Important New Orleans Gold
By Doug Winter
After a probable absence of over
a century, perhaps the most important New
Orleans gold coin in existence is coming back to
its ancestral home. My friend Paul Hollis, a
coin dealer from Metairie (a suburb of New
Orleans), has arranged for the unique Proof
1844-O eagle to be placed on exhibit at the New
Orleans mint. This coin, with an estimated value
of $2.5 million, goes on public display November
1 and will also be taken around Louisiana on
tour by Hollis.
The New Orleans Mint began producing coins in
1838. The very first issue struck by this mint
was a group of 20 half dollars to inaugurate
coinage and a small group of Proof half dollars
were made in 1839 (plus at least one Dime dated
1839-O is known that has been designated a
“Specimen” by NGC). So, we know that the New
Orleans mint had experience with making Proof
coins and that the quality of these was
comparable to that seen at the Philadelphia
In 1844, the New Orleans mint produced at least
one example of a Proof half eagle and eagle.
Remarkably, both still exist and, even more
remarkably, both are superbly preserved. Why
were they produced and who were they struck for?
Unfortunately, contemporary documentation does
not exist that gives the definitive answer to
these questions, so we have to make some
assumptions. I think it’s safe to say that the
Proof 1844-O gold set was struck in
commemoration of either a special event or, more
likely, a visit to the Mint by some special VIP
or dignitary. My guess would be that they were
made for personal presentation to President John
What is interesting about these 1844-O Proofs is
that there were no other Proof gold issues
produced at the branch mints until 1854 when San
Francisco struck a double eagle in this format.
But in the case of the 1854-S double eagle, the
reason for producing the coin is obvious as it
was made to commemorate the opening of the new
mint. One would think that if New Orleans were
to have made gold Proofs, they would have struck
a small number of Proof quarter eagles in 1839
or half eagles in 1840. But if these were ever
made, they have disappeared without a trace.
The earliest numismatic reference to the 1844-O
Proofs appears to be in the Seavey descriptive
catalog that was published in 1873. In 1890 when
they were sold as part of the famous Parmelee
collection the eagle sold (as Lot 1151) for the
princely sum of $16 while its companion half
eagle brought just $9.50. It was next seen in
the collection of William Woodin who was famous
both as a coin collector and as Secretary of the
Treasury for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.
Woodin sold his primary collection at auction in
1911 but I am not aware if the Proof 1844-O set
was included in either of his two sales (it
would be easy to check these in the sale
catalogs but my library does not contain them).
It is documented that Woodin also sold many of
his coins privately to the leading collectors
and dealers of the day. I do not know this with
certainty but I surmise that the 1844-O Proofs
went into the Brand collection.
From here on, the pedigree chain for the 1844-O
half eagle and eagle gets murky. In fact, I
think it is possible that the coins were split
up when the Brand collection was being sold in
the 1920’s and 1930’s.
The half eagle was in all likelihood sold to
Waldo Newcomer and then likely went into the
Colonel Green collection. From there it is
believed to have been sold to King Farouk and
remained in this collection until it was
forcibly sold at auction in 1954. It was later
sold to a prominent Texas collector (not Harry
Bass, by the way…) by Abe Kosoff in 1959. I was
shown the Proof half eagle in the early 1990’s
by the Texas dealer Michael Brownlee. It was
still in the original flip with Kosoff’s writing
on it. I used it as the cover coin of the first
edition of my New Orleans book. The coin is a
Brownlee told me soon after showing me the Proof
1844-O half eagle that he believed the Proof
eagle existed but he didn’t know where it was.
In fact, he claimed, he had been searching for
it for many years as he desperately wanted to
reunite the two coins in the prominent Texas
collection (which he had built and was,
rightfully, very proud of).
If Newcomer did, in fact, buy both the half
eagle and eagle, it is not likely that Col.
Green would have purchased the eagle as he was
not specializing in this denomination. What
would be interesting to learn was, if the coins
were indeed split up, in which collections did
it reside between the 1920’s and the 1990’s.
Did Brownlee know where this coin was all along?
I have my theories but won’t expound on them
here. I will say, however, that his search for
the elusive Proof 1844-O eagle was rewarded
when, in the late 1990’s, he announced that the
coin was “rediscovered.” It was sent to NGC
where it was ultimately graded PR66 Cameo. Then,
it was offered for sale by dealer Robert Leece
at various price levels for a number of years.
Finally, the coin was sold to a Florida
collector in 2006 by Louisiana dealer Chuck
Bloomfield. The price was reported to be $1.5
I have had a chance to examine the Proof 1844-O
eagle and it is a simply amazing coin. It is
100% unquestionably a Proof with incredible
cameo contrast and a deep “black and white”
appearance that one wouldn’t expect to see on a
Proof gold coin from this era, let alone one
from New Orleans.
If you are going to be in the New Orleans area
in the coming months, I urge you to take a look
at this great coin and to visit the New Orleans