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1854-O gold $3 tougher than expected

 Debuting in 1854, the gold $3 was struck at Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Dahlonega. Today, tracking down Mint State examples of the 1854-O (shown above) can be a difficult task.

Debuting in 1854, the gold $3 was struck at Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Dahlonega. Today, tracking down Mint State examples of the 1854-O (shown above) can be a difficult task.

Relatively little is known about the 1854-O gold $3. People spend a lot of time with the best dates in a set, and that may have left the 1854-O out. Suspicions point to it being a better date, but no one has taken the time to see how much better.

The $3 gold coin debuted in 1854 and was produced in three facilities that first year. Philadelphia made 138,618 of the new denomination, while Dahlonega created one of the key dates with a mintage of just 1,120. In New Orleans, the mintage fell in the middle at 24,000 pieces.

Although we do not know what sort of reception the new $3 gold coin received, it must have been mixed. The denomination stayed in production until 1889, so it must have seen at least limited use. That said, mintages were always low, with that 138,618 from Philadelphia in 1854 standing the test of time as the top mintage.

After 1854, neither Dahlonega nor New Orleans struck $3 gold coins. And Charlotte (which, like Dahlonega, was solely in the business of gold coins) never produced a single example.

We may understand why Charlotte and Dahlonega never produced an upper-denomination gold coin such as $10 or $20, but the apparent lack of interest in the $3 is interesting. It may well be that the idea for the denomination was a stretch. There was no real reason for a $3, especially when there was already a $2.50. But back in 1854, with gold flowing from the streams in California, it probably seemed there was no harm in making another gold coin. There had also been a three-cent piece since 1851, and a $3 gold coin fit right in.

By the standards of the day, the New Orleans $3 gold coin mintage was probably a test. Even if it was not, the facility turned out no more $3 gold coins (although in fairness, it was closed less than a decade later when it fell into the hands of State of Louisiana forces just before the Civil War).

What happened to the 1854-O mintage is unknown. The odd denomination might have been rejected, and it was easy to melt down gold coins that were not being used and turn the gold into another more popular denomination.

Today, we can definitely call lower-grade examples of the 1854-O better with a price of $1,525 in VF20 condition, putting them among the top 10 of the series. Higher-grade examples make the top five, listing for $38,000 in MS60 and currently unpriced in MS65.

A legitimate question is how tough the 1854-O is to locate in Mint State. Numismatic Guaranty Corporation reports 852 examples graded, of which just 23 were MS60 or better (the best being a lone MS63). The Professional Coin Grading Service reports 647 examples graded, with only two MS60 or better (an MS61 and an MS62).

Clearly the 1854-O was not saved in any numbers back in 1854. This may not be surprising, as we know that New Orleans coins of the period are extremely tough to find in Mint State. However, this particular coin may have been saved even less than was normally the case. It was far more likely to end up in the pocket of someone leaving the country and never be seen again stateside than it was to end up with tender loving care in a collection.

It is therefore hard to make a strong case that the 1854-O is incorrectly priced. It is available in some numbers, according to the grading services, but it is not available in Mint State. That makes the 1854-O not only an interesting date but also one that may be even tougher in Mint State than current pricing indicates.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

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