US Coins

1796 Liberty Cap half cent in Heritage ANA auction

Heritage’s Aug. 16 Platinum Night auction at the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money marks the 51st time that Heritage has served as an official auctioneer of an ANA event, and as usual, the sale is full of rarities. The firm’s last three Summer ANA auctions have realized over $114 million total, including four lots that have topped the $1 million mark. 

This year’s Heritage auction includes several anchor collections. From a group called “The Red Headed Copper Collection” comes a 1796 Liberty Cap, With Pole half cent graded Mint State 66+ red and brown by Professional Coin Grading Service and bearing a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker. It is the finest known example of the rarest date half cent, with a low mintage of 1,390 coins shared between the With Pole and No Pole varieties. 

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But even more impressive is that it has retained much of its original red color. Heritage writes, “This stunning Premium Gem exhibits full cartwheel luster with brilliant pale orange mint color and light brown toning that features pale bluish tendencies. The central obverse and reverse design motifs are sharply defined, with weakness at the obverse border and part of the reverse border, as usual for the 1796 half cents.” 

Surprisingly, of the 10 Mint State 1796 Liberty Cap, With Pole half cents known today, nearly half emerged from England in the past 30 years. 

When offered at a Spink America auction in 1997, the cataloger shared the story of its discovery, writing, “In early spring this year, a gentleman from Northern England contacted us about a small hoard of American coins and tokens,” which included two choice 1796 Liberty Cap, With Pole half cents. The consignor assured Spink America at the time that there were no more examples in the hoard, writing, “I must underline this my second and last one. Parting with it is regrettable but such is life.” 

Using the Early American Coppers grading standards, the subject coin is graded MS-67 and the most recent potential comparable to sell at auction was a different example graded MS-66 red and brown by PCGS that brought $470,000 at Stack’s Bowers Galleries and Sotheby’s Feb. 9, 2016, sale of the D. Brent Pogue Collection. 

As the Pogue catalog stated, “A half cent collection is often judged by its 1796, but with a spirit of forgiveness in mind. An assemblage of half cents that tends to be in Extremely Fine grade will be excused for having a 1796 in Good,” before concluding, “A specimen of this key date in a grade better than Very Fine is a monumental addition to any set. One in Uncirculated, though, is found in only the very finest cabinets.”

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