Although one of the more plentiful New Orleans Liberty half eagles of this period, the 1844-O remains quite difficult to find in Mint State despite its mintage of 364,600 pieces. This issue was unusually large for the New Orleans Mint and is the second highest mintage for any gold coin produced at that branch mint, behind only the 1847-O Liberty eagle. The rather remote (in 1844) location for this branch mint and the need for gold coinage in circulation make it quite a matter of chance that any survived in Mint State. Thankfully collectors today can obtain such a coin with patience. The coin we offer in our February 2014 New York Americana Sale is clearly one of the very finest known, tied with a handful of others as the second finest certified between both major grading services. A single Gem example exists, that from the famous Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection. A single Proof exists that, along with a Proof 1844-O Liberty eagle, was sold long ago in the Parmelee Collection, Both of these rarities have appeared a few other times since that historic event.
Only a few trace nicks from handling can be seen. The strike is notably deep and Liberty’s curls are all well defined, as is her ear. The only hint of minor softness is located at the top of Liberty’s lovelock on her neck. Die file lines are seen along the extreme edge near the second star, always present on this die. The reverse is sharp as well, with all the eagle’s feathers clearly defined along with the central shield. A hint of softness is noted on the right claw (facing) of the eagle, commonly seen on this design. The reverse has another interesting feature — several areas that show evidence of die rust in the fields as raised irregular lumps on the coin. One is noted at the top of D of UNITED, other patches are seen above the eagle’s head, above F(IVE) and below the left wing (facing) of the eagle. Die rust was a fact of minting in this area of high humidity and it was no doubt difficult to transport and store these dies with enough grease or oil to keep such die rust from forming.
The half eagle represented a backbone of the American banking system during this era, as the primary United States denominations seen or held by banks were the half eagle and the half dollar. New Orleans was a major port where goods from all over the Midwest and portions of the east arrived by boat down the Mississippi River, and from there to the East Coast and the West. Other goods arrived in New Orleans and went up river to farmers, trappers and the expanding towns to the north. A few years after this coin was struck, New Orleans became a major destination for the raw gold ingots coming from California, as the Gold Rush there entered full swing, providing the raw materials for gold coins at the New Orleans Mint. This condition rarity truly is a piece of American history that you can hold in your hand.