US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for May 7 2018

NGC has graded and encapsulated as Extremely Fine 45 only the fourth known example of an 1854-S Coronet gold $5 half eagle.

Original images courtesy of Numismatic Guaranty Corp.

Whenever a new example of a rare coin is discovered, authenticators ask a couple of questions before issuing a verdict: Is it genuine? Are the diagnostics the same as on other specimens of the coin? What are the facts behind its discovery?

For certain coins, another question has to be asked: Is it one of the stolen DuPont coins?

The discovery of a fourth example of the 1854-S Coronet gold half eagle recently prompted all of these questions and a few more, and for some in the collecting community, the answers have prompted some skepticism.

The 1854-S Coronet half eagle is one of the great rarities in U.S. coinage. It is rarer than the 1804 Draped Bust dollar (15 specimens known), the 1894-S Barber dime (known by nine or so pieces), and the 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coin (just five pieces). Until recently, only three examples of the 1854-S half eagle had been authenticated. One of these is housed in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, another has resided in the D. Brent Pogue Collection since 1982, and a third has not been seen publicly since its last auction appearance in 1962 and its theft in 1967 in the infamous robbery of the family of Willis H. DuPont.

When an example of the coin that was not the Smithsonian example nor the Pogue coin was submitted to Numismatic Guaranty Corp. recently, the authenticators there were familiar with the history of the missing DuPont coin. Most American numismatists are aware of that event, considered one of the biggest robberies in U.S. numismatic history. A quintet of masked gunmen burst into the DuPonts' Coconut Grove, Florida, home on Oct. 5, 1967, and made off with an unparalleled list of numismatic rarities, including three Seated Liberty, No Motto fantasy pieces (two of them unique), two 1804 dollars (a Class I coin and a Class III coin) and a 1787 Brasher doubloon. 

Over the years, a number of the most prominent stolen coins have surfaced.

The Linderman specimen of the 1804 dollar was brought to ANACS in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in July 1981 by a man who wanted to know whether the coin was genuine. Tom DeLorey, a former Coin World editorial staff member and then an ANACS authenticator, quickly recognized it as genuine and, after comparing it to photos of the known examples, thought that it might be one of missing DuPont coins. The ANACS staff persuaded the man to leave the coin with them for authentication, and then contacted the FBI. The coin was found to be the missing coin and was turned over to the DuPont family attorney in a federal office in Denver on March 16, 1982 (I was present in the office as the only member of the news media invited to record the event).

The second stolen 1804 dollar, known as the Cohen specimen, surfaced in 1993 in Zurich, Switzerland.

Later, the 1866 Seated Liberty, No Motto quarter dollar, half dollar, and dollar surfaced separately; they too were returned to the family after the firms to which the coins had been brought did the responsible thing.

However, a number of the stolen DuPont coins remain missing, including the 1854-S Coronet half eagle. 

When NGC authenticators received the gold $5 coin, one of the things that had to be done was to determine whether the coin could be the missing DuPont piece. Their research and examination of the coin resulted in the conclusion that it was a fourth coin and not the stolen coin.

The announcement that a new 1854-S half eagle had been authenticated generated immense interest among members of the collector community, as you might guess. However, NGC’s declaration of the coin as a fourth example and not the DuPont coin was met with some skepticism.

Indeed, as responsible journalists, we at Coin World immediately asked NGC how they determined it to be a fourth coin. As Paul Gilkes reported in Coin World, “NGC President Rick Montgomery said April 18 that a comparison of diagnostics visible in photographs of the DuPont coin, which was sold by Stack’s in 1962 as part of the Samuel W. Wolfson Collection, against those of the newly certified coin, have convinced NGC officials that the newly certified piece is not the stolen and missing DuPont coin. NGC also compared the new coin to images of the Smithsonian and Pogue coins in checking diagnostics.”

The Florida-based grading service has a history of helping recover the stolen DuPont coins.

Mark Salzberg, NGC chairman and grading finalizer, told Coin World on May 4: “In 2004, NGC was asked to authenticate an 1866 No Motto Proof Seated Dollar that had been stolen from Willis H. DuPont in 1967. The extreme rarity — one of just two known — was pedigreed to Willis H. DuPont and subsequently returned to DuPont, who donated it to the American Numismatic Association. NGC’s graders continue to look for coins that might have been stolen from DuPont.”

Much of the public skepticism has been voiced online, maybe most notably in a discussion at the Collectors Universe U.S. Forum. Collectors Universe, of course, is the parent firm of the competing Professional Coin Grading Service.

Connect with Coin World:  

Sign up for our free eNewsletter
Like us on Facebook  
Follow us on Twitter

The discussions there have been lively, with some contributors skeptical of NGC’s findings and others saying that given the expertise and knowledge levels of the NGC staff of graders and authenticators, their findings should be trusted. Some are skeptical because the identity of the owner of the coin has not been revealed. However, that is nothing new. For security reasons, many collectors who have rare coins wish to remain out of the public eye (for the record, Coin World has asked to interview the owner, though we have been unsuccessful).

Recovering one of the stolen DuPont coins generates positive publicity that is priceless to the finder. It did for ANACS in the 1980s, for NGC with the 1866 silver dollar in 2004, and for all of the other firms that have helped recover other DuPont coins over the years.

Is this story over? Is the NGC verdict the final one? You can be sure that the collecting community will continue to follow this story closely.

Coin World will.

Community Comments