Heritage’s upcoming December 5-8 US Coins Signature Auction in Dallas features a coin profile extremely rare variety of a very rare coin, the BD-3 variety of the 1833 half eagle. This coin is graded MS61 by NGC, and its pedigree includes the Norweb collection. It may be the sole representative of the variety available to collectors; its only apparent counterpart, the Bass specimen, is housed in the ANA Money Museum in Colorado Springs.
BD-3 is by far the rarest of the three 1833 half eagle varieties; in fact, it is among the rarest die pairings of any early half eagle issue. It shares its obverse die with BD-2, the other Small Date (or, more accurately, Close Date) die pairing, although the reverse, which distinctively features the period in the denomination close to the D rather than distant, is unique to the BD-3 marriage. Only one die state is documented, showing a light peripheral crack through OF, the wing tip, and the AM in AMERICA. An earlier, uncracked die state likely existed at one time since this is the only use of the reverse die, but it was probably eradicated by the vast private gold melts of the 1830s that decimated the survival of the 1833 half eagle overall.
This coin profile survival estimate has been largely unchanged since Walter Breen published his monograph on early half eagles in 1966, where he called BD-3 (Breen I-1) a High R.7 variety. The Bass-Dannreuther reference (2006) retains that rarity factor, suggesting that three to five pieces are known. However, we believe that BD-3 is slightly rarer still, bordering on an R.8 ranking.
In our estimation, available data reveals the capacity for there to be as many as three or four BD-3 representatives extant. However, if examples do survive in addition to the Bass and Norweb specimens, they have been tightly held off of the auction market for at least half a century. We would not be surprised if future research is able to prove that only two representatives are known.
Both the Bass and Norweb coins exhibit moderate strike weakness on the hair curl in front of Liberty’s ear and on the eagle’s left (facing) wing, although the Norweb specimen more so. This piece — the Norweb specimen — is straw-gold with semiprooflike fields that transition to delicate luster amid the peripheral stars and legends. The surfaces are largely devoid of singular abrasions, showing mainly light lines in the fields that limit the grade. However, a small mark in front of Liberty’s forehead and another next to the eagle’s neck below the M in UNUM serve as reliable pedigree markers.
Among 1833 half eagles of any variety, this coin profile would be an attractive, high-end piece. Add in the extreme rarity of the BD-3 die pairing, and this piece becomes one of the most important coins in this auction. We anticipate intense collector interest as this coin makes its first auction appearance in more than two decades.