When it comes to New Orleans double eagles, there are two major rarities that are usually named together in one sentence. These are the 1854-O and the 1856-O. Both have miniscule mintages and their rarity is similar, although the 1856-O is usually considered to be the rarer of the two. However, due to unknown reasons, more high-grade examples of the 1856-O have survived, including a coin which has been determined to be a specimen striking, and is often considered to be the most desirable of all New Orleans double eagles.
The New Orleans Mint depended on local gold supplies, sometimes coming from foreign sources, for the striking of double eagles. Prior to the opening of the San Francisco Mint in 1854 deposits primarily came out of the California gold fields, but once the Federal Mint had been opened in San Francisco the deposits fell sharply. As a result, the mintage levels for double eagles at the New Orleans Mint declined sharply in the mid 1850’s.
With no coin collectors present in Louisiana (or most of the United States, for that matter) most double eagles entered circulation or were exported. With New Orleans being a major seaport town many were exported overseas, although in the case of the 1856-O double eagle there were few coins available to export anyway. Most of the other coins circulated among banks, often used as backing for currency, meaning that the public actually saw very few of the double eagles struck at the three Federal mints.