No Motto Half Eagles

I’ve recently had the opportunity to sell some high grade No Motto half eagles and this got me thinking about the rarity of this series in higher grade. I thought it would be interesting to look at the populations of the No Motto half eagle series and to give them a bit of statistical analysis. I also thought it would be interesting to take the No Motto eagle series and compare these numbers as the two series offer a good contrast. The No Motto half eagle and eagle series were produced between 1838 and 1866 with the eagles beginning in 1838 and the half eagles beginning in 1839. The No Motto type includes a one year subtype in the half eagle series (1839) and a two year subtype in the eagle series (1838 and 1839) that are collected alongside the issues produced in 1840 and later and whose numbers have been combined throughout the course of this study.

Mintage figures for both No Motto half eagles and eagles can be somewhat misleading. Some of the Philadelphia issues from the 1840’s and 1850’s have mintages that approach 1 million. All told, 9,114,483 No Motto half eagles were struck as well as 5,259,528 eagles. Given these figures, you would expect No Motto half eagles and eagles to be somewhat common. This is most certainly not the case, however, primarily because of massive meltings that began as early as the Civil War and which continued up through the 1960’s. In my experience, the survival rate for No Motto gold is well below 2% and in the case of high grade coins, it is a fraction of this.

In preparing this analysis, I’ve decided to use PCGS’ figures exclusively. I’m not endorsing one grading service over the other but merely feel that PCGS has a “cleaner” population report with more accurate figures. That said, it should be stressed that the figures used below include a number of resubmissions and they tend to become less accurate as grades increase (and values grow in spread). I will make note of this as we look at the numbers.

I. No Motto Half Eagles

Total Graded: 11,213 Circulated Grades: 9,952 (88.75%) Uncirculated Grades: 1,261 (11.24%) MS60 to MS62: 870 (7.75%) MS63: 230 (2.05%) MS64: 136 (1.21%) MS65: 19 (0.16%) MS 66 and better: 6 (0.05%)

So what can we learn from these numbers? The first thing that I find interesting is that only 11% or so of the No Motto half eagles graded by PCGS are Uncirculated. When we factor in resubmissions, the actual number is probably quite a bit lower; probably around 8% or so of the total coins. Given my experience, this makes sense. In comparison to early half eagles and the later With Motto Liberty Head issues, a very small percentage of the No Motto coinage survived in comparatively high grades.

The next thing that is noticeable is how the numbers drop off once the MS63 level is reached. PCGS has graded 391 No Motto half eagles in MS63 or better (just 3.47% of the total population graded) and my guess is that once you factor in resubmissions and other anomalies, the total number of PCGS graded No Motto half eagles in MS63 or higher is more likely 250 or so pieces.

These numbers get more interesting when we look at them a bit more carefully and note that three dates (the 1847, 1852 and 1861) have a combined population of 137 in MS63 and better. This works out to over 35% of the total population of all higher grade No Motto half eagles. If you remove these three dates from the total population, suddenly all No Motto half eagles in MS63 seem a lot scarcer.

The specific grade that I think is most inaccurate in the PCGS population report is MS64. In looking through the report, I see such figures as eight 1841’s having been graded, eight 1845’s, eight 1858’s and forty (!) 1861’s. Given the fact that a PCGS MS64 1861 half eagle is worth around $12,500 and an MS65 is worth over $30,000 it is no wonder that at least a few very high end coins have been resubmitted over and over in an attempt to graduate to a higher grade. My guess is that the PCGS figure in MS64 (a total of 136) is inflated by at least one-third and that the actual number is more likely in the 75-95 range.

Ironically, I think the PCGS MS65 and MS66 numbers are pretty accurate. Once someone gets a No Motto half eagle in an MS65 or MS66 holder it is clearly to their benefit to get the population figure accurate for a specific date. There are supposedly three 1847 half eagles graded MS66 by PCGS and I think this seems high by at least one but I can account for nearly every other MS66 and most of the 19 coins graded MS65 as well.

Now, let’s look at the figures for No Motto eagles:

II. No Motto Eagles

Total Graded: 7,155 Circulated Grades: 6,832 (95.48%) Uncirculated Grades: 323 (4.51%) MS60 to MS62: 236 (3.29%) MS63: 46 (0.64%) MS64: 34 (0.47%) MS65: 3 (0.04%) MS 66 and better: 4 (0.05%)

Given the ratio of original mintage figures, the total numbers graded for the two No Motto types makes sense. It also makes sense to me that well over 90% of all No Motto eagles are circulated. In fact, I think that once you look at the resubmission factor for this type, the actual number of unique PCGS graded Uncirculated No Motto eagles is less than 250 coins. And when you take this a step further and consider that many of the coins graded MS60, MS61 and even MS62 show rub and may not be considered “new” by conservative specialists, you are probably talking about a pool of 125-150 No Motto eagles in PCGS holders that are unequivocally Uncirculated.

I have long believed that virtually any No Motto eagle is rare in Uncirculated. Take a coin like the 1847. This issue has a mintage figure of 862,258. I personally doubt if more than 1,500-2,000 are known but the great majority are well-circulated. PCGS has graded twenty-six in Uncirculated but five in MS60 and four in MS61 (grades that may or may not be truly Uncirculated) as well as thirteen in MS62 (which is clearly inflated by resubmissions). This supposedly “common” coin is actually quite rare in Uncirculated. I doubt if more than four or five are known that accurately grade MS63 or better.

In MS63 or better, No Motto eagles are very rare; far more so than their half eagle counterparts. My best estimate is that only a few dozen are known in properly graded MS63 and MS64 combined. Gems are incredibly rare. PCGS has graded just two coins in MS65 and another three in MS66 (remarkably, each of these is an actual coin and not just a bunch of resubmissions!). In my experience, No Motto eagles (and half eagles) are rarer in MS63 and higher grades than Heraldic Eagle reverse issues of these denominations.

I also think that high grade No Motto gold coinage is extremely cheap right now, especially when compared to the older half eagles and eagles. As an example, you can buy a nice common date PCGS MS63 half eagle from the late 1840’s or early 1850’s now for around $7,500-8,500. A common date MS64 should be available for $12,500-15,000. No Motto eagles in this grade range are more expensive but they are still not out of the price range of many collectors. A PCGS MS63 “common date” should be available for $15,000-20,000 and an MS64 will run $25,000-30,000+. When you look at what other far less rare types are selling for these days, I think these levels seem very reasonable!