US Coins

Newman original CSA half dollar garners $960,000

An 1861 Confederate half dollar topped bidding at Heritage’s Nov. 1 auction featuring Part IX of the legendary Eric P. Newman Collection, selling for $960,000 and setting a record for a Confederate half dollar at auction.

At the completion of the second session of the Newman IX auction on Nov. 3, total sales for the St. Louis numismatist’s collection are approaching $60 million. The collection is being sold to support the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society’s museum operations to fund scholarly numismatic research efforts.

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The sale catalog’s introduction cites a 1959 article by Newman where he discussed the opportunities inherent in numismatics, writing, “Needles in a haystack can be found, particularly with the magnetism of numismatics.” The more than 400 lots offered in Newman IX were a solid representative of the depth and diversity of Newman’s collecting interests.

Heritage’s offering of Newman’s 1861 Confederate half dollar — graded Proof 40 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. with a green Certified Acceptance Sticker noting quality within the grade — was its first public appearance at auction, as it had been off the market since Newman purchased it for $4,000 from the estate of Col. E.H.R. Green nearly 80 years ago.

It is one of just four half dollars struck in April 1861 at the New Orleans Mint while the Branch Mint was under the physical control of the Confederacy. Heritage writes, “The 1861 Original Confederate half dollar is one of the rarest and most enigmatic issues in the history of American coinage.”

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These four half dollars are the only coins specifically designed and produced by the Confederate States of America, leading Heritage to recognize, “As such, their appeal extends far beyond conventional numismatics, and the individual coins have been owned at various times by government officials, soldiers, and millionaire businessmen, as well as some of the greatest coin collectors of all time.”

Of the four, Newman’s was the second example to come to market, with its first verifiable private sale taking place more than a century ago. Another example resides in the collection of the American Numismatic Society, and two additional examples sold in 2015: one graded NGC Proof 40 brought $646,250 in March 2015 as part of Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ sale of the Kendall Foundation Collection, and another, graded Proof 30, brought $881,250 at Heritage’s offering of the Donald Groves Partrick Collection at the 2015 January Florida United Numismatists convention auction.

1861 Confederate cent

Another noteworthy Confederate offering was an 1861 Confederate States of America cent graded Proof 63+ by NGC, also with a green CAC sticker, that realized $186,000.

The circumstances of the 16 Confederate cents produced remain a bit murky in that there is no official documentation on the striking of these cents. They were obviously struck with special care — Professional Coin Grading Service calls examples Specimen while NGC identifies them as Proofs. Philadelphia die sinker Robert Lovett struck the coins, likely for demonstration purposes, in the early part of 1861.

Heritage writes, “The bust is from the same punch used on a store card Lovett issued the year before, making it easy for contemporary numismatists to identify the design as Lovett’s work.” Lovett’s cent never went into widespread production. Heritage explains one theory about the coins, “As hostilities deepened, Lovett grew increasingly anxious about the propriety of producing coins for the Confederacy. President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation making it illegal for Northern businessmen to engage in commerce with the Confederacy on July 13, 1861, making his fears of imprisonment even more concrete.”

The first Confederate cent emerged more than a decade after they were struck, which tradition suggests was likely spent by Lovett accidentally during a visit to his favorite saloon. A dealer soon approached Lovett and purchased his remaining 15 Confederate cents. Restrikes also exist, differentiated from the originals in that the restrikes are struck in coin turn — with the obverse and reverse in opposite directions — while originals are struck in medallic alignment. Newman’s Confederate cent was also purchased by Newman from the Green estate, costing Newman just $100. 

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