Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #280

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds….
As two of the six best 1801 half dollars were just auctioned in the Pogue I sale by Stack’s-Bowers in New York on May 19, 2015, coins of this date are ‘in the news.’ The 1801 and also the 1802 are always important as the two keys to the series of Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle half dollars, which were minted from 1801 to 1807. For these seven years of Heraldic Eagle halves, there are 10 to 15 dates, overdates and major varieties that are often collected as distinct ‘dates.’

Spotlights tend to be directed towards half dollars of the 1790s. These are queens, while the 1801 and the 1802 are distant duchesses. It is also true that the 1794, 1796 and 1797 halves are each very rare in all grades, while it is not clear that the 1801 and the 1802 halves are rare overall. My working theory is that they are truly rare, meaning fewer than 500 of each survive in all grades. Even if so, neither the 1801 nor the 1802 are nearly as rare as 1796 or 1797 half dollars.

Without knowing more about the heavily circulated pieces that have never been PCGS or NGC certified and the number of non-gradable coins, it is very difficult to estimate the overall rarity of 1801 and 1802 halves. They are certainly very rare in grades above Fine-12 and extreme condition rarities in grades above AU-55.

“My customer base likes 1801 halves up to Fine grade, so that is what I carry and sell,” reveals Rich Uhrich. “There are still some raw 1801 halves out there, in collections. But probably 75% or so have been” encapsulated by PCGS or NGC, Rich adds. Uhrich specializes in well circulated bust and Liberty Seated coins, and has handled many 1801 half dollars.

Most 1801 halves are not expensive in the sense that Pogue Collection coins are expensive. Last autumn, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded Good-04 1801 half dollar for $575.75. More recently, in the “2015 February Americana Sale,” a PCGS graded, and CAC approved, Fine-12 1801 sold for $1997.50. In January 2014, Heritage auctioned an NGC graded VF-20 1801 for $2702.50.

1801 Draped Bust Half Dollar. O-101. Good-4 (PCGS).

A non-gradable 1801 could be purchased for less than $500 by a buyer who has patience. There seem to be fewer non-gradable 1802 halves around. Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded Fair-02 1802 for $705 in February 2013. Gradable representatives of the other issues in the series are not nearly as costly.

In April 2015, Stack’s-Bowers sold an NGC graded VG-08 1805 for $305.50. An 1803, 1805, 1806-‘Pointed 6’ or 1807 in Good-04 grade should be available for less than $250 each, at times. In June 2012, HA sold a NGC graded Good-06 1803 for $230, and, on November 11, 2014, a PCGS graded VG-08 1803 brought $258.50.

A traditionally defined, complete set from 1801 to 1807, with major varieties that are apparent from viewing the obverse, would not be particularly expensive in the context of 19th century silver coins. Half dollars of this type command less attention than they deserve, as they happened to be ‘in between’ the famous 18th century issues and the extremely popular Reich Capped Bust half dollars, which date from 1807 to 1836.

Relative Fame

The 18th century dates of the half dollar denomination will always be more famous. Flowing Hair half dollars of 1794 and 1795 are a two-year type. Draped Bust, Small Eagles half dollars are a two-year type as well. For Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle halves, there are thousands of representatives of the design type available. For less than $500 per coin, more than a few Good-06 to Fine-15 grade 1805, 1806 and 1807 Draped Bust half dollars could be obtained.

The 1801 is not famous, at least not yet. The finest known 1794 half dollar just sold for $705,000 in the Pogue I sale. I wrote an entire piece about it. Collectors of type coins avidly seek 1795 halves as these are much less scarce than 1794 halves and are of the same Flowing Hair design type.

1802 50C XF40 PCGS Secure. CAC. O-101
1802 50C XF40 PCGS Secure. CAC. O-101

All Draped Bust, Small Eagle half dollars (1796-97) are much more famous than all Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle half dollars, partly because they are truly rare, while Heraldic Eagle halves, in total, are just scarce. Indeed, Draped Bust,‘Small Eagle’ halves constitute the rarest design type of U.S. silver coins. For 1796 and 1797 halves, fewer than 460 coins survive in total.

My first piece in my series on the Pogue Family Collection was devoted to 1796 and 1797 halves. An auction record for a half dollar was set by the $1,527,500 paid for the Rogers-Foxfire-Pogue 1797, which I explained in my analysis of the results. (Clickable links are in blue.).

So much attention is paid to Draped Bust, Small Eagle halves that 1801 halves are infrequent topics of conversation–even though many people collect Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle halves. It is not often emphasized that 1801 halves are tremendous condition rarities in grades above AU-55. PCGS has certified just three as AU-58, one as AU-58+, one as MS-60, zero as MS-61, one as MS-62 and one as MS-63. NGC reports one as MS-63 as well, plus the Newman coin as MS-64.

Newman-Green 1801 Half Dollar

This Newman-Green 1801 was NGC graded MS-64 and received a CAC sticker of approval. A large percentage of Newman’s famous, pre-1840 silver coins were earlier in the collection of Col. E.H.R. Green.

Newman 1801 50C MS64 NGC. CAC. O-102,
Newman 1801 50C MS64 NGC. CAC. O-102,

The Newman-Green 1801 scores high in the category of originality and is very attractive overall. If not for some contact marks in the right inner field on the obverse, and in the central reverse (back), this would be a gem quality (MS-65 grade) coin. This is the most memorable of Newman’s Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle half dollars.

The color on the obverse (front) is terrific. Various shades of russet, including reddish and orange-russet hues, are wonderful, and are nicely balanced by green tones. The creamy russet-gray and brown-russet inner fields are impressive as well.

The central reverse (back) toned a greenish gray. The outer reverse fields and outer design elements exhibit a few pretty colors.
The Newman-Green 1801 is now in a private collection. The same collector owns Newman’s two 1796 halves, to which I devoted a discussion.

“Joseph Thomas”-Pogue 1801

The “Thomas”-Pogue 1801 has been PCGS graded MS-63 for more than a dozen years. During 2014, it was CAC approved.
There is some debate regarding the pedigree of the coin. A cataloguer for Spectrum-B&M in 2004, Heritage cataloguers in 2009, and at least one researcher involved with PCGS CoinFacts indicate that it was in the epic silver type set of Jimmy Hayes, which Stack’s auctioned in 1985.

1801 Draped Bust Half Dollar. Overton-101.  MS-63 (PCGS).
1801 Draped Bust Half Dollar. Overton-101. MS-63 (PCGS).

In private conversations, Richard Burdick has long maintained that the “Joseph Thomas”-Pogue 1801 and the Jimmy Hayes 1801 are different coins. John Kraljevich (JK), the primary cataloguer of the Pogue I sale, stated in the catalogue that the “provenance of the Hayes coin has become intertwined with the provenance of the Pogue specimen through the error of previous cataloguers, but they are distinct, different specimens.”

Dale Friend, a famous collector and a specialist in half dollars, asked Jimmy Hayes himself to comment on the matter. Hayes is certain that the PCGS graded MS-63, Pogue 1801 and the Hayes 1801 are different coins. As I indicated a few weeks ago, the Pogue 1794 half was earlier in the collection of Jimmy Hayes, as are several other coins in the Pogue Family Collection.

“I looked at the Pogue coins with great interest. I owned at times 30 or 40 of them,” declares Jimmy Hayes in response to my inquiry. “People remember the first years of issue that were sold in 1985 but along the way I owned many very high grade coins of other dates that were later sold or traded for” first year of issue type coins, Hayes reveals.

To coin collectors, Jimmy is best known for having sought amazing representatives of the first year of issue of each design type of U.S. silver coins. For example, the PCGS graded “MS-66+,” Oswald-Hayes 1794 silver dollar is in the Pogue Collection and probably will be auctioned in September.

There is now agreement that the pictures of the Hayes 1801 half in the Stack’s catalogue of Hayes’ first year of issue silver type set do not match the “Thomas”-Pogue 1801. Richard Burdick found a pertinent error in this catalogue from 1985, in which it is stated that the Hayes 1801 was in the Robison sale of 1982. Burdick maintains that it is the Pogue 1801 that was offered in 1982, not the Hayes 1801. So, the pedigree records for these two coins have been erroneously mixed for a long time.

It is certain that the PCGS graded MS-63, Pogue 1801 was earlier in the “Joseph Thomas Collection.” Further, the “Thomas”-Pogue 1801 seems to be the PCGS graded MS-63 1801 that Spectrum-B&M auctioned on January 9, 2005 in Fort Lauderdale. I covered that sale for Numismatic News, and my very brief notes then are consistent with my notes in 2015 about the “Thomas”-Pogue 1801. The $95,450 result was considered strong in 2005.

In 2005, the consignor of this 1801 half was not named and the buyer was book bidder #1247. The consignor in 2009 wished to remain anonymous. “Joseph Thomas” was a code name for an East Coast businessman who built an incredible collection of copper, nickel, and silver U.S. coins, though did not collect gold coins, as far as I know.

During April 2009, Heritage auctioned the bulk of the “Joseph Thomas Collection,” which contained numerous condition rarities and several Great Rarities. This coin then realized $184,000. On May 19, 2015, I was puzzled when it went for $129,250. Before the auction, Dale Friend, who closely follows markets for early half dollars, predicted that it would sell for significantly less than $184,000.

It is true that Gene Gardner is no longer bidding on such coins and that the Newman 1801 emerged well after the “Thomas Collection” was sold in 2009. Indeed, few people, if anyone, in 2009 could have known that a MS-64 grade 1801 would be offered in 2013.

It is also important to note that most prospective bidders were then under the impression that the “Thomas”-Pogue 1801 and the Hayes 1801 are the same coin. The emergence of the Newman 1801 and the public revelation by JK that the Hayes coin was not owned by the Pogues indicate that the number of ‘mint state’ 1801 halves is larger than the number was thought to be when the “Thomas”-Pogue 1801 realized $184,000 in April 2009.

I graded the Thomas-Pogue 1801 coin, while covering the label, as I typically do when I view auction lots for a major sale. In my view, this coin’s grade is in the middle of the 63 range. The few contact marks are consistent with a MS-63 grade.

It was lightly to moderately dipped decades ago, and has since naturally retoned in a nice manner. The mottled green colors are appealing. There are some orange-russet patches in the obverse outer fields. Much underlying luster is visible and is pleasing. It is an attractive coin.

If the Newman 1801 had not emerged in 2013, there would have been much more enthusiasm for the Thomas-Pogue coin in 2015. I will believe that other 1801 halves are in the same league if I see them.

1801 Draped Bust Half Dollar. Overton-101. Rarity-3. AU-58 (PCGS).
1801 Draped Bust Half Dollar. Overton-101. Rarity-3. AU-58 (PCGS).

Eliasberg-Pogue 1801

The Eliasberg-Pogue 1801 is PCGS graded as AU-58 and is CAC approved. After having sold in the Eliasberg ’97 auction by Bowers & Merena in New York, it was NGC graded as MS-62. Again, I viewed this coin in April 2015 without looking at the label, and I was thinking of it as a “MS-61” grade coin. Charlie Browne, who worked four stints as a PCGS grader during various time periods, often refers to “Commercial 62” grades for coins such as this one.

In accordance with the grading criteria that is widely accepted, an early U.S. coin with nice surface quality, can qualify for a MS-61 or -62 grade even if it has readily noticeable friction on the highpoints. I am not endorsing such grading criteria; I report aspects of accepted grading criteria for educational purposes.

Personally, I find wear on the reverse. Putting my opinions aside, this coin is undergraded, given the realities of current coin markets and widely accepted grading standards. It is a well known coin, which has recently become newsworthy again. I am not suggesting that anyone ‘crack it out’ of its current holder. I am classifying it as a MS-61 grade coin for the purpose of this listing. Certainly, I have examined many PCGS or NGC graded MS-61 or -62 coins that have more friction than this coin.

Regardless of its numerical grade, this is just a great coin. It scores very highly in the category of originality. The russet and brown tones blend well with light silver-gray textures. The underlying luster is very pleasing. Indeed, the green tinted luster in the reverse fields is wonderful and contrasts well with the russet design elements.

Overall, the natural toning is stable and this coin is more than attractive and this coin scores highly in the technical category. The $58,750 auction result is hard to interpret. I would certainly rate this coin above a strictly uncirculated 1801 that has been harmed by severe scratches and/or chemicals.

Gardner 1801 Half

On October 27, 2014, Gene Gardner’s 1801 half was auctioned for $55,812.50. It was then NGC graded MS-62 and did not then have a CAC sticker. Surprisingly, it was later PCGS graded as MS-62.

In my view, this coin has substantial imperfections and a MS-60 grade would be more appropriate. If the serious bidders on October 27, 2014 had really graded it as MS-62, it would have sold for more than $56,000, perhaps $85,000! This has become the only 1801 half dollar that is PCGS graded as MS-62.

Dale Friend 1801 Half

Dale Friend’s 1801 half is PCGS graded as AU-58+. I am not aware of ever having seen it. Friend’s 1801 is pictured on the PCGS CoinFacts site. Does anyone recognize it as having been in a major collection in the past?

Dale acquired this 1801 half in 2008 from Don Willis, who reports that he “bought the coin from a California collector.” Before Willis became president of PCGS in October 2008, he was a coin dealer who specialized in half dollars. Earlier, in 1995, Willis founded a “supply chain software company” relating to the Internet.

PCGS graded MS-60 1801

In the Pogue I catalogue, JK suggests that the PCGS graded MS-60 1801 might be either the Hayes coin or the Queller coin.

Recollections by Richard Burdick and Hayes himself suggest that the Hayes 1801 may qualify for a grade above MS-62 in accordance with currently accepted grading criteria, possibly as high as MS-64. Richard has been attending major coin auctions since 1969.

Jimmy Hayes
Jimmy Hayes

Jimmy Hayes remarks, “neither of the Pogue 1801 half dollars were as nice as the Merkin sale coin in my collection sold in 1985. The better Pogue 1801 may have the same technical grade, but the hair separation and the strong reverse strike on mine make it more desirable.”

So, it seems unlikely that Hayes 1801 would be graded just MS-60 by PCGS. In October 2002, Stack’s (NY) auctioned David Queller’s set of half dollars, an extremely extensive collection. As JK indicates in the Pogue I catalogue, the images of the Queller 1801 give the impression that it has substantial scratches.

One of my sources claims that there was an 1801 in an “ANACS Cache” holder that was generally regarded as uncirculated and maybe borderline-gradable due to serious scratches. My source, a collector, suggests that this coin was PCGS graded as MS-60 circa 2006.

Julian Leidman, a dealer, confirms that he had a PCGS graded MS-60 1801 in his possession during the last decade, though Julian is not sure as to the pedigree. “I sold an uncirculated coin to a client that has a scratch on it,” Leidman recollects, in response to my inquiry.

Difficult Pedigree Research

While beginning a condition ranking of 1801 halves, I encountered more unsolved mysteries than I expected. I would not be surprised to learn that the NGC graded MS-63 1801 is the Hayes coin, though I am not suggesting that this is so.

From the 1930s to the middle 2000s, the process of photographing coins and processing the images for publication in ‘print’ catalogues was ridden with variables, and picture quality tended to be poor to mediocre. Generally, it was figured that the costs of publishing high quality pictures were higher than the benefits. In regards to pedigree research, it is very hard to draw conclusions solely from images of coins published during that period. Certainly, coins should not be graded from images, then or now.

Since the implementation of advances in imaging technology in the mid 2000s, pictures of coins tend to be much more accurate in terms of detail. Accurate reproduction of color is a separate matter.

Concluding Thoughts

Both 1801 and 1802 half dollars are far rarer in AU-58 to MS-64 grades than most collectors realize. The Newman, Thomas-Pogue and Eliasberg-Pogue coins are the only 1801 halves in this range that I have found impressive thus far, though I hope to examine the Hayes and Friend coins in the future.

Also, relatively original, circulated 1801 and 1802 halves, with impressive surface quality, are excellent values at current market levels, from a logical perspective. These are keys to an early series and are historically important. Assembling a set, with major varieties that are apparent by viewing the obverse, of Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle half dollars is not difficult, is not tremendously expensive, and is exciting.

©2015 Greg Reynolds


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