This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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New Orleans quarter eagles from the 1840s are easily overlooked. First, there is the problem that they are gold coins and not many collectors have the money or the patience to try something like a set of quarter eagles unless they are the more available Indian Head quarter eagles from the 1900s.
The second problem is that when people think about tough quarter or half eagles they typically think of those from Charlotte or Dahlonega, not New Orleans. These were the facilities that routinely produced gold coins in very low numbers.
In the case of the 1845-O quarter eagle, the conventional wisdom is wrong. In 1845 the lowest quarter eagle mintage came not from New Orleans. Of course it helped that Charlotte didn’t make a quarter eagle in 1845. Even so, it was Dahlonega from which the low mintages usually came. Dahlonega was not all that busy when it came to making coins and not all that good at it, either. That is why collectors go crazy for Mint State gold coins from Dahlonega as there are simply not many to be found, especially in uncirculated grades.
In 1845, however, the Dahlonega quarter eagle mintage stood at 19,460 pieces, while New Orleans produced a mere 4,000.
So, why did New Orleans produce such a small number of quarter eagles in 1845? There had been a large mintage of the denomination in 1843, but then there was no quarter eagle production in 1844.
There may have been no need for more, or perhaps no need until late in the year when 4,000 were quickly produced to be followed by a solid mintage of 66,000 in 1846 and 124,000 in 1847. There is a pattern of peaks and valleys when it comes to New Orleans production in the 1840s.
There is reason to believe that the 1845-O was not even made in 1845, but rather in January of 1846. The 1845-O was missing from the Mint report and was “discovered” by famous dealer B. Max Mehl in the 1940s. There were few U.S. coin collectors and guides until the 1940s, so the 1845-O was not unknown but unreported. The lack of records makes the 4,000 mintage figure possibly subject to error.
There is no error, however, in saying that the 1845-O is scarce. It currently lists for $550 in F-12 and goes up to $2,300 in XF-40, $9,000 in AU-50 and $20,000 in MS-60. The MS-60 price is subject to question since the 1845-O may be unknown in uncirculated grades. If you watch auction catalogs and dealer inventories, you notice the 1845-O does not make many appearances in any grade.
Ironically, despite its rarity the 1845-O prices tend to be soft, especially in lower grades. The F-12 price today is actually $200 less than it was in 1998. The decline is not due to an additional supply but rather the generally soft demand for lower-grade gold coins. In some ways it helps collectors of limited means because the 1845-O is a much, much better coin than its current prices would suggest.
If a Lincoln cent or Mercury dime had a mintage of 4,000, do you think it would be $550 in F-12? Of course not. The only problem with the 1845-O is a lack of demand, but if even a small demand were to surface, watch out. It’s an excellent coin that is vastly underrated.