NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Talk about an investment in gold. This one is insured for $2.5 million, although it contains only a half-ounce of the precious metal.
It’s an extremely rare 1844 proof $10 gold coin struck at the U.S. Mint in New Orleans as a presentation piece for President James Polk. Collectors believe it is one-of-a-kind.
Now the property of an anonymous Florida collector, the coin, known as an Eagle, has been brought back to New Orleans to be put on display at the Old U.S. Mint when the museum reopens on Nov. 1 after a brief closure to install exhibits.
New Orleans coin dealer Paul Hollis made arrangements to have the coin displayed in the city of its origin.
“You will never get another one,” Hollis said.
Like many rare coins, the exact history of how this Eagle was passed around is cloudy. Struck on specially prepared, highly polished dies, presentation proofs were given during the 1800s to various VIPs such as dignitaries and heads of state. Well-connected collectors also managed to get a few.
Most were prepared at the Philadelphia mint, while few came out of branch mints such as New Orleans, which operated from 1838 to 1909. The distinctive “O” mint mark on the reverse under a heraldic eagle motif identifies the coin as of New Orleans origin.
During its operation, the New Orleans mint produced a wide range of silver and gold coins, including the king of circulating U.S. gold coins, the $20 Double Eagle.
The New Orleans mint was one of three in the South. The others were in Charlotte, N.C., and Dahlonega, Ga. Of the three, only the New Orleans mint reopened after the Civil War.
Hollis said the New Orleans-produced 1844 Eagle surfaced at a sale in the early 1900s and records indicate it may have traded for as little as $11. It was later owned by U.S. Treasury Secretary William Woodin, who served under President Franklin Roosevelt and played a key role in the United States seizing gold and gold coins in 1933 as the country abandoned the international gold standard.
It also was Woodin who cut an exception to the seizure for rare gold coins.
Hollis puts a ballpark value on the Eagle at $2 million to $2.7 million. The owner has insured it for $2.5 million.
“It certainly is a seven-figure item,” said Scott Schechter of Sarasota, Fla.-based Numismatic Guaranty Corp., who certified the coin’s authenticity.
Hollis said he carried the coin in his hands on a flight from Florida to New Orleans, where security officers accompanied both to the Eagle’s new home at the mint.
The mint was closed for about two years after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 and reopened in October 2007 after a $5 million renovation. In addition to exhibits dedicated to the building’s time as a mint, the museum also includes archived maps and documents dating back to Louisiana’s days as a French and Spanish possession.
The museum’s jazz collection, including sheet music, photographs, records, manuscripts and instruments from some of the city’s earliest jazz musicians, is being overhauled and is expected to return to the mint in 2010.
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