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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: Half Dollars of 1811, with emphasis upon two ‘in the news’!

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #169 …..

Though more than two hundred years old, Capped Bust Half Dollars of 1811 are or recently have been available, in many grades. Indeed, these are around in all grade ranges: Good-04 to 06, Very Good-08 or 10, Fine-12 or -15, Very Fine-20 to -35, Extremely Fine-40 or -45, Almost Uncirculated-50 to -58, plus higher than ‘Mint State’-60. (Coins are graded on a scale from 01 to 70.) Two 1811 halves are ‘in the news’!

A fresh PCGS graded MS-66 that was auctioned by Stack’s-Bowers, in New Orleans on May 9, and a PCGS graded “MS-67+” 1811 will be offered by Heritage at the Long Beach Expo in Los Angeles County on June 6. Circulated, sub-60 grade 1811 halves are much less expensive than these two gems and are available to a substantial number of collectors. Heritage will also offer six other “1811“ halves, including an “1811/10,” at the Long Beach Expo. Finding an 1811 half is not difficult, though the finest ones are very expensive.

1811_capped_bust_halvesIn Good-04 to Fine-12 grades, 1811 half dollars retail for less than $100 each. An appealing, Extremely Fine-40 grade 1811 half could be obtained for less than $415. “In Very Fine to AU [grades], they are somewhat available but tough to find problem-free,” remarks John Albanese. Moreover, John adds that 1811 halves are “very popular with collectors as they are very early dates and priced very reasonably” in comparison to coins of other denominations that were minted around the same time. Albanese is the founder and president of the CAC.

The 1811 half dollars that grade above MS-60 cost thousands of dollars. Herein, I discuss some very expensive 1811 halves that are wonderful to view and discuss. I find that gem quality, classic coins, those that grade 65 or higher, are of interest to people who cannot afford them, as these are fun to view and to learn about. They are exciting coins.

Besides, sub-60 grade 1811 halves seem like ‘great deals’ when price comparisons are made. The PCGS graded MS-66 1811 half in the recently conducted Stack’s-Bowers auction sold for $49,938. After reading about a $50,000 1811 half, a collector could buy one in Good-04 grade for around $70. Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an NGC graded “Good-06” 1811 half in Aug. 2012 for $83. In Jan. 2013, Heritage sold an NGC graded VG-10 half for $84 and an NGC graded AU-58 coin for $1527.50.

Each Good-04 or Good-06 grade 1811 is not as colorful as the half dollar that just sold for $49,938. AU-53 to -58 grade Capped Bust Half Dollars, nonetheless, are often colorfully toned and tend to sell for much less than their MS-65 to MS-68 grade counterparts of the same respective dates.

I. What are Capped Bust Half Dollars?

Silver U.S. Half Dollars were minted from 1794 to 1964. From 1794 to 1836, the proportion of silver in the alloy designated for half dollars is 1485 of 1664 parts; they were thus planned to be about 89.24% silver. The remainder is copper, except for traces of other metals that unintentionally ‘ended up’ on or ‘in’ the coins.

From 1836 to 1964, half dollars were planned to be 90% silver and 10% copper. Curiously, from 1965 to 1970, half dollars were 40% silver, with a greater percentage of silver concentrated near and at the surfaces. Business strike dimes, quarters and half dollars are now of a copper-nickel “clad” composition, which does not contain any silver. Indeed, “clad” dimes and quarters have been struck since 1965. U.S. Commemorative Half Dollars are a separate topic, as are Proof Kennedy Halves.

Flowing Hair Half Dollars were struck in 1794 and 1795. Draped Bust, Small Eagle Half Dollars are dated 1796 and 1797. Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Half Dollars were minted from 1801 to 1807. Capped Bust Half Dollars were introduced at some point during the year 1807.

The design type of halves that was minted from 1807 to 1836 is often termed “Lettered Edge,” while the design type that was minted from 1836 to 1839 is usually called “Reeded Edge.” Although it is true that Capped Bust Half Dollars of 1807 to 1836 each have letters and their respective edges and those of 1836 to 1839 each have a ‘reeded edge,’ there are other differences between these two types.

The portrait of Miss Liberty on the front (obverse) especially is quite different. Breen refers to the 1807 to 1836 pieces as ‘Reich’s Capped Busts’ and the 1836 to 1839 halves as ‘Gobrecht’s Capped Busts.’ John Reich and Christian Gobrecht were artisans at the Philadelphia Mint. Gobrecht was instrumental in the creation of Liberty Seated coin types.

There are six types or subtypes of Liberty Seated Half Dollars: 1) No Motto, No Drapery (1839 only); 2) No Motto, With Drapery (1839-53, 1856-66); 3) No Motto, Arrows & Rays (1853 only); 4) No Motto, With Arrows, No Rays (1854-55); 5) With Motto (1866-91 except 1874); 6) With Motto, With Arrows (1873-74).

Liberty Seated Half Dollars were last minted in 1891. Barber Half Dollars were struck from 1892 to 1915. Walking Liberty Half Dollars date from 1916 to 1947. Franklin Half Dollars were minted from 1948 to 1963. (There are rumors that 1964 Franklins exist.) Kennedy Half Dollars have been produced from 1965 to the present.

There are subtle subtypes of Reich’s Capped Bust Half Dollars (1807-36), though these are not usually collected as design types. As Capped Bust Half Dollars are usually available, more so than other U.S. coins of the first half of the 19th century, these are often collected ‘by date.’ There are a fair number of dedicated collectors who seek to collect almost all die varieties of Capped Bust Half Dollars. There are more than ten different, minor die varieties of 1811 halves.

It is common to collect so-called “major varieties.” If there are readily apparent differences between two or more coins of the same date, same mint location, same denomination and same design type, then at least one additional variety may attain the status of a “major variety,” which is often collected ‘as if’ it is a distinct date. As for overdates that are readily apparent without magnification, I refer to those as distinct dates, not varieties, though many guides refer to overdates as varieties, not ‘dates.’

Is an 1817/4 half of a date that is different from the ‘date’ of an 1817/3 half or is it just a variety? It best to think of the 1817 normal date half, the 1817/3 overdate and the 1817/4 overdate as different dates.

An overdate occurs when at least one numeral in the “date” (year) on an obverse (front) die is over-punched with a different numeral. Coins struck from an overdated obverse die sometimes, not always, clearly exhibit one digit over another.

Probably, the 1811/0 overdate die came into existence when a die that was intended for use to produce 1810 half dollars was repunched to be used to produce half dollars of the year 1811. As the underlying ‘0’ is often so faint on these, 1811/0 halves are not excellent examples of overdates. The main reason why these are collected ‘as if’ they are dates distinct from ‘normal date’ 1811 halves is that, strangely, a ‘period’ appears between ‘18’ and ‘11.’ As this mint error relates directly to the ‘date,’ the numerals of the year, these have traditionally been collected as ‘distinct dates’ rather than as U.S. Mint errors.

Some leading guides refer to two major varieties of 1811 half dollars and other guides list three: 1811 with a small numeral ‘8,’ 1811/10 [punctuated] overdate, 1811 with a relatively large numeral ‘8.’ Whether to recognize all three such varieties or just one or two of them is a decision that is often made by the individual collector who is buying them. The Redbook lists all three as major varieties, as does the PCGS CoinFacts site. Most experts, however, consider a set of Capped Bust Halves that contains representatives of just two of the three to be complete, provided that representatives of all other ‘dates’ are included. lists the 1811 and the “1811/10,” yet does not itemize ‘Small 8’ or ‘Large 8’ issues. The NGC CoinExplorer likewise lists the same two, though the NGC will certify various “Small 8” and “Large 8” die varieties as part of the NGC’s “VarietyPlus” program.

Neither the 1811 “Large 8” nor the 1811 “Small 8” issues are rare, and the differences in the respective eights are not overwhelming. I suggest just acquiring one or the other. There is not a need for a collection of Capped Bust Half Dollars ‘by date’ to include both. An “1811/0” [punctuated date] half, though, is needed for such a set.

II. Fresh 1811 Half Dollar

gr_1811_50c_66The PCGS graded MS-66 1811 that Stack’s-Bowers auctioned is of the ‘Small 8’ variety. In the auction catalog, it is said to be “From a New England Museum,” though I have not personally verified such a source. Clearly, it is from a very fresh collection or other holding.

A coin is ‘fresh’ if it has not been offered in the mainstream of the coin business, or very publicly offered elsewhere, for more than five years. It seems that the mysterious “a New England Museum” consignment to this Stack’s-Bowers auction consisted of coins that have been ‘off the market’ for more than a decade, perhaps many decades. (For some discussion of the importance of fresh consignments, please click to read my article on What Are Auction Prices?)

This “a New England Museum” 1811 is a wonderful coin, certainly one of the most desirable and important pieces in that auction in New Orleans. In addition to being PCGS graded MS-66, it has a green sticker of approval from the CAC. “I love this MS-66 1811,” declares Albanese, “totally original and gorgeous, a real plus coin.”

In my view, it is more than very attractive. Indeed, the colorful natural toning is enticing, with great shades of blue, blue-green and orange-russet. Further, the underlying luster is especially pleasing. If not for the presence of one noticeable scratch and a couple of other extremely minor imperfections, this coin would certainly have been graded MS-67! The $49,938 result for this fabulous piece is strong, though understandable.

gr_1811_50c_67On Thursday, June 6, Heritage will auction an 1811 that is PCGS graded “MS-67+” and also has a sticker of approval from the CAC. Albanese acknowledges that this coin was “dipped long ago” and emphasizes that it is “toning back.”

It is important to keep in mind that experts at the CAC ignore the “+” aspects of numerical plus grades assigned by the PCGS or the NGC. At times when a coin that is PCGS or NGC graded “MS-67+” receives a sticker of approval from the CAC, it will often be true that experts at the CAC grade the respective coin as “MS-67” not as “MS-67+.”

While no one should draw an overall conclusion about the PCGS graded “MS-67+” 1811 or any other coin from an interpretation of a pair of images, it is plausible that it is very noticeable that this coin has been dipped in an acidic solution to at least a moderate extent. Even when multiple coins of the same date and type are accurately graded, in accordance with widely accepted criteria, collectors often do and should take several factors into consideration when deciding how much to pay for a specific coin, not just a coin’s certified grade.

In many cases, sophisticated collectors may prefer a coin that is accurately graded MS-66 to one of the same type and date that is accurately graded MS-67.  A major reason why this is sometimes true is addressed in my three part series on appreciating naturally toned coins and to my recent piece on the point that many terrific, classic U.S. coins are not expensive.

III. Highest Certified 1811 Half Dollar

There is an 1811 ‘Small 8’ half that was NGC graded MS-68 before 2007. During 2007 or 2008, it received a sticker of approval from the CAC. I have examined it. Further, I believe that this same coin was in the Superior Galleries auction that was held on Aug. 11, 1991, in Rosemont, Illinois. It was then NGC graded MS-67. More recently, the Goldbergs auctioned it in Feb. 2007, reportedly for “$72,000.” Heritage sold it on Jan. 8, 2009 for $92,000 and on Jan. 6, 2011 for $86,250.

gr_1811_50c_68Back in 2011, I quoted Matt Kleinsteuber regarding this same NGC graded MS-68 coin. He said that this 1811 has “no issues, can’t find anything wrong with it, guess it is okay for an eight. It is 100% original [with] light evenly toned colors which, on bust halves, are beautiful.” Matt is the lead trader and grader for NFC coins.

This coin is nearly flawless and has great natural toning. A question, though, is whether it has the pizzazz or awestriking characteristics that some experts expect of coins that are graded 68. Each collector should make his own decision regarding such matters. This coin, though, does exhibit extraordinarily pleasing colors. It is very enjoyable to view.

IV. Other 1811 Halves Offered in 2013

The already mentioned PCGS graded “MS-67+” coin is not the only 1811 half in the upcoming event by Heritage at the June 2013 Long Beach Expo. There will be auctioned an NGC graded MS-62 ‘Small 8’ half and there is a good chance that it will sell for more than $2000.

There is a PCGS graded AU-58 1811/0 in this auction. All so called 1811/0 (or “1811/10”) halves should really be referred to as “18.11” halves! The underlying ‘0’ tends to be barely noticeable and it is the very apparent ‘period’ that really draws attention to this major variety, which really has the status of a distinct date.

On Sat. June 8, five 1811 halves will be offered in an ‘Internet-Fax-Mail’ session of this Heritage event. Three more ‘Small 8’ halves are included. One is NGC graded EF-45 and another is PCGS graded Very Fine-30. The third is an 1811 half that has been determined by experts at the PCGS to be non-gradable. NGC graded “AU-53” and PCGS graded EF-45 ‘Large 8’ halves are in this same session.

Several 1811 Capped Bust Half Dollars have sold at auction in 2013. In January, a PCGS graded VF-35 ‘Small 8’ half realized $341. In April, an NGC graded AU-55 ‘Large 8’ brought $881.25 and a PCGS graded AU-53 of the same exact die variety, in the same event in April, sold for $1880. It would be important, though, to examine the coins in actuality before drawing conclusions about the characteristics of or prices realized for specific coins.

In March, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded AU-50 ‘Small 8’ 1811 for $822.50. In April, a PCGS graded Extremely Fine-45 ‘Small 8’ half brought $499.38.

So, 1811 halves are not difficult to find and are neat type coins. It is fun to own a U.S. coin from 1811.

©2013 Greg Reynolds

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Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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  1. Once again a well researched article. Maybe you could start a series
    of articles starting with 1792 and going forward. Covering each year
    and the different denominations minted. You could cover rarity and
    varieties plus any personal experiences. It is a shame more dealers
    and/or collectors don’t share the way you have. Thanks!!


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