Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #323
A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds
Though more than two hundred years old, 1807 Draped Bust half dollars are not rare and are available to collectors in a range of grades and states of preservation. More than 1,850 survive. A PCGS or NGC graded Good-04 grade coin would probably retail for around $200, if that much. Two of the gem quality coins that emerged last year are worth six figure prices. One of the two will be auctioned in Schaumburg, Illinois, in April at the CSNS Convention.
This 1807 half ‘in the news’ is PCGS graded as “MS-65+” and is CAC approved. Before selling for $129,250 in a Stack’s-Bowers auction in Portland on March 6, 2015, it was NGC graded as MS-65. The discussion here, though, involves Draped Bust 1807 halves in general, not just the two gems that recently emerged.
What are Draped Bust Half Dollars?
Silver U.S. half dollars were minted from 1794 to 1964. Until 1836, U.S. silver coins were specified to be 1485 of 1664 parts silver, 89.24%. The balance is copper, except for traces of other metals that unintentionally ‘ended up’ on or ‘in’ the coins. From 1837 to 1964, half dollars were mandated to contained 90% silver and 10% copper alloys.
Curiously, half dollars dating from 1965 to 1970 are 40% silver, with a larger proportion of silver concentrated near and at the surfaces. U.S. Commemorative half dollars tend to be 90% silver as well and are a separate topic. The gold Kennedy halves are novelty items.
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. (Past articles may be accessed by clicking on words in blue.)
The design of Draped Bust halves is credited to Robert Scot. Regarding the portrait of Miss Liberty on the obverse (front), for decades, it has often been said that the female figure is based upon Anne Willing Bingham, a very prominent ‘society lady’ in Philadelphia. I have not found convincing evidence that this is so.
Draped Bust, Small Eagle halves were minted for just two years, 1796 and 1797. There are no half dollars dating from 1798 to 1800. Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle halves were minted from 1801 to 1807. The ‘new’ central design element on the reverse (back) is a portrait of an ‘eagle’ that was relatively larger than the eagle used on 1796 and 1797 coins, though that eagle was not really small.
The term ‘Heraldic Eagle’ is much more accurate than the term ‘Large Eagle.’ This portrait of an eagle with a shield is based upon the Great Seal of the United States and has particular meanings in the field of heraldry. “The Heraldic Eagle was used to put the United States in line with European nations which used their national emblems on the reverse of the coinage,” states R. W. Julian in response to my inquiry. He has extensively researched early U.S. coinage.
At some point in 1807, Draped Bust half dollars were replaced by Capped Bust half dollars. The Capped Bust half dollar type that is named ‘Lettered Edge’ should properly be termed the ‘Reich Capped Bust half dollar.’ While it is accurate to refer to Capped Bust half dollars that date from 1807 to 1836 as ‘Lettered Edge’ half dollars and to those dating from 1836 to 1839 as each having a ‘Reeded Edge,’ such terms are misleading and counter-educational.
These names that refer to the edge often provide impressions that the difference in edge devices is the only difference or is the primary difference between these two design types of Capped Bust halves. The truth is that there are many differences; they are the creations of different artisans.
John Reich designed the Capped Bust half dollars of 1807 to 1836. Those dating from 1836 to 1839 should be credited to Christian Gobrecht, who was was also the father of Liberty Seated coins. There are five or six types of Liberty Seated half dollars, a series which spans from 1839 to 1891. Barber half dollars were minted from 1892 to 1915.
Walking Liberty half dollars were produced from 1916 to 1947. Franklin halves followed, from 1948 to 1963. Kennedy halves have been produced from 1964 to the present, including multiple major varieties.
Regarding Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle halves, 1807 coins are among the least scarce of the design type and are thus frequent selections for type sets. Usually, someone assembling a type set will be content with just one representative of each pertinent design type.
Different Prices for ‘Good-04’ grade coins
Early in 2014, the firm of “Great Collections” sold two different, PCGS graded Good-04 Draped Bust 1807 halves. Each was in a post-2011, standard PCGS holder, and neither had a CAC sticker. On Feb. 16, 2014, the first sold for $272.20 and, on March 2, the second sold for $172.70.
It does not make sense to draw conclusions about selling prices without actually seeing the coins in actuality, or enlisting an expert to do so. There could be many differences between these two coins that are not apparent in published images. Additionally, it has become increasingly common for people to erroneously conclude that “Internet auction” or live auction prices are market prices.
This case provides an example to illustrate the fallacy of such thinking. The market value of a Good-04 grade 1807 half did not decline by 36.5%, from $272.20 to $172.70, in two weeks in early 2014. Indeed, market prices for such items were not dropping at that time. (Please see my article on ‘What Are Auction Prices?’). It may be impossible to fully comprehend the difference in prices, as there would be a need to thoroughly examine the coins and to analyze the thoughts of the leading bidders.
In some cases, dealers are bidding for inventory and, in other cases, collectors are buying for their own collections. Furthermore, people bid for whimsical reasons as well, or on impulse. There is no simple formula for understanding buying behavior in cultural realms.
Die varieties, including die states, can sometimes be factors in wide variances in prices realized, though not usually. There are far more people who collect early U.S. coins ‘by date’ than collect them by die variety.
Last year, Stack’s-Bowers and Heritage separately sold a different PCGS graded VG-10, Draped Bust 1807 half dollar. In May, one realized $305.50. In November, the other sold for $364.25. Interpretations of images suggest that both coins had typical natural toning. Market levels actually went down between May and November.
Very Fine grade 1807 halves could certainly now be acquired for less than $1000 each, perhaps for less than $800. Some of the lower priced pieces that I have seen, however, have questionable toning. Artificial toning is not always colorful. In some cases, dark gray or dark brown materials are added to cover or deflect attention from imperfections.
PCGS or NGC graded EF-40 to EF-45, Draped Bust 1807 halves tend to sell at auction for less than $2000. In February 2014, however, Legend Auctions sold a PCGS graded EF-40 1807, with a CAC sticker, for $2937.50.
It is likely, though far from certain, that a decent, PCGS or NGC graded AU-50 1807 could be found during 2016 for less than $3500. Higher level, AU grade pieces tend to cost much more. In April 2014, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded AU-58 1807, with a CAC sticker, for $9400.
Aghababian 1807 Half
In the Stack’s-Bowers Rarities Night event of August 6, 2014, a NGC graded AU-58 and CAC approved 1807 half sold for $6,462.50. It was reported to be “From Dr. Richard Aghababian’s Early Impressions Collection.” I believe that the late Dr. Aghababian is a former Chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. If so, he authored a noteworthy reference book.
Though $6462.50 for an “AU-58” grade 1807 half was not a weak price in terms of market levels, this purchase was an excellent value from a logical perspective. This coin has only light friction and is otherwise a really choice ‘mint state’ coin. I would rather have this coin than some of the Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle halves that have been PCGS or NGC graded as MS-63 or even MS-64! In another words, it is much more desirable than some halves of the same design type that cost more than $15,000!
The Aghababian 1807 is technically impressive with just one noticeable medium scratch and a few light handling marks. This coin scores highly in the category of originality. The gray and russet shades are neat and appealing, much more appealing than they seem to be in some published images. Moreover, there is much enticing luster beneath and about the toning that is not well revealed in photographs. This coin is enticing.
The auction record for a Draped Bust 1807 half was set on May 19, 2015 in the Pogue I sale. Stack’s-Bowers, in association with Sotheby’s, auctioned the Garrett-Foxfire-Pogue 1807 for $152,750. It is PCGS graded as MS-66.
The Garrett Family Collection is certainly one of the all-time greatest. This coin was in the Garrett I sale by Bowers & Ruddy in November 1979, at which time it realized $35,000. In Auction ’84, it realized just $23,100, according to the PCGS site.
Dr. Claude Davis assembled the Foxfire Type set, under the guidance of Richard Burdick. In 2003, Richard negotiated for this type set to be sold intact to the Pogues, though the deal was not finalized until 2004.
Burdick remembers this coin from the Garrett I sale in 1979, which he attended. He “also saw it” in the Superior Galleries (Goldbergs) “Chalkley sale in January 1990; it was PCGS graded MS-65.” Richard recollects buying “this coin from Jay Parrino in 1994 or ’95. It was the best of the design type I have ever seen and I have been looking at them for more than 45 years,” Burdick declares.
This is a fantastic coin. On both sides, it has the eye appeal of a mid range 66 grade. There are some micro-abrasions and hairlines on the obverse. While the technical score for the obverse is less than 66, the reverse is virtually flawless, with a technical score well into the 67 range.
Connoisseurs of originality are compelled to hold the Garrett-Pogue 1807 in very high esteem. It was never significantly cleaned and has been properly stored for generations. If it is has ever been dipped, it was to a mild extent a very long time ago.
On the reverse, there is terrific original luster underneath light to medium green and russet tones, which have blended nicely. On the obverse, there are green and yellow hues in the outer fields and much whitish luster at and near the center. It is a very attractive coin. The Garrett-Foxfire-Pogue 1807 is the finest known of the date and one of the four finest known of the whole Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle design type.
Gem 1807 Now ‘In the News’
The PCGS graded ‘MS-65+” Draped Bust 1807 half will be in the upcoming Heritage auction at the CSNS Convention in Schaumburg, Illinois in late April. Last year, it was auctioned by Stack’s-Bowers in the ANA auction in Portland, Oregon, in early March. It was then NGC graded as MS-65. The images at PCGS CoinFacts give the impression that it was PCGS graded as MS-65, before being regraded as “MS-65+.”
The $129,250 result last year is the second highest auction result for a Draped Bust 1807 half, as far as I know. It could well be true that at least one of the leading bidders for this coin last year was figuring that it merited a MS-66 grade, as $129,250 is a very strong price for a MS-65 grade 1807 half.
This coin has minimal contact marks and hairlines. Indeed, it has the technical characteristics of a MS-66 grade, though not the requisite eye appeal. While this coin is about very attractive, the already mentioned Garrett-Pogue coin is even more attractive.
Although it was dipped long ago, this gem scores fairly high in the category of originality, much more so than most uncirculated coins from 1807. There is no doubt that its grade is at least in the middle of the MS-65 range. It is unlikely that pertinent experts were surprised by the later “MS-65+” certification, which is fair enough.
This gem is the second finest known Draped Bust 1807 half that I recollect. It is of slightly higher quality than the NGC graded MS-65 Newman coin. This gem certainly scores higher in the category of originality than the Newman coin, which, though, is a little livelier.
The Garrett-Pogue, PCGS graded MS-66 coin and this PCGS graded ‘MS-65+’ coin are of dramatically higher quality than the NCC graded MS-66 1807 that has been in two Heritage auctions and one Stack’s-Bowers auction over the last two years. Indeed, even the NGC graded MS-65 Newman coin is better than that one, which has notable imperfections underneath awkward toning.
It is not just difficult to find a gem of this date. It is difficult to find a true gem to represent the whole Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle half design type. The certification data published by PCGS and NGC includes many submissions of some of the same coins.
Although much has been written about collecting bust silver coins ‘by variety,’ a type set can be fun and satisfying. Indeed, a type set of all the Capped Bust silver types along with the Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle silver types would not be expensive. A collector could simply choose a grade range that is in accordance with his or her tastes, preferences and budget. Many appealing representatives of these design types are available every year.
©2016 Greg Reynolds
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Capped Bust Half Dollars Currently Available on eBay