How Rare Are Choice High-Grade Dahlonega Half Eagles?

Since I wrote the first of my three editions of Dahlonega gold books over two decades ago, I’ve sought to constantly remind collectors that truly choice, high-grade (in this instance high-grade equates to coins which grade AU55 and above) Dahlonega half eagles are rare, regardless of how “common” the issue seems to be in terms of overall rarity.

With the advent of CAC, we now have over five years of data which focuses on choice, higher grade coins of all dates and mints. The CAC data isn’t perfect. I’ve found myself disagreeing with CAC on more than one occasion regarding whether a coin is or isn’t deserving of approval. And the sample size of CAC-approved Dahlonega half eagles is still probably a bit too small to make definitive conclusions. Of the five leading dealers who sell Dahlonega gold, I think I am the only one who sends all of his D mint coins in for CAC approval.

So, while admitting this data isn’t perfect, I still think it is interesting and it helps my theory that Dahlonega half eagles are, for the most part, rare and desirable in choice, unmolested higher grades.

The following chart shows each issue in the Dahlonega half eagle series and breaks down the numbers graded in choice AU (i.e., AU55 and AU58) and in all Uncirculated grades. An inherent flaw in any population chart is duplication, and I am certain that a few of the dates below have duplicates. An example of this is the 1843-D which shows a population of three coins in MS63. I am not certain that this figure is inflated, but I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of the three was a duplicate which wasn’t removed from the database.

Notes:

  1. includes Small D and Tall D varieties
  2. includes Small D and Tall D
  3. includes only the Medium D variety
  4. does not include the D/D variety
  5. includes Large D and Medium D varieties, but note that the latter does not exist and is an error by PCGS
  6. includes Large D and Medium D; does not include Weak D coins
  7. includes Large D and Medium D
  8. includes Large D and Medium D
  9. includes Large D and Medium D

Now, let's look at each date in the Dahlonega half eagle series, and analyze it with the data from my most recent edition of the Dahlonega book (published in 2013), and see how it aligns with the CAC data.

1838-D $5.00 NGC AU58 CAC

1838-D $5.00 NGC AU58 CAC

1838-D. In my book, I ranked the 1838-D as the 12th rarest of 26 Dahlonega half eagles in higher grades. I also stated that “there are approximately six to eight exceptionally nice 1838-D half eagles in existence with great color, nearly full luster, relatively clean surfaces and sharp, even strikes.” Assuming that a number of these have been approved by CAC, the current population of six makes sense to me and it is likely to increase as time passes.

1839-D. I ranked the 1839-D as the 9th rarest Dahlonega half eagle in higher grades. The CAC population of five seems consistent with my findings. In my Condition Census for the date, I note four Uncirculated coins and, if I recall them correctly, it is likely that at least two of these will not be approved by CAC due to questionable color.

1840-D. The 1840-D earned the ranking of 6th rarest Dahlonega half eagle in my book, and the current CAC data is consistent with this. As I noted in the “eye appeal” section of my book, this date rarely has natural color and often is heavily abraded; two things that CAC frowns upon. I doubt if more than a handful of the remaining 1840-D half eagles in AU and Uncirculated holders are likely to gain CAC approval.

1841-D $5.00 NGC AU58 CAC

1841-D $5.00 NGC AU58 CAC

1841-D. The current CAC data is not reflective of my observations of the high grade rarity of this date. I ranked it as the 16th rarest half eagle from this mint in high grades, and I have personally seen and sold some outstanding examples in both AU and Uncirculated grades. I’m assuming that a number of the 10-12 known Uncirculated 1841-D half eagles have not yet made their way to CAC, as some of these coins are simply outstanding.

1842-D Small Date. While I ranked this issue as the 13th rarest coin in the set, I have noted that the 1842-D Small Date is very difficult to locate with good eye appeal. I expect that CAC will approve a few more in the AU55 to AU58 range but of the small number of Uncirculated pieces I have seen, I doubt if more than one or two will eventually sport a CAC sticker.

1842-D Large Date. I have mentioned the extreme rarity of this issue in higher grades since the first edition of my Dahlonega book. I rank it as the single rarest half eagle from this mint in higher grades, and in the third edition I wrote “I have seen just a handful…with what I consider to have good or even above-average eye appeal.” I just made the first 1842-D Large Date in higher grades at CAC (the Western Michigan coin in P55/CAC) and doubt if many others will ever earn approval.

1843-D. This is the 23rd rarest Dahlonega half eagle in higher grades, so you’d expect more than four AU’s and three Uncs. to have been approved by CAC. This raises an interesting point which applies to many branch mint gold issues. Looking at the PCGS and NGC populations figures, you’d expect there to be numerous AU 1843-D half eagles and of the 90-125 which I estimate exist, more than a third of these grade AU55 to AU58. But even though these coins are slabbed by PCGS and NGC, most have problems: they’ve been recolored, they have negative eye appeal due to excessive marks, or they’ve been processed and have lost their originality as a result. I anticipate that fewer than 10% of the 1843-D half eagles in AU55 and AU58 will be approved by CAC, and this is why these coins will ultimately trade at strong premiums over non-CAC, average quality coins.

1844-D. This is a date which I expected to see a higher number of CAC approved examples, given that it tends to be well made and that there are some really nice Uncirculated pieces known. I anticipate the number of CAC approved AU55 to AU58 coins will rise to at least 10 if not more. Here is another example of a date which was formerly fairly available in choice, original AU grades but because of gradeflation and coin doctoring it is now much harder to locate choice than one might expect.

1845-D. Only five higher-grade 1845-D half eagles have been approved by CAC as of the time this article was written (March 2015). This surprises me, especially the fact that there are some wonderful higher grade pieces known including at least four in the MS63 to MS64 range. Let’s hope these just haven’t been sent in to CAC yet; not that they have been but flunked because someone couldn’t resist mucking with a great coin.

1846-D $5.00 NGC AU55 CAC

1846-D $5.00 NGC AU55 CAC

1846-D. I rank this as the 5th rarest date in the series in higher grades which is why I am surprised that 5 examples have been approved at CAC (four in AU55 to AU58 and one in Uncirculated). Given my experience that a CAC-quality 1846-D half eagle is really rare, I’m going to have to assume that the figure of four in the CAC database includes a few resubmissions. It is hard enough to get dealers to turn in tags for coins which they’ve cracked out of PCGS and NGC holders. Getting them to contact CAC and specifically tell them which coins they’ve removed from CAC approved holders is considerably less likely; even with someone who is super-conscientious.

1846-D/D. This variety should have a much higher CAC population than the 1846-D. Why have none been CAC stickered in AU55 to AU58 and just one in Uncirculated? I have some theories. The 1846-D/D tends to come with very heavily abraded surfaces and even nice, original coins can have a “chewed up” appearance. This is a look which CAC doesn’t like and I can vouch for this personally as I have had at least three nice AU55 to AU58 1846-D/D half eagles rejected at CAC because, I can assume, they were too “baggy.” Only one Uncirculated 1846-D/D has been approved by CAC ,and I think this is more circumstantial as there are an estimated seven to nine known in Mint State with at least three or four of these being really nice coins, in my opinion. For a variety of reasons, these are likely to have not yet been submitted to CAC.

1847-D. I ranked the 1847-D as the 17th rarest Dahlonega half eagle, but as I noted in my book, "locating pieces with clean surfaces…is very difficult." Given that CAC likes gold coins to not be very "marky" this is likely why just three AU55 to AU58 coins have stickered so far. Two MS62 1847-D half eagles have been approved by CAC and, assuming that these are separate coins, I find this very surprising as I can’t recall having ever seen an example of this date in MS62 or MS63 which I thought was choice and original.

1848-D. I’m almost certain that the CAC population of five in AU55 is inflated by resubmissions as experienced collectors know that the 1848-D half eagle is a really rare date in this grade with choice, original surfaces, a good strike, and a nice overall appearance. On page 222 of my book I wrote: “The 1848-D is one of the most difficult Dahlonega half eagles to locate with good eye appeal.” I would have expected CAC to have approved no more than two or three, and I believe this still may be the case.

1849-D $5.00 PCGS AU58 CAC

1849-D $5.00 PCGS AU58 CAC

1849-D. The 1849-D is an interesting issue which is not often well-understood outside of the hard-core specialist community. There are a decent number graded AU55 and AU58 but probably not more than a dozen of these (if that) have the potential to sticker at CAC. In Uncirculated, the 1849-D is very rare with just five or six known, and I can think of just two which are likely to be approved at CAC if and when they are sent in. When asked the question “how rare is a high grade 1849-D half eagle” the answer is not simple, and it likely requires a multi-part answer.

1850-D $5.00 NGC AU58 CAC

1850-D $5.00 NGC AU58 CAC

1850-D. I rate this date as the 7th rarest Dahlonega half eagle in high grades, but in choice, original CAC-able AU55 and higher, it might rank as one of the four or five rarest. In fact, until I just made an NGC AU58 with CAC approval at CAC (a Western Michigan coin), the population of high-grade AU’s stood at one (it’s now swelled to two) while no Uncirculated 1850-D have—or are likely to—see approval at CAC. To my way of thinking, this is a issue for which CAC approval should add a lot of value; easily as much as 25-35% and maybe as much as 50%.

1851-D. The 1851-D is the third rarest Dahlonega half eagle in high grades, trailing only the 1842-D Large Date and the 1861-D. CAC has approved two in AU55 and two in AU58, and I am reasonably certain that these represent four different coins. I would have predicted the CAC population to be a bit lower given the rarity of this coin with natural color and choice surfaces, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it remains at this amount for the foreseeable future. CAC-quality Uncirculated 1851-D half eagles are exceedingly rare and none have yet to be approved by CAC.

1852-D. This is a common date in higher grades but examples with good eye appeal are much scarcer than generally acknowledged. CAC has approved five in AU55 to AU58 and this number is interesting to compare with the 1853-D and 1854-D half eagles (see below). There are as many as 10-12 known in Uncirculated but only one (an MS62) has been approved by CAC so far. Of the remaining coins, I can think of only one or two that have a good chance of CAC approval. This is yet another date which was once semi-available in choice, original higher grades (AU55 and above) but which has seen a near-total devastation by overzealous dealers, collectors and conservators.

1853-D. I ranked the 1853-D as the least rare Dahlonega half eagle and the CAC population figure of 16 (ten in AU55 to AU58) and six in Uncirculated) agrees with this. This is a date which can still be found with good eye appeal and a CAC sticker should plainly add less value than an issue like the 1850-D which is likely to always have a small number of stickered coins.I expect that the number of distinct CAC approved high-grade 1853-D half eagles will continue to grow throughout the years, but the supply is still likely to never exceed the demand.

1854-D. The 1854-D is close to being interchangeable with the 1853-D in terms of higher grade rarity. The primary difference is that the 1854-D tends to come with a flatter strike and more beveled edges, giving it an appearance which might not be appreciated by CAC. I do find it a bit of a surprise that only two 1854-D half eagles in Uncirculated (MS61 and MS64) have been stickered so far, as I know of probably as many as six or seven which should meet with CAC’s approval.

1855-D Medium D $5.00 PCGS AU58 CAC

1855-D Medium D $5.00 PCGS AU58 CAC

1855-D. The current CAC population for AU55 to AU58 1855-D half eagles is five and this surprises me as I would not have expected this many to have been approved so far. The 1855-D is the 4th rarest half eagle from this mint and it is extremely rare in Uncirculated with just four or five known. I don’t expect to see many more AU55 to AU58 examples made at CAC, although I am personally responsible for three of these, all within the last year and a half.

1856-D. For a variety of reasons, this is a confusing date and I was not surprised by the somewhat difficult to interpret results, so far, from CAC. Choice, original AU55 to AU58 1856-D half eagles are very scarce and the fact that CAC has approved just three so far is about what I expected. I am surprised that not a single Uncirculated 1856-D half eagle has been approved, especially given the fact that PCGS shows a population figure of 27. But here’s where the asterisk comes in…most of these coins are from a hoard which consists of coins which were buried at one time and were conserved afterwards. I’m going to make an assumption here that CAC hasn’t liked the look of the Uncirculated 1856-D half eagles they’ve seen so far.

1857-D. I rank this date as the 10th rarest half eagle from this mint, but there is little which separates issue #4 from issue #10. The 1857-D is, in my experience, very hard to find in AU55 to AU58 with original color and surfaces and it is nearly impossible to find in nice Uncirculated. The CAC results agree with this as just four coins in the higher AU grades have been stickered while not a single Mint State 1857-D has been approved. I expect these numbers will go up slightly but not by much.

1858-D. I ranked the 1858-D as the 22nd rarest Dahlonega half eagle in higher grades but noted “there are some extremely choice pieces known and most are in tightly-held private collections.” CAC has thus far approved five in AU55 to AU58 which is about what I would have expected. The only Uncirculated coin with CAC approval is an MS61 and I am surprised that none of the half dozen or so which exist in MS62 and above has, so far, been stickered.

1859-D. In my book I noted that this is a “difficult issue to locate with good eye appeal” and ranked it 17th on the list of high grade rarity. Upon reflection, I think it may actually be a bit easier to locate in high grade AU and this seems to be the result of a small hoard which may be overhanging the market. CAC has approved seven examples in AU55 to AU58 which is a bit higher than I would have expected given the number of coins stickered for other scarcer dates. Only one Uncirculated (an MS63) has thus far been approved by CAC and I think this number will ultimately expand to three or four coins.

1860-D. This date is similar in high-grade rarity to the 1859-D and it shows the same total number of coins approved by CAC: 8. In the case of the 1860-D the breakdown is five AU55 to AU58’s and three in Uncirculated (MS60, MS61, and MS62). There are a number of very nice MS62 examples which I can only assume have not yet been seen by CAC and before all is said and done, I would expect there to be at least five or six 1860-D half eagles in Uncirculated with CAC approval.

1861-D $5.00 NGC AU58 CAC

1861-D $5.00 NGC AU58 CAC

1861-D. The 1861-D is the second scarcest Dahlonega half eagle in higher grades but I’ll let you in on a little secret: while unquestionably a rare coin in AU and Uncirculated and clearly the most coveted issue in the Dahlonega half eagle set, the 1861-D is actually a little overrated in higher grades. CAC has approved three in AU55 to AU58 and another three in Uncirculated (an MS62 and two MS63’s) and I believe that there are at least another half dozen—if not more—that are CAC quality but which for whatever reason, have yet to be sent to CAC. The multiple levels of demand for this date ensure that it will remain the most highly priced—and prized—member of this 26 coin set.

If you are interested in forming a collection of Dahlonega half eagles, please feel free to contact me via email dwn@ont.com. If you like the context of this article and would like to see it applied to other series, please make suggestions to me via email.