Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #200

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds ……….

Half Eagles are U.S. $5 gold coins, and were minted for use in commerce from 1795 to 1929, though not in every year along the way. A gem quality 1826 Capped Head Half Eagle is ‘in the news.’ On Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the FUN Convention in Orlando, Heritage will auction a PCGS graded MS-66 1826 Half Eagle that is in the collection of the late David Akers.

1826_5_akers_2For a Capped Head Half Eagle, this is a coin of amazing quality. Furthermore, 1826 is an extremely rare date. Moreover, Capped Head Half Eagles are the rarest type of U.S. coins that lasted more than two years. Capped Head Half Eagles were struck from 1813 to 1834. These are the most difficult of all U.S. coin series to even 80% complete.

Only eight coins are needed for an entire type set of U.S. Half Eagles: Bust Right with Small Eagle (1795-98), Bust Right with Large Eagle (“1795”-1807), Bust Left (1807-12), Capped Head (1813-34), Classic Head (1834-38), Liberty Head ‘No Motto’(1839-66), Liberty Head [with] ‘Motto’(1866-1907), and Indian Head (1908-29). It could be argued that there are really two types of Capped Head Half Eagles, ‘Large’ (1813-29) and ‘Small’ (1829-24), though these are very similar.

This list of design types is provided here as background information. It would not be typical for someone seeking to complete a type set to obtain an 1826. There are several issues of Capped Head Half Eagles, especially including the 1813, that are much less rare than the 1826!

Someone seeking to complete a type set of coins of tremendous quality, though, may choose this coin. It would be difficult to find a Capped Head Half Eagle of any date that truly merits a 66 grade.

Coins are graded on a scale from 01 to 70, though not all numbers in between are used. The four grades for ‘Very Fine’are 20, 25, 30 and 35. All eleven points from 60 to 70 are used as “Mint State” (or Proof) grades. The term ‘Mint State’ is approximately equivalent to the traditional concept of ‘uncirculated.’ Coins that grade 65 or higher are usually termed ‘gems.’

This specific 1826 Half Eagle is valued as an extremely rare date, a supergrade type coin, and one of three known that was struck from a particular pair of dies, referenced as “BD-2.” Additionally, it is ‘fresh,’ as it has not been publicly offered for decades. It seems that this 1826 Half Eagle was last auctioned in 1921, as part of the legendary John Story Jenks Collection.

Indeed, this 1826 Half Eagle is one of the most important coins in the upcoming Platinum Night event at the FUN Convention. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to examine it in August at the Summer ANA Convention.

  I. What is an 1826 Half Eagle?

There are two subtypes of Capped Head Half Eagles. Some experts refer to these as two very distinct design types.

The first, which dates from 1813 to 1829, has a larger diameter than the second type, which was minted from 1829 to 1834. Moreover, the first subtype is characterized by larger numerals, stars and letters. I find ‘Large Date’ and ‘Small Date’ to be the clearest terms to distinguish these subtypes. While the difference in diameter is mildly noticeable, the differences in the sizes of the numerals are more apparent.

1826_5_akersEven so, I suggest that the term subtype is applicable. These subtypes are very similar and it may be best for researchers to categorize Capped Head Half Eagles (1813-34) as a whole as a single design type. There really is not that much difference between the first design that was minted from 1813 to 1829 and the second design of 1829 to 1834. The second design is really just a slight modification of of the first.

Although Bust Left Half Eagles (1807-12) are not nearly as rare as Capped Had Half Eagles, these are not common. In a non-recent analytical article on 1807 Bust Left Half Eagles, I estimated that from 275 to 400 exist, and I explained that 1807 is the least rare date of the Bust Left type (1807-12). In another analytical article, I theorized that there are between 150 and 225 Bust Left Half Eagles of 1812. I have also concluded that there are 250 to 300 or so 1810 ‘Large Date’ Half Eagles, another one of the least rare early Half Eagles. In terms of most individual dates, Capped Head Half Eagles (1813-34) are much rarer than Bust Left Half Eagles (1807-12).

The least rare Capped Head Half Eagle is the 1813. In 2007, I hypothesized that approximately 400 survive. It is thus rare, yet not very rare. The 1818 is not nearly as rare as several of the other dates.

The total number of 1818 Capped Head Half Eagles, including all varieties, is more than one hundred, though not close to two hundred. There may be more than one hundred 1820 Half Eagles, though it is unlikely that there are as many as ninety. Of every other date in the Capped Head Half Eagle series, there are fewer than 100 coins known, much less than 100 in most cases.

The 1826 is not the rarest date of the type. There are just three 1822 Half Eagles known. The 1815, 1821, 1828, and 1828/7 are certainly rarer as well. As to the other ‘dates’ that are rarer than the 1826, it depends upon the subtypes or major varieties of particular years that are categorized as distinct ‘dates.’

In the culture of coin collecting, the term ‘date’ is often subject to multiple interpretation; it means much more than just the year on a coin. Whether collecting by year, ‘by date,’ by date and subtype, or ‘by major variety,’ even 80% completing a set of Capped Head Half Eagles would not be easy.

II. Rarity of 1826 Half Eagles

David Akers maintained that there are thirty to thirty-five business strike 1826 Half Eagles in existence and “also several Proofs”! Most relevant experts have echoed Akers’ estimate of the number of business strikes known. I am challenging this estimate.

In contrast to many pre-1840 U.S. gold coin issues, almost all 1826 Half Eagles are gradable or would be gradable after immersion in acetone. The PCGS has graded twelve business strikes. The NGC has graded seven business strikes. I figure that these numbers amount to sixteen or seventeen different coins. Is it fair to figure that there are two or three in museums, two that are non-gradable and another two privately owned coins that have never been sent to the PCGS or the NGC?

On the PCGS CoinFacts site, David Hall asserts that just one Proof 1826 Half Eagle is known, the one in the Smithsonian. Hall is correct that only one is currently known. Other experts maintain that a second exists or existed, which was formerly owned by Waldo Newcomer, and I agree. I theorize that twenty-three to twenty-seven 1826 Half Eagles exist, including business strikes and Proofs.

  III. Quality of this coin

There are forty to fifty-two MS-65 or higher grade Capped Head Half Eagles, including both the ‘Large Date’ (1813-29) and ‘Small Date’ (1829-34) subtypes. Perhaps only fourteen of these truly grade 66 or higher?

Although I examined this 1826 Half Eagle before it received a sticker of approval from the CAC, I was not surprised when the catalogue listing indicated that it had been CAC approved. Its grade is in the middle to high end of the 66 range. It is surely one of the four highest quality Capped Head Half Eagles that I have ever seen, of any date. I have been attending major coin auctions, including many epic events, for more than twenty years.

The mellow green inner fields contrast well with the orange tinted design elements. Further, the luster is dynamic. Moreover, this coin scores highly in the category of originality. A few hairlines in the obverse (front) inner fields and a few contact marks on Miss Liberty’s neck prevent a 67 grade from being considered. The grade of the reverse (back) by itself is in the 67 range. Overall, this coin is more than very attractive.

   IV. Pedigree

This coin has been in the personal collection of David Akers for a long time. He was not collecting Capped Head Half Eagles. Akers determined that this coin was very special.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, Akers was the foremost expert in U.S. gold coins. He wrote multiple books about gold coins that were published during a period from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s.

He died in 2012. For years, coins from Akers’ personal collection have, a few at a time, been offered at auction or sold privately. I remember some in the August 2010 ANA auction and in other events. Many of Akers’ Gold Dollar coins were purchased privately by Dr. Steven Duckor.

Though I have not plate-matched it myself, I am under the impression that other researchers definitively matched this Akers Collection 1826 Half Eagle to an 1826 Half Eagle in the Jenks Collection that was auctioned by the firm of Henry Chapman in 1921. Indeed, I assume that the library at Heritage has a suitable original Jenks Collection catalogue.

Many of the plated auction catalogues by the Chapmans feature high quality, photographic images. Though black and white, these are extremely useful for pedigree research. Rarities offered in recent times may often be definitively matched to auctions by the firms of Henry Chapman and/or S.H. Chapman, from the 1880s to the 1920s.

The theory that this specific coin was owned by William Woodin, Waldo Newcomer and Col. E.H.R. Green is sound. If Woodin owned it, Edgar Adams, a coin expert and journalist in New York, probably acted as Woodin’s agent. This theory is suggested in the current Heritage catalogue. The point that Newcomer owned this specific coin is declared in the Bass-Dannreuther (‘BD’) book on Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties (Whitman, 2006, p. 399). It is common knowledge that many of Newcomer’s coins were acquired by Green. Where was it in the 1950s and 1960s? Who sold it to Akers?

V. Die Variety

Evidently, all surviving 1826 Half Eagles were struck from two pairs of dies. I have been told that most surviving business strikes and all Proofs were struck from the first pair (BD-1). This Akers Collection 1826 is one of just three known from the second pair (BD-2). The location of the thirteenth star on the obverse is slightly different and the sizes of the letters in ‘UNITED STATES OF AMERICA’ on the reverse (back) are slightly different.

I cannot imagine many living collectors seeking representatives of both die varieties of 1826 Half Eagles. Indeed, there is only one privately owned complete set of Capped Head Half Eagles ‘by date.’ As two of the three known 1822 Half Eagles are in the Smithsonian, only one private collection, at most, of Capped Head Half Eagles can be complete at any one time. Of a few of the other dates, there are fewer than fifteen known, respectively.

If anyone is seeking representatives of both varieties, this coin would be the 1826 Half Eagle, of this second die pair, to pursue. The Lilly coin is in the Smithsonian. The 1826 of the second die pair that was owned by the late Harry Bass is in the collection of the Harry Bass Foundation and may be on exhibit at the ANA Museum in Colorado Springs. This Bass 1826 has severe problems and is definitely non-gradable.

Is it practical to collect pre-1840 gold coins by die variety? These are so rare, anyway. It would make more sense to focus on dates and major varieties that are traditionally collected ‘as if’ they are distinct dates. I suggest that a collector, who has already decided to focus upon a particular early series of U.S. gold coins, seek one of each ‘date,’ broadly defined, and ignore most die pairings.

Besides, a few people collecting early U.S. gold coins ‘by die variety’ could make it much more difficult for other collectors to collect early gold coins ‘by date’ or even ‘by type.’ Indeed, if one collector obtains multiple representatives of a very rare date, there are fewer for other collectors to pursue and treasure. Among pre-1840 gold coins, there are many very rare dates and quite a few extremely rare dates.

It is costly and difficult to build a two-thirds complete ‘set’ of Capped Head Half Eagles (1813-34) ‘by date’ broadly defined. A set that is 80% complete ‘by date,’ in any grades including coins that are non-gradable, would be very exciting. To collectors, Capped Head Half Eagles are the most challenging of all U.S. coin series that lasted more than two years and this Akers Collection 1826 Half Eagle is a coin of tremendous importance.

 ©2013 Greg Reynolds