The population of known 1817/4 Capped Bust half dollars has
increased by one, with the 10th reported example quietly entering the
Professional Coin Grading Service Set Registry.
Graded Very Good 8 by PCGS, the new find, Overton 102a (Early
Half Dollar Varieties: 1794-1836 by Al C. Overton and Donald
Parsley), was first publicly revealed in the PCGS Population Report
during the first week of May, according to a PCGS official.
The Louisiana collector who is the current owner of the newly
discovered PCGS VG-8 half dollar now has it listed in the PCGS Set
Registry (online at www.pcgs.com/setregistry/)
in sets identified under the collection moniker “early halves.”
Undisclosed six-figure price
The current owner acquired the coin for an undisclosed six-figure price.
In a July 11 telephone interview with Coin World, the
Louisiana collector, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he was
contacted June 30 by a local coin dealer with whom he has done
business in the past.
The collector’s dealer in Louisiana, acting as an intermediary for
the dealer who owned the coin, informed the collector about the
availability of a PCGS VG-8 1817/4 Capped Bust half dollar and asked
whether he was interested in purchasing the piece.
A collector of Bust half dollars for more than 25 years and a
longtime member of the Bust Half Nut Club, the collector said he
initially had doubts about the offering; at the time, he had not been
told the coin was a new piece. However, he was familiar with the
provenance of the nine already known 1817/4 half dollars and knew that
none of those coins was certified VG-8 by PCGS or any other grading service.
The Louisiana collector asked his dealer to have images of the
coin in the holder sent to him. In the meantime, the collector said he
checked the PCGS Population Report online and saw a VG-8 example of
the overdate listed. He further checked PCGS Coin Facts online, which
had images of the coin posted.
The Louisiana collector said that he was told the new discovery
came from a numismatic estate whose owner had collected coins from the
1930s through the 1960s. The heirs ended up selling the 1817/4 Capped
Bust half dollar to a dealer who had the coin certified and
encapsulated by PCGS.
The Louisiana collector said he knows nothing about the heirs, the
estate or from what state the coin originated.
The first dealer to own the coin purchased it from the heirs for
an undisclosed sum and offered the coin first to one of his customers,
who countered with a lower buy price. The dealer rejected the first
The overdate half dollar was then offered to a second person, a
dealer, who did not purchase the coin but instead contacted the dealer
in Louisiana. The Louisiana dealer subsequently contacted the eventual
buyer as to his interest in purchasing the rarity.
Once the Louisiana collector showed an interest in the piece, the
encapsulated coin was shipped to the Louisiana dealer so the Louisiana
collector could examine the coin.
The collector had less than a day to make up his mind on whether
to purchase the coin.
“I had to decide what I needed to do to pay for the coin,” the
Louisiana collector said. “It has nice original surfaces. I always
dreamed of owning one, but at the same time, [purchasing the coin was]
a pretty frightening concept. It’s a pretty significant and expensive coin.”
The Louisiana collector purchased the coin, which is the most
expensive coin in his collection, as well as the lowest graded.
While the Louisiana collector was deciding whether to purchase,
the first collector apparently had second thoughts about the original
price and indicated that he was willing to purchase the half dollar,
but his change of heart occurred too late.
All of the 1817/4 Capped Bust half dollars bear the same basic die
diagnostics, except where details may have been worn through circulation.
According to the Overton/Parsley reference, the obverse of the
1817/4 half dollar exhibits sharp stars.
The date measures 9.5 millimeters across and the digits are evenly
spaced, with the original 4 showing clearly underneath the 7. The
lower left point of the 4 is distinct in front of the stand of the 7.
The upper point of the 4 is above the crossbar of the 7. The lower
right stand and crossbar show to the right of the 7.
On the reverse, the I in UNITED and the I in AMERICA both have
their lower right serifs missing, causing them to resemble the capital
Dealer Sheridan Downey (www.sheridanscoins.com), an
expert in early U.S. half dollars who maintains a pedigree list of the
known examples, explains that Assistant Mint Engraver John Reich’s
first two working dies prepared for 1817 were overdates, with the
1817/3 coins struck first, followed by the 1817/4 half dollars.
The two 1817 overdates share a common edge with the earlier 1814
O-103 and O-106 varieties, the 1815/2 Capped Bust half dollar and with
the later struck 1817 O-110 variety, according to Downey. The edges of
the coins were inscribed with FIFTY CENTS OR HALF A DOLLAR.
Reich resigned from the Mint in March 1817.
The new discovery, the 10th reported, is the first example of the
rare 1817/4 Capped Bust half dollar reported since a Colorado woman
reported the ninth known piece in December 2007.
The woman received the ninth known example of the 1817/4 half
dollar 10 years earlier from her father’s dispersal of his coin
collection to her and her three siblings. She told Coin World
in 2007 that she did not know how the rare overdate had come to be in
her father’s possession.
That coin was authenticated by Independent Coin Grading and
encapsulated Very Good 8, Obverse Scratch.
The woman had been referred to ICG, then in Englewood, Colo., by
officials at the American Numismatic Association in Colorado Springs,
Colo., where the woman sought advice after receiving an offer of only
$28 from a local coin dealer.
The ninth known example was sold in its ICG holder at public
auction by Heritage Auctions on July 31, 2008, in Baltimore for $87,499.99.
The coin, subsequently encapsulated in a PCGS holder and graded
Good 6, is in the PCGS Set Registry as part of the “Merrill Collection.”
During the summer of 2005, contractor George Williams of upstate
New York and his coin collector son Cullinan, then 14 years old, found
the eighth known example of the 1817/4 half dollar in a pile of fill dirt.
Williams, a contractor, was working on a project when they found
the coin while raking through the dirt.
ANACS authenticated the coin after examining it closely and
consulting with specialists.
After holding onto the coin briefly, Williams decided to consign
the half dollar to Heritage for auction. The coin was sold on Jan. 5,
2006, for $253,000, including the auction firm’s 15 percent buyer’s fee.
The finest known specimen, graded About Uncirculated 50 by PCGS,
is the discovery piece identified in published pedigrees as the E.T.
Wallis/Louis Eliasberg Sr. specimen.
The half dollar was owned by Wallis, owner of the California Stamp
Co., who reported the coin had been in a family’s collection since 1846.
Wallis reported the coin in the October 1930 issue of the American
Numismatic Association journal, The Numismatist. He then offered the
coin for sale four years later, in 1934, in one of his fixed-price
lists, for $2,500. Depending on the pedigree listing, Overton is
reported to have “rediscovered” the piece when he purchased the Pratt
Collection in either 1951 or 1952.
Overton sold the coin for $1,500 in 1953 to Eliasberg, a Baltimore
businessman and prominent coin collector. When the coin was sold as
part of the Eliasberg Collection in April 1997 by Auctions by Bowers
and Merena, the coin brought $208,000.
Ownership changed hands several times between 1997, either through
auction or private transactions, before being sold in David Lawrence
Rare Coins’ November 2004 auction for $333,500.
The Wallis/Eliasberg coin was then sold at Stack’s October 2006
auction for $310,500.
The About Uncirculated 50 coin was most recently sold publicly to
its current owner in the July, 30, 2009, auction by Stack’s for $356,500.
The AU-50 coin is in the PCGS Set Registry as part of “The Charles
Link Complete Variety Set.” ■