Fourth known 1854-S half eagle going to auction
- Published: Jun 28, 2018, 7 AM
The newly discovered fourth identified example of 1854-S Coronet, No Motto gold $5 half eagle will cross the auction block Aug. 16 in Philadelphia during Heritage Auctions’ Platinum Night session where the rarity is anticipated to realize a seven-figure price.
The auction is being held in conjunction with the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money.
Numismatic Guaranty Corp. authenticated the find as genuine and graded and encapsulated it Extremely Fine 45.
Since no example of one of the coins has sold since 1982, current values in the various price guides for an 1854-S half eagle are speculative. NGC has placed a $3 million valuation online for an Extremely Fine coin, without making a specification whether that applies for EF-40 or for EF-45. With the addition of this fourth coin, Coin World’s Coin Values now supplies a value of $1.75 million in EF-40 and $4.5 million in About Uncirculated 55.
This fourth known example was in the possession of an unnamed New England collector whose numismatic acquaintances believed the coin had to be counterfeit because of the rarity of genuine examples, although the collector himself wasn’t so convinced. The collector’s identity is not publicly known. The collector did not disclose to grading service officials how the coin came into his possession.
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Three other examples are known from a mintage of 268 coins during the San Francisco Mint’s first year of production, and only one of them is privately held. One example is in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History; a Professional Coin Grading Service About Uncirculated 58+ example resides in the Pogue family collection in Texas; and a third coin has not been seen publicly since it was stolen during a daring armed robbery in 1967 at the Coconut Grove, Florida, estate of industrialist Willis H. DuPont.
There was immediate speculation following the announcement of the authentication of this fourth known example that it might rather be the stolen DuPont coin, since other rarities stolen during the 1967 robbery have surfaced in the New England area.
After verifying the coin was not the stolen DuPont specimen, NGC enlisted the help of the Smithsonian Institution, which provided photographs of its coin. The firm determined the coin was authentic and graded the discovery as NGC EF-45.
According to NGC’s website description of 1854-S Coronet half eagles, “Just a single die pair is known for the 1854-S half eagle, and it’s likely that all of this issue were coined in a single day. Curiously, two of the four survivors, including the coin pictured, feature a partial filling of numeral 4 in the date, this die cavity evidently becoming slightly clogged during the brief press run. Also seen is a die-clash impression on the reverse from Liberty’s neck.”
The newly discovered piece features the partial filling of the 4 in the date described by NGC, according to the grading service.
Numismatic authors Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth rank the 1854-S half eagle No. 22 in their 2005 reference, 100 Greatest U.S. Coins.
Garrett and Guth speculate the likely reasoning for the low half eagle production is that depositors preferred large denomination coins like the $10 eagle and $20 double eagle as they were easier to store and count. The 1854-S eagle and double eagle have mintages, respectively, of 123,826 and 141,468. At the time of production, coins were being struck to order on behalf of depositors of gold bullion, according to Garrett and Guth.
As NGC notes at its website, “The [quarter eagle and half eagle] were included among the first delivery to depositors on April 19, but a mere 246 and 268 coins, respectively, were struck. Perhaps coined as just souvenirs of the new mint, it appears that nearly all were circulated and lost over time.”
The coin would not have been in collector demand in the 19th century until after the 1893 publication of Augustus G. Heaton’s Treatise on the Coinage of the United States Branch Mints. Before its publication, collectors paid little or no attention to Mint marks, and thus collectors had little incentive to seek and preserve low-mintage coins like the 1854-S half eagle.
Pogue specimen history
The first auction appearance of an 1854-S half eagle came in the 1946 sale of the F.C.C. Boyd Collection by Abe Kosoff and Abner Kreisberg’s Numismatic Gallery.
Renowned Baltimore numismatist Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. was the winning bidder at $5,250. That coin, offered as Extremely Fine, remained in Eliasberg’s collection until 1982 when Bowers and Ruddy Galleries sold it at auction for $187,000, which included the 10 percent buyer’s fee.
The auction was billed as The United States Gold Coin Collection without any reference to Eliasberg, though the identity of the consignor was widely known.
The coin there was described as choice About Uncirculated 55. That coin is now part of the Pogue family collection, portions of which have been sold in recent years.
Notable Fort Worth, Texas, dealer B. Max Mehl obtained another example privately and then sold it to prominent numismatist Col. E.H.R. Green. The coin changed hands privately several times until it appeared at auction in 1962 as part of the Samuel Wolfson Collection.
The coin, whose condition was also described as Extremely Fine, realized $16,500 in the 1962 sale by Stack’s. It became the DuPont coin, whose whereabouts are unknown.
Mehl was involved, too, in handling the third known example, which surfaced in 1919 and became part of the Waldo C. Newcomer Collection. The Newcomer estate sold the collection in the 1930s, with Mehl picking up the 1854-S half eagle and selling it to Green, making Green the only numismatist to own two examples at the same time.
The National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History contains that former Newcomer piece, which was donated in 1968 as part of the Josiah K. Lilly Gold Coin Collection pursuant to a congressionally legislated $5 million tax-write-off.
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