US Coins

PCGS names 1904-O eagle Special Strike

After re-examination of its surfaces by numismatic experts, what is identified as the first 1904-O Coronet gold $10 eagle struck at the New Orleans Mint has been reclassified as a “Special Strike” by Professional Coin Grading Service.

The W.J. Brophy specimen was originally graded and encapsulated in the 1990s as a Mint State 68 presentation piece. With the new classification, the coin is now described as “SP-68.” The coin has not been reslabbed, though, since it is housed in a Regency holder — a short-lived PCGS slab reserved for rarer coins and other special pieces that is now considered rare itself.

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PCGS changed the eagle’s status to “Special Strike” after a new inspection of what the grading service calls the coin’s fresh, orange-peel-like surfaces.

Coin envelope’s details

The coin is accompanied by a manila coin envelope that housed the coin for decades. A hand-written inscription on the coin envelope attributes the 1904-O Coronet eagle as the first $10 coin struck at the New Orleans Mint in 1904.

The total mintage of the coin is 108,950 pieces. It is the second most common New Orleans Mint eagle and is considered readily available in grades up to Mint State 62, according to Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins 1795–1933 by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth. The coin becomes scarcer in higher grades, according to the book.

Brophy was the coiner at the New Orleans Mint at the time the gold eagle was minted. The handwritten message also designates Brophy as the facility’s coiner. There is also a notation suggesting the contents included a gold $5 half eagle, although no 1904-O Coronet gold half eagles are recorded as having been struck.

More observations

“I knew of this coin [1904-O eagle] as a presentation piece, but it was not until I was able to personally inspect the coin that I realized just how special it truly is,” recalls John Dannreuther, member of the PCGS Board of Experts, and author or co-author of several books dedicated to U.S. gold coinage. 

“This 1904-O eagle was struck from dies that were specially prepared. You can see from the coin that the dies were polished, but not to the brilliance seen on Proofs. This coin’s surfaces are like the 1909 and 1910 Satin Proof gold issues with a rippled field effect, but it is not a Proof in our opinion.”

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When a coin was made for a specific person or event, especially at the Philadelphia Mint, it was almost always struck as a Proof, according to PCGS.

The Branch Mints, however, did not always produce Proof coins for these occasions. This 1904-O Coronet eagle was struck from dies that were specially prepared, but they were not acid treated to produce the frosty effect seen on Proof coinage, such as the well-known Proof 1844-O Coronet gold $5 half eagle and eagle, according to PCGS.

PCGS states that it is unknown whether the piece now described as a Special Strike was retained by coiner William J. Brophy (1868 to 1942), or was presented to someone else with Brophy attesting to the fact that it was the first eagle struck in 1904.

PCGS Founder David Hall also personally inspected the coin.

“One only needs to examine this example to understand how significant this coin is to the output of the New Orleans Mint, as well as the special issues of all American gold coins,” Hall said. “It joins the 1844-O half eagle and eagle, as well as the 1838-O [Capped Bust, Reeded Edge] half dollar, as one of the most significant releases from the New Orleans Mint.”

No new holder

While the 1904-O Coronet eagle has been designated with the Special Strike attribution, the coin will remain encapsulated in the short-lived Regency holder, designed as a premium holder for rare and important coins.

The holder’s awkward, oversized design and dark green background limited its popularity, according to PCGS. Issued from only 1992 to 1996 for approximately 700 coins, today they are seldom seen in the marketplace.

The 1904-O Coronet eagle will not be removed from its holder to update the designation, but the changes will be reflected in PCGS population reporting.

“While we are unsure of the coin’s value due to its rarity, we can all agree it is an important numismatic piece,” continued Hall. 

“We are also currently still evaluating how the coin will be integrated into the PCGS Set Registry,” he added.

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