Sold by Douglas Winter Numismatics: Extremely Rare 1821 Half Eagle

I love early gold. I love the designs, the history, and the dynamics of the market for United States gold issues made prior to 1834. There are many specific issues which I love, but, viewed as a type I can’t think of a group of coins that excite me more than the Large Diameter Capped Head Left half eagles made from 1813 through 1829. During the 15 year duration of this type, many of the all-time great early gold rarities were produced. These coins tend not to be rare as a result of limited issuance (with the exception of the 1815 which had just 635 struck), but rather due to comprehensive meltings beginning in 1834 when the weight of the circulating gold coinage was lowered and these coins became worth more than their face value. In many cases, well over 99% of the original mintage figures were lost to the melting pot.

This is clearly the case of the 1821 half eagle. While 34,641 were made, the number of survivors is believed to be in the area of just 14-16 coins, including two Proofs. The 1821 is less rare than the 1815, 1822, 1825/4, and the 1828/7 (all of which are major, major rarities) but it is among the rarest “collectible” issues in the series. I feel that the variety which corresponds most closely to the 1821 is the 1819 5D/50, and this latter issue seems to be just a bit more available in Uncirculated.

Around a year ago, I was outbid on an amazing PCGS MS63+ 1821 half eagle. I was pretty bummed at the time as this was a coin which I truly wanted to own. But the final price realized was just too much and I walked away from the coin.

  1821 $5.00 PCGS MS63+

1821 $5.00 PCGS MS63+

A strange set of circumstances occurred and, as fate would have it, the same 1821 was available once again as a featured coin in Heritage’s 2015 FUN sale. The collector who I bid on the coin for a year ago was still interested and we figured that it would be less expensive this time around due to a softening of the market at the upper end and the unfortunate death of another collector who I knew had been one of three people who bid on the coin the last time it appeared.

When this 1821 last sold (see below for a full pedigree) it brought a record $540,550. I was able to purchase it this time for $352,500 and, needless to say, the new owner was thrilled to own this exceptional coin at a more realistic level.

There are exactly four Uncirculated 1821 half eagles known in addition to the two Proofs mentioned above (both are currently impounded; one in the Smithsonian, and the other in the Bass Foundation collection on display at the ANA Money Museum). They are as follows:

  1. PCGS MS66 (!), ex Kosoff, Browning, Naftzger, sold by Paramount in their 1981 Fixed Price List. Likely in the Pogue collection.
  2. PCGS MS63+, probably ex Atwater, Amon Carter Sr., Amon Carter Jr., Stack’s 1/84: 659 ($24,300), Del Valle collection, Goldberg 1/14: 1777 ($540,550), European collector via Joe O’ Connor, Heritage 1/15: 4292 ($352,500), private collection via Doug Winter.
  3. Raw MS63 or so, Bass Foundation, ex Harry Bass collection.
  4. NGC MS62, ex Seavey, Parmalee, HP Smith, Eliasberg, Bowers 10/82: 377 ($28,600), Superior 5/06: 1104 ($155,250).

One of the things about this series which I find ironic is that even though so many of the half eagles from the late 1810’s and 1820’s are mega-rare, when they come nice they are really nice. The production quality of this series tends to be extremely high, and original unadulterated coins can show some of the best eye appeal of any pre-1838 gold coins.

As does this 1821, which I mentioned is graded MS63+ by PCGS. If you look at the photo above, you will notice that this coin has wonderful frosty mint luster and exceptional rich yellow-gold and orange color which is absolutely “right” for the issue. There are a few lightly scattered marks in the fields which were likely caused by contact with other coins when this piece was shipped loose in a bag from the Mint to a bank. On a 1 to 10 eye appeal scale, I give this coin a solid “9.” (Did I mention I really like this 1821 half eagle?)

The collector who purchased this coin from me realized that this was the 1821 half eagle which made the most sense for his set. The PCGS MS66 coin, assuming that it is owned by the Pogue family, will be available in a few years but it is likely to bring close to—if not more than—seven figures. The Bass Foundation coin could be available at some time but its current status is “off the market.”  We both agreed that the Eliasberg coin was nice but perhaps a little aggressively graded…which left the Atwater/Carter coin. Luckily for us, the circumstances worked just right the second time around.

Do you collect early gold or are you interested in classic early American rarities? Douglas Winter Numismatics handles numerous important early gold coins every year and we would be happy to work with you. For more information, contact Doug via email at dwn@ont.com and visit his website raregoldcoins.com.