A 1796 Liberty Cap, With Pole half cent discovered in a homemade
coin cabinet fashioned five decades ago from matchboxes was sold Jan.
22 in a British auction for £225,700 or $358,000.
The price paid by Numismatic Financial Corp., of Winter Springs,
Fla., is nearly seven times the estimate by the auctioneer, Woolley
& Wallis in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England.
The final sale price, which includes a 22 percent buyer’s fee plus
value-added tax, appears to be the highest price paid at public
auction for a 1796 Liberty Cap, With Pole half cent, and the second
highest auction price for any U.S. half cent.
The auction record, $506,000, belongs to the May 1996 sale of the
Eliasberg 1796 Liberty Cap, No Pole half cent by Auctions by Bowers
and Merena Inc. in cooperation with Stack’s. The auction catalog
identified the condition of that coin as “Mint State 65 or better, red
The With Pole coin from the Woolley & Wallis auction 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 Woolley & Wallis auction catalog gave an estimate of
£25,000 to £30,000 ($40,000 to $48,000 in U.S. funds) for the coin.
The coin, which was not certified by a third-party grading
service, was described in the Woolley & Wallis catalog listing as
grading Extremely Fine.
Numismatic Financial Corp.’s Tim Carroll said Jan. 23 that the
firm had no immediate plans for reselling the coin. Carroll said he
plans to submit the coin to either Professional Coin Grading Service
or Numismatic Guaranty Corp. for certification. Carroll believes the
coin to grade MS-66 red and brown.
Carroll said he also purchased for $572 the homemade coin cabinet
in which the coin was found, since it is part of the coin’s story (the
lot also contained some “junk foreign coins,” according to Numismatic
According to Woolley & Wallis, the half cent sold 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
For more information aabout the auction, visit Woolley &
Wallis at www.woolleyandwallis.co.uk.
Currently accepted research indicates 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. ■