the meantime, when it came to denominations like the quarter, New Orleans was between a rock and a hard place as was Philadelphia. If they produced coins that were needed – as the public already was hoarding silver creating a national coin shortage – the facility would end up losing money on every coin produced.

Moreover, a few more coins might not have helped with the national coin shortage anyway as the public was hoarding all silver. Collectors of the 1960s saw what the public can do when it makes up its mind to hoard coins.

Also, looking at it from the other side of the transaction, who in his right mind would deposit silver with the Mint to get back coin with a face value less than the value of the bullion?

So, making the best of a bad situation, at least in some cases, the mintages dropped and that is likely the case with the 1851-O. Whatever the reason for the low mintage, the 1851-O is at $185 in G-4 and $4,000 in MS-60, which is justified as PCGS reports just five examples.

The 1852-O would be a repeat of the situation with a mintage of 96,000, resulting in a $195 G-4 price while an MS-60 is placed at $8,000, although that may be far too low as PCGS has never seen an 1852-O above AU-55. The higher price despite a slightly higher mintage for the 1852-O may be a result of melting as early in 1853 Congress would finally act reducing the amount of silver in the quarter and other denominations and there is some reason to suspect that some of the old, slightly larger issues if still in the vaults might have been melted on the spot.

The new and slightly reduced silver content quarters were marked by arrows at the date and rays around the eagle on the reverse. The only example of the type produced at New Orleans would be the 1853-O, which had a mintage of 1,332,000, which tends to support the idea that in the previous two years New Orleans had been holding back in terms of production. The 1853-O lists at $18 in G-4 and $2,750 in MS-60. It is actually a little more available than the price indicates as PCGS has seen 18 in Mint State, but along with the Philadelphia 1853 with arrows and rays, it is a short-lived type coin that keeps demand high for any nice example.

The rays were removed for the 1854 and 1855 mintages. The 1854-O mintage was 1,484,000 and a few included a huge “O,” which is scarce in any grade, with PCGS having seen just eight and only two of them reached XF-40. The regular 1854-O without the rays on the reverse, however, is available at $17 in G-4 and $1,750 in MS-60.

The 1855-O is tougher as it had a mintage of just 176,000 and that results in a G-4 listing of $50. In the case of an MS-60 the price is $2,750, which is actually fairly low as PCGS has seen just three examples in Mint State. In fact, there is some reason to suspect that the 1855-O may be tougher in all grades as PCGS has graded just a dozen examples in all grades combined and that is an unusually low total.

The arrows at the date were eliminated starting in 1856 when New Orleans had a mintage of 968,000 Seated Liberty quarters. That makes the 1856-O a more available date at $20 in G-4 with an MS-60 listing of $1,000 and an MS-65 listing of $8,500.  In fact, both MS prices may be low as PCGS has only seen five examples of the 1856-O in Mint State. In the case of the MS-65 as has been seen before there is a price but no coins as PCGS has yet to see an example reach MS-65 or better.

The 1857-O had an even higher mintage of 1,180,000, which makes a G-4 readily available at just $15. In MS-60 the 1857-O lists for $975 although it has a surprisingly low 11 coin total at PCGS and again there have so far been no examples called MS-65.

The mintages after 1857 would drop with the 1858-O total being 520,000, which makes the 1858-O $25 in G-4 while an MS-60 is priced at $1,350 and once again the price seems low as PCGS reports only three examples called Mint State. Admittedly there is minimal demand from collectors for such Mint State coins, but the fact remains that there truly are not adequate supplies should even a small demand surface from new collectors.

The 1859-O would have a mintage of 260,000, which puts it at $25 in G-4 and $1,000 in MS-60 with an MS-65 listed at $15,000. Here we have a situation of nine  examples called Mint State, so the 1859-O looks to be a good value at $1,000. The MS-65 situation is difficult with just one example reported and the expectation would have to be that the owner of that one coin is not likely to sell for $15,000, or perhaps for any price.

The 1860-O with a mintage of 388,000 would be the last New Orleans Seated Liberty quarter before the Civil War. The 1860-O is $20 in G-4 and $1,200 in MS-60 where ironically it is somewhat more available. The Mint State total for the 1860-O at PCGS stands at 21, which is an unusually high total for a Seated Liberty quarter from New Orleans, so it is an available New Orleans date and there are not many of those.

The 1860-O probably should have been the last Seated Liberty quarter from New Orleans as the facility was quickly seized at the start of the Civil War. For the city and the mint, that turned out to be a tragedy. It was cut off from the Mississippi commerce from upriver and its standing as a major international port city declined.

The mint was closed once the facility ran out of bullion supplies from which to strike coins.

Once the war was over the mint stayed closed for years. With the required large mintages of silver dollars beginning in 1878, it was decided to repair New Orleans and have it begin coin production again. That began with silver dollars in 1879, and realistically, for a period of over a decade the prime use of New Orleans was to produce some of the needed silver dollars.

In 1891, however, New Orleans produced 68,000 Seated Liberty quarters. The 1891-O mintage was basically setting the stage for New Orleans to begin producing other denominations. That was probably helped along by the impending decision to discontinue coin production at Carson City.

Whatever the reason for the 1891-O quarter mintage the fact that it was low results in a $150 G-4 price while an MS-60 is at $3,000. The 1891-O might have created a sensation, considering the 31-year quarter production gap, but collectors even with that passage of time were still not collecting quarters by date and mint, so it had the same fate as New Orleans Seated Liberty quarters produced decades earlier. It was not saved and PCGS reports just five examples in Mint State.

In 1892 New Orleans would produce quarters, but the design was changed, bringing to an end the Seated quarters of New Orleans. During the production of the Barber series, the mint itself would close for the final time in 1909.

In the years of production, New Orleans had struck a number of interesting dates and many today look like excellent values when considering the number of surviving examples, especially in Mint State grade. That makes the New Orleans Seated Liberty quarters an interesting group to study and collect.

Most successful collectors start with series that both appeal to them and are out of the spotlight. These certainly quality as being out of the spotlight.              

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