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 www.woolleyandwallis.co.uk.
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
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
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.” ■