In a recent (April 2020) Heritage Auction, I purchased a very interesting 1840-O Narrow Mill half eagle graded MS62 by PCGS. This coin, which I bought for $19,200 USD, lends itself to a number of discussions.
1840-O $5.00 PCGS MS62. Image courtesy Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN)
First, let’s look at this issue as a date. The 1840-O is the very first half eagle struck at the New Orleans Mint. New Orleans rolled out the first three gold denominations they produced over a three-year period with the first quarter eagle in 1839, the first half eagle in 1840, and the first eagle in 1841. Of these three coins, their rarity ranking, both in terms of overall and high grade, is the eagle (which is rare), followed by the half eagle, and with the quarter eagle (which is common) bringing up the rear.
The 1840-O half eagle is much more available in circulated grades than its first-year counterparts from Charlotte and Dahlonega. But the 1840-O half eagle is a strangely underappreciated issue that is fairly difficult to locate in About Uncirculated; especially in AU55 and AU58 with natural color and choice surfaces. In Uncirculated, the 1840-O is very rare with an estimated eight to 10. Many are in the MS60 to MS61 range and were likely not viewed as Uncirculated coins as recently as a few years back. I am aware of two coins that grade MS62 (both PCGS), two that grade MS63 (one each at NGC and PCGS), and an NGC MS65 that was graded over 25 years ago but which seems to have never sold publicly.
The coin that I just purchased is the first Uncirculated 1840-O half eagle to sell at auction since the 2016 ANA sale (where a PCGS MS61 was offered), and it is the only PCGS MS62 to have ever sold at auction.
Now, let’s look at its sales history, which is as follows:
- April 2020, brought $19,200 as Heritage 4/20: 3795
- October 2012, brought $22,325 as Heritage 10/12: 5861
- May 2005, brought $25,300 as Heritage 5/05: 8607
- October 1999, brought $14,950 as Bowers and Merena 10/99: 892 (Bass)
- October 1982, brought $3,080 as Bowers and Ruddy 10/82: 415 (Eliasberg)
This coin was purchased out of the Eliasberg sale in 1982 by Harry Bass (at a strong $3,080) and held until his death when it brought $14,950 in Bass II. It did very well in its next appearance, bringing over $10,000 more and setting a record for this date in MS62. It brought less in 2012 and even less in 2020.
I’d point towards the fact that this was sold during a Pandemic Auction, and it was at a price point which represents a little more money than most collectors want to spend right now. It’s also a coin that doesn’t (currently) have a CAC sticker, and many buyers at this price point want the comfort of CAC approval. I personally think this 1840-O half eagle is very choice for the date and for the grade.
Mainly, though, I think the coin fell through the cracks. It was sold with a reserve, which is a huge turn-off for about 90% of all auction bidders (personally I could care less as long as the reserve makes sense), and the fact that I bought it for one increment over its reserve is interesting.
Third, let’s look at what I think is the most interesting feature about this coin: it’s a unique mint error.
According to the Heritage catalog:
“One of the most intriguing aspects of this coin is what cannot be immediately seen. The edge is a partial collar striking or “railroad rim” error. Close examination through the edge of the PCGS encasement with a loupe shows that the obverse portion of the rim is plain, while the reverse shows milling. This error occurred when the collar only partially covered the planchet, and therefore partially reeded the edge.”
One would expect there to be some error 1840-O half eagles as this was the first year in which this large of a coin was produced in New Orleans. But as far as I know, this coin is absolutely unique.
Third-party slabbing has been great for numismatics but it hurts a coin such as this 1840-O half eagle, which really needs to be seen raw to be fully appreciated. It would be great if PCGS could develop a slab where the edge (which is, of course, “the third side of a coin”) could be clearly seen.
As you can see from this blog, there is a lot going on with this coin. It’s a first-year-of-issue, it’s a condition rarity, it has a fantastic pedigree, it’s a unique mint error, and it has an interesting sales record with five different APRs recorded since 1982. Phew!
Douglas Winter Numismatics specializes in coins with a story like this 1840-O half eagle. For more information, please contact us at (214) 675-9897 or email Doug at [email protected].
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About Doug Winter
Doug has spent much of his life in the field of numismatics; beginning collecting coins at the age of seven, and by the time he was 10 years old, buying and selling coins at conventions in the New York City area.
In 1989, he founded Douglas Winter Numismatics, and his firm specializes in buying and selling choice and rare US Gold coins, especially US gold coins and all branch mint material.
Recognized as one of the leading specialized numismatic firms, Doug is an award-winning author of over a dozen numismatic books and the recognized expert on US Gold. His knowledge and an exceptional eye for properly graded and original coins have made him one of the most respected figures in the numismatic community and a sought after dealer by collectors and investors looking for professional personalized service, a select inventory of impeccable quality and fair and honest pricing. Doug is also a major buyer of all US coins and is always looking to purchase collections both large and small. He can be reached at (214) 675-9897.
Doug has been a contributor to the Guidebook of United States Coins (also known as the “Redbook”) since 1983, Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Coins, Q. David Bowers’ Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars and Andrew Pollock’s United States Pattern and Related Issues
In addition, he has authored 13 books on US Gold coins including:
- Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint: 1839-1909
- Gold Coins of the Carson City Mint: 1870 – 1893
- Gold Coins of the Charlotte Mint: 1838-1861
- Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint 1838-1861
- The United States $3 Gold Pieces 1854-1889
- Carson City Gold Coinage 1870-1893: A Rarity and Condition Census Update
- An Insider’s Guide to Collecting Type One Double Eagles
- The Connoisseur’s Guide to United States Gold Coins
- A Collector’s Guide To Indian Head Quarter Eagles
- The Acadiana Collection of New Orleans Coinage
- Type Three Double Eagles, 1877-1907: A Numismatic History and Analysis
- Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint, 1838-1861: A Numismatic History and Analysis
- Type Two Double Eagles, 1866-1876: A Numismatic History and Analysis
Finally, Doug is a member of virtually every major numismatic organization, professional trade group and major coin association in the US.