By James McCartney – Numismatist & Cataloger, Stack’s Bowers ……
The Proof 1853 Arrows half dime is an elusive and enigmatic issue that is rivaled by few others in the Liberty Seated series. Just five examples are thought to have been struck, and only two to three can be accounted for today. We are delighted to be featuring one of these few survivors in our March 2018 Baltimore sale, where it will be appearing at auction for the first time in several decades.
The centers of the present example are a pearlescent lavender-gray with deeper golden-bronze at the borders. Spectacular emerald, gold, and tangerine iridescence becomes evident under a light source, and greatly enhances the aesthetic appeal. The rims are square and sharp, with a distinct wire edge tracing the obverse circumference. Light striae are scattered throughout, as is typical for this die pair, with the lines most prominent in the reverse field and across the lower right stand of the A in HALF. There is considerable reflectivity and heavily frosted devices.
This Proof is among the scarcest half dimes to emerge from the U.S. Mint. Walter Breen dedicated nearly a half page of text to the Proof 1853 Arrows half dime in his 1977 Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins, in which the present example serves as the plate coin for the issue.
The significance of the current specimen has been long recognized, traceable back to New Netherland Coin Company’s sale of the Elliot Landau Collection in December 1958. Featured and plated in lot 387, the cataloger noted that it was “the only one we have seen, though others have been reported which do not quite measure up.” The coin had earlier been in the collection of fellow New York numismatist F.C.C. Boyd. It realized $640 in the Landau sale, which Breen called “astonishing” for the era.
In recent times, appearances of Proof 1853 Arrows half dimes have continued to be scant, even with the emergence of the magnificent collections of Eric P. Newman and D. Brent Pogue, both of which lacked an example. Similarly, Louis E. Eliasberg did not acquire an example as part of his quest to collect every U.S. issue, and it was the only issue missing from Eugene H. Gardner’s collection, which was widely considered to be the greatest collection of Liberty Seated coinage ever assembled. Gardner himself admitted “I’ve collected all series. The dollars, half dollars, quarters, dimes, half dimes. They are all complete, in high-grade mint state, probably averaging [a grade of] close to 65 and 66. And I’ve also collected them complete in proof, from 1837 to 1891 – in all series, missing only one coin, the 1853 half dime.”
The John Jay Pittman Collection featured a rather controversial example, historically considered a Proof but cataloged as a circulation strike by David Akers in his October 1997 sale. The Pittman specimen had been acquired as a Proof from David Bullowa’s sale of May 1952, and was shown to Breen around the time of the sale; he agreed to its Proof status. Bidders at the Pittman sale apparently agreed with Bullowa, Breen, and Pittman, as it went on to realize an extraordinary $77,000 – the third highest price realized for any half dime in the collection, behind only the Gem 1792 and the Gem 1797 15 Stars. Our sale of the 1853 Collection in November 2014 featured two remarkable 1853 half dimes. One was called Proof by NCS, but was improperly cleaned; the other was a Superb Gem that was deemed a circulation strike by PCGS, but was from the same die pair (V-4) as the Bullowa-Pittman specimen and the present Boyd-Landau example.
Despite the few examples with claims to a Proof status (or any examples that have been viewed as such in the past), one fact remains clear: this piece is the only Proof 1853 Arrows half dime certified by PCGS. It is not merely the finest graded but the only one graded. It represents a necessity for anyone assembling a collection of Liberty Seated or Proof coinage and cannot be improved upon. It is as beautiful as it is significant, and collectors will undoubtedly recognize this important opportunity.
With a tremendous array of exciting material spanning the wide variety of U.S. numismatics, our March 2018 Baltimore Auction will deliver a dynamic selection of rarities. This incredible Proof 1853 Arrows half dime will be accompanied by such spectacular highlights a Specimen-66 (NGC) 1860-O Liberty Seated half dollar and the magnificent Proof-63 Cameo (PCGS) 1879 Quintuple Stella from the Garrett Collection. Call us today at 1-800-458-4646 or email [email protected] to secure your copy of this exciting catalog featuring rarities from the A.J. Vanderbilt Collection, the Dobbins Collection, the RSC Collection, the Sutton Court Collection, and many other significant cabinets. Also, download our mobile app to view and participate in our exciting auctions via your Android or Apple device.