A Record Price for a Relatively Common 1812 Half Eagle
By Greg Reynolds for CoinLink - May 15,
courtesy of HeritageAuctions.com
Half Eagles dated
1812 never seem to warrant much discussion. They are
among the least rare of all early Half Eagles ($5
gold coins). Indeed, with so many very rare Half Eagles,
including several Great Rarities, minted before and
after 1812, those of this date have not gotten much
People are starting to pay attention, now that an
1812 Half Eagle just sold, on May 10, in the Heritage
Central States 'Platinum Night' event for a record
$149,500! It is graded MS-65 by the Professional Coin
Grading Service (PCGS). It was a highlight of the
“Palakika” collection that also included
an 1858 Eagle that sold for $276,000 and an 1893-S
dime that brought an incredible $63,250!
Will this $149,500 result mean that 1812 Half Eagles
will now gain status as a date? It will not. The result
probably relates to the combination of the quality
of the coin and its status as a representative of
the Capped Bust Facing Left Type.
Bust Left Half Eagles, for the whole type, are extremely
rare in gem quality, MS-65 and higher grades. The
PCGS and the Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC) together
have probably only certified twenty to thirty-two
different Bust Left Half Eagles in MS-65 and higher
grades! Although it is not noted in the catalogue,
Heritage auctioned this exact same PCGS graded MS-65
1812 in July 2003. It realized $54,625 then, a little
more than a third of the May 2007 price.
Prices for early gold coins have risen considerably
since July 2003. Increases in pertinent market prices,
though, would not entirely account for the same coin
realizing almost three times as much. In January 2007,
Heritage sold another 1812 that was NGC graded MS-65
for $63,250. It is plausible that the NGC MS-65 1812
that was sold in January is inferior to the Palakika
1812, though I would like to see both coins before
commenting upon the $86,250 difference in price.
As more than one hundred and fifty 1812 Half Eagles
exist, it is not an extremely rare date. There could
even be more than two hundred. The PCGS and NGC data
include numerous resubmissions of the same coins and
cannot be taken literally in regard to the total number
of surviving 1812 Half Eagles. The overall rarity
of the 1812 date, however, does not seem to be relevant
to the price realized. The key issue must be its condition
ranking either among1812 Half Eagles or in the whole
United States $5 gold coins are termed 'Half Eagles'
largely because the $10 gold denomination is defined
as an Eagle. Half Eagles minted from 1795 to early
1807 all have the same obverse design (front of the
coin). This obverse design is usually called 'Draped
Bust,' 'Capped Bust' or 'Capped Draped Bust.' It would
be more accurate and clearer to say it portrays a
'Capped Bust [of Miss Liberty] facing to the observer's
right,' or just 'Bust Right' for short. Two different
reverse (back) designs were employed prior to 1807,
the 'Small eagle' and the 'Heraldic' or 'Large eagle.'
During 1807, the first obverse design was replaced
by a new and very different obverse design. Confusingly,
many reference guides use the same terminology to
describe the new obverse as the old, 'Draped Bust,'
'Capped Bust' or 'Capped Draped Bust.' It is really
a substantively different Bust of Miss Liberty. The
best concise description is 'Capped Bust facing to
the observer's left,' and the best accurate term is
The 'Bust Left' design was replaced by the Capped
Head Large design in 1813. Some books and price guides
wrongly refer to the Capped Head as a “Bust.”
It is not; it is clearly just a head.
A complete type set of the Half Eagle denomination
would thus comprise of one representative of each
of the following design types: Bust Right Small Eagle
(1795-98), Bust Right Large Eagle (1795-1807), Bust
Left (1807-12), Capped Head Large (1813-29), Capped
Head Small (1829-34), Classic Head (1834-38), Liberty
Head 'No Motto' (1839-66), Liberty Head 'Motto' (1866-1907),
and Indian Head (1908-29). Only nine coins are needed
to complete a Half Eagle type set. Proof and non-proof
commemorative Half Eagles that have been minted since
1986 are a separate topic.
Most demand for pre-1835 Half Eagles is for type coins
as collecting Bust Right or Capped Head Half Eagles
'by date' is extremely difficult. Among Bust Right
Half Eagles, the 1798 'Small Eagle' is a Great Rarity.
Discussing the rarity of the some of the Bust Right
varieties is complicated, as it is not clear which
varieties should be deemed separate dates.
In all of U.S. coins, the most challenging set to
even 80% complete is that of Capped Head Half Eagles.
A date is a Great Rarity when there are twenty-five
or fewer in existence, including both Proofs and business
strikes plus all die varieties. There are more Great
Rarities in the series of Capped Head Half Eagles
than in any other series of U.S. coins.
In more than fifteen years, only one 1807 'Bust Left'
Half Eagle has ever realized more than $100,000 at
auction. The PCGS graded MS-67 Moore 1807 sold for
$121,000 in 1999. I saw it. It is an amazing coin.
It is the highest quality Bust Left Half Eagle that
I have ever seen. I have heard that there is another
1807, of the same quality, in a private collection
I have seen the one 1812 that the PCGS has graded
MS-66. It is strongly believed to be from the Norman
Stack type set. It was offered at auction in Illinois
in August 1991. The top bid of $148,500 notwithstanding,
my impression is that it did not sell. The fact that
the underbid of $143,000 was not sufficient to buy
it is an important point. It was later to sell privately
for an amount unknown to me.
While I very much
liked the coin, and I was thrilled to closely examine
it, I was not convinced that the Norman 1812 really
merited its MS-66 grade. I thought that it was a mid-range
to high end 65, not far from being a 66. The satiny
luster and light green-yellow color are appealing.
Further, it is sharply struck. It has too many hairlines
in the fields and few too many contact marks on the
face, however small, to grade MS-66. At the time,
PCGS had never even graded an 1812 as MS-65. They
were probably so overwhelmed to see this gem coin
that the graders overlooked a few significant imperfections.
Besides, there will always be legitimate differences
of opinion among experts.
Is it plausible that
a serious bidder concluded that the Palakika 1812
is superior to the Norman 1812 and is the finest known
of the date? The $149,500 price is hard to understand,
as in recent years, no other coin of whole Bust Left
Half Eagle type as sold for nearly as much.
My impression is that an 1808
Half Eagle has never sold at auction for more than
$85,000 and only three have broken the $50,000 barrier.
Among overdates, only one 1808/7 has sold at auction
for more than $50,000, and just two 1809/8 Half Eagles
have so sold. The 1808/7 is certainly much rarer than
the 1812 Half Eagle.
As far as I know, a mere two 1810 Half Eagles have
sold for more than $50,000 at auction. Four varieties
of 1810 Half Eagles are typically regarded as separate
dates in most major references. In my view, the 1810
'Large Date' and the 1810 'Small Date' are clearly
separate dates as the digits in the year are clearly
of different sizes. Each of these is subdivided, however,
into Large 5 and Small 5 varieties relating to the
'5' digit on the reverse in the '5 D.' (Five Dollar)
The differences among the denomination identifiers
is not blatant, and, in my view, should be referred
to as die varieties, not dates, of interest to those
who collect or study die varieties. If the 1810 'Large
Date - Small 5' and 1810 'Small Date -Small 5' are
truly dates of their own, then these would be the
rarest two dates of the Bust Left Half Eagle type;
and they would both be Great Rarities that are undervalued
in general. I do not believe that most gold coin collectors
view them as separate dates. Louis Eliasberg certainly
did not think that they were.
I am not aware of
an 1810 'Large Date - Small 5' has realizing as much
as $30,000 at auction. The record for an 1810 'Small
Date - Small 5' was set when Stack's auctioned an
NGC graded AU-58 coin for $65,550 in October 2005.
Only one other 1810 of any variety has sold for more
than $50,000. A PCGS graded MS-65 1810 'Large Date
- Large 5' sold for $60,375 in a Jan. 1999 Heritage
Of all die varieties,
only two 1811 Half Eagles have sold for more than
$50,000, and both of those are NGC graded MS-65 coins
that realized between $60,000 and $70,000. It is possible,
however, that one or more Bust Left Half Eagles realized
more than $50,000, or even more than $100,000, during
the market booms of 1979-80 or 1989-90. I would have
to do further research before putting forth a list
of all Bust Left Half Eagles that have been auctioned
for more than $50,000 each.
It does seem that
the Palakika 1812 has set an auction record for the
whole type even though 1812 is not significantly rarer
than any other date of the Bust Left Half Eagle series.
Either there was special demand for this particular
coin, or there has been a dramatic increase in the
demand for gem quality (MS-65 and higher) Bust Left
Half Eagles. A contributory factor may be that some
of the leading bidders were demonstrating a preference
for PCGS over NGC.
I have also concluded that Bust Left Half Eagles are
overlooked as a collectible series! If the two 1810
'Small 5' varieties are not deemed to be separate
dates, and I do not think these should be, then a
set of all the dates in the series could be completed
in a relatively short period of time without that
much difficulty. In circulated grades, all nine dates
could be purchased for less than $5000 per coin, sometimes
significantly less. Even MS-62 or MS-63 grade examples
of all nine dates could probably be had for between
$12,000 and $35,000 per coin?
Suppose that the two 1810 'Small 5' varieties are
included as separate dates. One of each could probably
be obtained within five years, for prices that are
reasonable by coin market standards. I do not remember
any examples that grade Very Fine or lower. An Extremely
Fine to Almost Uncirculated (AU) 1810 'Small Date
- Small 5' may cost at retail anywhere from $30,000
to $60,000. Auction prices in the 'not too distant
past' tended to be lower than this range. The 1810
'Large Date - Small Five' may be more expensive than
its 'Small Date - Small Five' fraternal twin.
The difficulties involved in collecting Bust Right
and Capped Head Half Eagles have caused the Bust Left
type to be overlooked. Without the unnecessary Small
5 varieties, it would be an easy and fun set to finish.
If the $149,500 result for the Palakika 1812 is analyzed
as that of a supergrade type coin, then it is still
puzzling. There must be at least one other PCGS graded
MS-65 1812 and possibly ten to twelve different PCGS
graded 65s for the type. Although I mentioned the
PCGS graded MS-66 1812 above, there are three other
PCGS MS-66 Bust Left Half Eagles of different dates,
and the two above-mentioned MS-67 1807s.
It is, or was before now, plausible that a PCGS graded
MS-66 Bust Left Half Eagle could be purchased at auction
for less than $150,000, or not much more. Besides,
within the last twelve months, three NGC graded MS-65
Bust Left Half Eagles, two 1811s and an 1812, have
been auctioned for between $60,000 and $70,000, less
than half as much as the price of the Palakika 1812,
which I really wish I had seen.