US Coins

Newman Confederate half dollar appearing at auction

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.

Palladium joins American Eagle bullion family”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 your collection.

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 was ordered.

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 grains each.

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.

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