One of this week’s stories about the discovery of a new die marriage for an 1825 Capped Head gold $5 half eagle is perhaps most interesting for the way the coin was discovered.
A researcher was looking at Heritage’s auction archives, enlarged an image of a lot sold in a 2007 auction, and found the first new variety of any date of the early half eagle series since, at latest, 2006.
Does the fact that the coin is a “discovery” make the coin substantially more valuable? Likely not. It realized $51,750 when it sold in 2007, and the series has few collectors who collect it by die variety, at least when compared with series with more accessible starting price points like Draped Bust cents or Capped Bust quarter dollars.
The discovery is interesting and of some importance to numismatics as it sheds lights on some elements of the issue that were subject to debate by researchers, including die sequences and the fact that it is an overdate: 1825/4/1.
Perhaps most interesting to me is that this coin was once part of the Byron Reed Collection, which was sold when some high-value selections from the collection were offered at auction by the city of Omaha in 1996 to benefit the Western Heritage Museum.
While the half eagle was in that collection, one surmises that it was accessible to researchers.
However, despite the perceived availability of the coin to scholars while it was housed in a public collection, its true value to numismatists was identified only after it came to auction, went to a private collection (presumably) and was included in a searchable auction database.
Numismatics has long been a hobby dominated by private scholarship, in conjunction with collectors and with the support of museums.
As numismatic history continues to be digitized and more coins are photographed, the tools available to scholars will only increase and the discoveries are likely to keep coming.
Even well-mined areas of collecting like early U.S. coinage continue to surprise. Happy hunting!