Editor's note: The following is a
portion of Bill Eckberg's
cover feature on U.S. coins in the
War of 1812 era. See links to the rest of the series at the bottom
of this post.
The year 1815 was a significant one for the United States of
America, but one that saw little activity at the U.S.
Mint. Yet what the Mint
did in 1815 has an outsize interest for coin collectors and students
1815 gold coinage
The 1815 Capped Head half eagle, or gold $5 piece, is an extremely
rare and expensive coin; only the wealthiest and most patient
collectors can ever hope to own one. The entire mintage of 635 coins
was struck, probably in less than an hour, on Nov. 3, 1815, for Thomas
Parker, Charles Kalkman, and the Bank of Pennsylvania, who deposited
the gold bullion. Of that mintage, Walter Breen’s 1988 Complete
Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins identifies 12 to 14
Guaranty Corp. has certified four, with the highest graded Mint
State 64; Professional
Coin Grading Service has certified only three with the highest
Coin World’s Coin Values lists a value of
$100,000 in Very Fine 20 and $210,000 in About Uncirculated 50.
The 1815 Capped Head half eagles are of a design by John Reich. Born
in Germany in 1768, he emigrated to the United States in 1800. Hired
as assistant engraver of the Mint in 1807 at a salary of $600 per
year, Reich redesigned all denominations except dollars and eagles,
neither of which was produced while he was employed at the Mint. He
quit a decade later, after receiving neither a promotion nor even a
raise since his hiring.
Silver coinage of 1815
The 1815 Capped Bust half dollars are somewhat scarce. They were all
struck from a single pair of dies, which was overdated from 1812.
Several hundred examples are known, but they are under heavy collector
pressure, as the single variety is needed by both variety and date set collectors.
PCGS has graded 354 examples, with the finest graded MS-65; NGC has
graded 233 with the finest graded MS-66. With Coin Values
prices of $2,000 in VG-8, $4,000 in VF-20 and $17,500 in MS-60, these
are beyond the means of most collectors.
It is unclear when the 47,150 half dollars were struck, but they
were delivered on January 10, 1816. These are of a Capped Bust design
Interestingly, though the 1815 Capped Bust half dollars were
delivered in 1816, no 1816-dated halves exist. Just hours after the
Jan. 10 delivery, a fire at one of the Mint buildings destroyed the
rolling mill used to make strip for the planchets. No silver or gold
coins could be produced thereafter until the mill was replaced in 1817.
Quarter dollar mintage resumed in 1815 after none had been struck
since 1807. The initial bullion deposit at the Philadelphia Mint came
from the Planters Bank of New Orleans, which specified that it wanted
its bullion coined only into quarter dollars.
The 1815 Capped Bust quarter dollars are scarce, but several are
sold at auction each year. NGC reports having graded 157 examples with
the finest graded MS-67; PCGS reports having graded 252 examples, with
the finest grading MS-66.
A total of 69,232 were delivered in 1815, and another 20,003 were
delivered on Jan. 10, 1816. Since no 1816-dated quarter dollars have
ever been seen, these latter pieces must have been dated 1815 as well,
making the total mintage for the date 89,235.
Coin Values lists these at $400 in Very Good 8, $850 in VF-20
and $3,000 in MS-60.
A great mystery about 1815 quarter dollars concerns several that are
found with either an “E” or an “L” counterstamp over the cap worn by
Liberty. The positions of the counterstamps are always the same as
illustrated. Despite years of research and speculation, nobody has
come up with a convincing explanation of what they mean or why, when
or by whom they were made. But they do give some collectors a reason
to own three examples of the variety: no counterstamp, E counterstamp,
and L counterstamp.
Keep reading this series:
The remarkable year of 1815: War of 1812's end and
the U.S. Mint
The only date since 1793 for which no cents can
be found: The remarkable year of 1815
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