An 1861 Confederate half dollar believed to have been at one time the
property of Confederate States of America Treasury Secretary
Christopher Memminger and off the numismatic market for nearly eight
decades will be auctioned by Heritage Auctions in its Nov. 1 and 3 sale in Dallas of Part IX of the Eric P. Newman Collection.
It is the first public appearance of the coin at auction.
U.S. Mint welcomes a fourth metal to the
American Eagle bullion program.
Also in this week’s print issue of Coin World, we teach our readers
about what a “weak-fatty” gold coin is and why you don’t want one in
The net proceeds from the auction will benefit the philanthropic
endeavors of the Eric
P. Newman Numismatic Education Society.
The Newman example of the 1861 Confederate half dollar is identified
in the auction as an impaired Proof, and is graded and encapsulated
Proof 40 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. The Newman coin is one of four
examples struck in April 1861 at the New Orleans Mint while the Branch
Mint of the United States was under the physical control of the Confederacy.
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Memminger issued the orders for the Confederate half dollar
production. Only one die is believed to have been engraved, bearing
the Confederate design. A standard obverse die for the 1861-O Seated
Liberty half dollar was used as the other side of the Confederate
coin. (The Confederate side is sometimes designated as the obverse of
the coin, though some sources call the Seated Liberty side the obverse
and the Confederate side the reverse.)
In an April 7, 1879, letter from Dr. Benjamin F. Taylor, former
chief coiner while the New Orleans Mint was under Confederate control,
to Marcus J. Wright, Taylor explains: “On the
reverse there is a shield with seven stars, representing the seceding
States; above the shield is a liberty cap, and entwined around it
stalks of sugar cane and cotton. The inscription is: CONFEDERATE
STATES OF AMERICA.” Wright was a former Confederate general.
The die was engraved by engraver and die sinker A.H.M. Peterson. The
die was prepared for the coining press by Conrad Schmidt, foreman of
the coining room at the New Orleans Mint. Just four coins were
originally struck, according to Taylor, before a halt to production
Of the two dies, Taylor only preserved the Confederate die, which
eventually ended up in the hands of coin dealer Ebenezer Locke Mason,
along with one of the original four Confederate half dollars. After
Mason was unable to find a collector to whom he could directly sell
the CSA half dollar, he subsequently sold the coin and original CSA
reverse die to New York coin dealer J.W. Scott for a reported $310.
Scott employed the services of numismatist David Proskey to secure
several hundred 1861-O Seated Liberty half dollars and plane off the
Eagle reverse so the blank side could receive the impression from the
original CSA die in the production of restrikes.
The restrikes were produced on a screw press, which resulted in the
Seated Liberty obverse design and edge reeding becoming slightly flattened.
The four original 1861 Confederate half dollars were struck on
standard 192-grain half dollar blanks. Because the reverses were
planed off the Seated Liberty half dollar coins used as planchets for
the restrikes, the restrikes are lighter in weight, at about 185
Proskey eventually wound up with the former Taylor Confederate half
dollar along with the original reverse die. American Numismatic
Society benefactor J. Sanford Saltus purchased the coin and reverse
die in 1918 from Proskey for $3,000 and donated the coin to the ANS.
The ANS speciimen is the only one of the four original 1861
Confederate half dollars not in collector hands. The original die was
donated to another museum and has long been lost.
Newman and dealer Burdette G. Johnson, doing business as the St.
Louis Stamp and Coin Co., purchased the featured coin from the estate
of Col. E.H.R. Green nearly 80 years ago. Newman soon after became
sole owner of the coin.
Of the remaining two 1861 Confederate half dollars in private hands,
one is also graded NGC Proof 40, and the other, NGC Proof 30.
The second NGC Proof 40 coin is believed to have been possibly
given, soon after production, to John Leonard Riddell, postmaster for the City of
New Orleans in Louisiana. After changing hands several times through
private transactions, the coin realized $646,250 in the Stack’s Bowers
Galleries March 2015 sale of the Kendall Foundation Collection.
The NGC Proof 30 example is believed to have been given soon after
production to CSA President Jefferson Davis. That coin was privately
held by a number of owners, including numismatist John J. Ford Jr.,
who owned it twice. When the coin was offered by Stack’s in its
October 2003 sale of Part I of the Ford Collection, the coin realized
$632,500. When Heritage sold the same coin in its January 2015 sale in
Part I of the Donald Groves Partrick Collection, it realized $881,250.