US Coins

1822 gold half eagle sells for $8.4 million in auction

The only privately held 1822 Capped Bust gold $5 half eagle sold for $8.4 million on March 25 at Stack’s Bowers Galleries, showing that a strong rare coin market continues, especially at top levels.

With two in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, the offered example — graded About Uncirculated 50 by Professional Coin Grading Service — “represents the lynchpin to a complete set of U.S. coinage” the auctioneer said.

“It is now the most valuable U.S. Mint gold coin that has ever sold at auction, and has surpassed even the highest prices paid for a 1913 Liberty nickel, 1804 silver dollar, or 1933 double eagle,” the firm said.

The market will get another test this summer as Sotheby’s again offers the only legal 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle at auction, which it last sold in 2002 for $7,590,020.

Prior to the record-setting Rarities Night auction in Las Vegas, the famed 1822 half eagle had just three owners: Virgil Brand acquired it in 1899, and it entered the collection of Louis Eliasberg Sr. in 1945, later selling to D. Brent Pogue at a 1982 auction of Eliasberg’s gold coins, for $687,500. It was previously offered at Part IV of Sotheby’s and Stack’s Bowers’ sales of the Pogue Collection where it did not meet its reserve, passing at $6.4 million. Had it found a bidder at that level, with the 17.5 percent buyer’s fee at the time, it would have realized $7.52 million.

Auctioneer Chris Ortega led spirited bidding on March 25, with bids moving quickly from $3.6 million to a final bid of $7 million, which, adding the current 20 percent buyer’s fee, made the total price realized $8.4 million.

The cataloger explained that, despite its great rarity and multimillion-dollar price tag, “This is not a gem, nor does it glitter like a jewel. This piece displays antiquity. It shows wear and use. Its surfaces suggest its life before collectors and cabinets and fame. Within the shadows of contrast between a coin worth $5 and a coin worth millions, this coin hides a story whose earliest details will forever remain unknown.”

The description added that, in absence of U.S. Mint records documenting the exact mintage, “The three surviving 1822 half eagles may, instead of representing an historical fluke that produced an extreme rarity, constitute the expected number of specimens remaining from a mintage of a few hundred pieces, given typical survivorship probabilities.”

Half dollar record re-set

Also cracking the seven-figure price level and improving on a prior appearance at the auctioneer’s podium was Pogue’s 1797 Draped Bust, Small Eagle half dollar, representing the 15 Obverse Stars Overton 101a variety, which sold for $1,680,000. Graded Mint State 66 by PCGS and carrying a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker, it previously sold at the first Pogue auction in May 2015 for $1,527,500, and it set a record for a half dollar at auction at both that and this appearance.

The cataloger praised the early half dollar’s tremendous eye appeal, writing, “Both sides are alive with color, the obverse radiant gold and violet framed in pale blue and champagne, the reverse lavender and blue suffused with pale gold.”

Of the approximately 10 Mint State survivors known, “Most observers consider this coin the finest known by a slim margin,” Stack’s Bowers said.

The issue is well-known as a short-lived type minted in just 1796 and 1797, with the Small Eagle reverse seen on the earlier issues and the Draped Bust obverse seen on later issues. Of the two years, the 1797 half dollars are more elusive, and the type is coveted in all grades.

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