US Coins

Getting started at auction

A 1992 auction featuring the James D. Brilliant Collection was one of the author’s first major forays into bidding at public auctions. The author’s inexperience in the field resulted in him being shut out in bidding.

Image courtesy of Brad Karoleff.

One of my first articles, in April 2000, dealt with the benchmark auction of the Woody Blevins Collection of Capped Bust half dollars. This was the first sale that highlighted the Overton rarities, cataloged in Early Half Dollar Varieties: 1794-1836 by Al C. Overton and Donald Parsley.

In this column, I would like to go back to January 1992 and the Bowers and Merena auction of the James D. Brilliant collection.

This was one of my first major auctions of Capped Bust half dollars, and I was shut out in bidding! Why? It was too early in my collecting career, and my knowledge of the marketplace was lacking. The rare die marriages did not have an established auction record and I lacked the experience to realize the value of the rare die marriages.

Interestingly, many of the scarce die marriages in lower grades at the auction turned out to be not very good buys.

The Bust halves began with the famous 1807 Draped Bust, Large Stars, Bearded Goddess half dollar, Overton 111b, in Very Fine 20, selling for $1,210, which included the 10 percent buyer’s fee.

An 1807 Draped Bust, Large Stars half dollar, O-114, in Extremely Fine 40, brought $715. The elusive 1808 Capped Bust half dollar, O-110, Rarity 5 (31 to 80 pieces known), in Fine 12/15 sold for $396, not much different from its value today. (The two numbers in the grade reference different grades assigned to obverse and reverse.)

The 1809 Capped Bust half dollar is packed with Rarity 5 varieties. The sale’s O-101 in Fine 12 traded at $1,072.50, which is likely more than it would cost today.

Jim’s 1812/11 Capped Bust Large 8 half dollar, O-101, in VF-30, Rarity 6 (13 to 30 known), sold for the healthy price of $4,950.

The auction offered two 1815/12 overdates: one, O-101, in About Uncirculated 50, at $1,320; and a VF-35, O-101a, at the same price.

The extremely difficult O-104 1817 half dollar, Rarity 6, in VF-35/EF-40, brought a strong price of $10,450. This remains one of the more elusive die marriages.

1827 is the most difficult year to complete due to the vast number of rare marriages. Jim’s set included these Rarity 5 varieties — Square Base 2, O-116, EF-40, $412.50; O-122, AU-55/Mint State 60, $2,090; O-123, EF-40, $770; O-124a, VF-30, $1,870; O-127, VF-25/35, $1,650; O-144, Fine 15, $660; and O-145, EF-45, $1,265.

The Rarity 5 half dollars wound down with the elusive 1828 Capped Bust, Small 8s coin, O-123, VF-35, at $1,100; 1830 Small O, Large Letters, O-114, R-6, EF-40, $2,750; and the 1836 Lettered Edge, O-121, was misattributed as the common O-105.

Brad Karoleff is a vice president of the John Reich Collectors Society and editor of the club’s journal. He can be reached via email at

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