US Coins

1798 Capped Bust, Small Eagle half eagle brings $1.175 million

This is the second of three articles about the results of the second auction of the D. Brent Pogue Collection by Stack's Bowers Galleries in conjunction with Sotheby's in New York City on Sept. 30.

Of the four coins to pass the $1 million mark, three were made of gold, including a 1798 Capped Bust, Small Eagle $5 half eagle that brought $1.175 million. 

Graded About Uncirculated 55 by PCGS, it was once in the famed collection of Egypt’s King Farouk. The auction of that collection by Sotheby’s in 1954 is well-known to collectors today because its catalog provided little detail on the lots and often grouped several high-value coins together. 

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Dealer Abe Kosoff, writing in a Nov. 2, 1977, issue of Coin World, remembered that at the sale, the bidder “Paul Wittlin got a real buy, lot 229 for $1,800. The five pieces included a 1798 half eagle, Small Eagle reverse variety — an extremely rare item.”

On this coin, Stack’s Bowers wrote, “Like Martha the passenger pigeon, the 1798 Small Eagle half eagle was the last of its species, a lone final die marriage to use the anachronistic first reverse type struck after the introduction of its Heraldic Eagle replacement in 1797.” Just six examples are known, and while it is a great rarity, it is not as well-known as other landmark issues with extremely low survival rates.  

More than a century ago, the issue was once the most valuable American gold coin and made headlines when another example, called the Earle Specimen, sold for $3,000 in June 1912. Since the rarity is infrequently traded — there have been just three public auction offerings in the past 60 years — the Pogue catalog entry observed, “Many experienced collectors and dealers have never seen one, and likely more than a few don’t even know such a coin exists.”


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