US Coins

1796 With Pole half cent found in matchbox

What has been identified as a 1796 Liberty Cap, With Pole half cent discovered in a homemade coin cabinet that was fashioned five decades ago from matchboxes will cross the auction block Jan. 22 with Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England.

The coin is attributed as the Cohen 2 variety as described by Roger S. Cohen Jr. in his book, American Half Cents: The “Little Half Sisters,” a reference about the series.

The coin, which is not certified by a third-party grading service, is described in the auction catalog listing as Extremely Fine. The coin is identified with a pre-sale estimate of £25,000 to £30,000 ($40,000 to $48,000 in U.S. funds).

Details of the sale in which the coin will be offered can be found online at

While the official mintage reported for 1796 reflects an output of 115,480 coins, currently accepted research indicates only 1,390 half cents were struck with the 1796 date.

On the initial 1796 obverse die, Liberty’s cap hovered behind her head without a pole, but the die broke before striking many coins and the With Pole replacement was introduced.

Fewer than 20 examples of the With Pole variety have been certified in all grades by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. and Professional Coin Grading Service.

According to Woolley & Wallis, the half cent being offered at auction Jan. 22 was discovered in a collection of coins housed in a homemade cabinet of decorated matchboxes glued together by English schoolboy Mark Hillary more than 50 years ago. The coin cabinet and its contents remained forgotten at the back of a cupboard after he died at the early age of 20 in 1963 in a climbing accident in Greece.

Hillary was a classical scholar receiving scholarships both to Winchester College and Magdalen College, Oxford, and was on his way to achieving a first in Classical Greats when he died. His passion for coin collecting often took him to the London dealers and the main part of his collection was previously sold at Woolley & Wallis a few years ago.

Daniel Fearon, a coin consultant for Woolley & Wallis, said a relative of Hillary’s brought the matchbox cabinet of coins in, and on first inspection not much appeared to be of interest, but then the one coin “jumped out.” ¦

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