The 1810 Half Eagles

In a recent blog about undervalued early gold issues, I mentioned that the half eagles of 1810 were confusing enough (even to a specialist such as me) that this tends to suppress values for some of the rare issues that are known from this year. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the various 1810 half eagles. There are no less than four varieties known for the 1810 half eagles and each is distinctive. Two are reasonably available, one is very rare and the fourth is an extreme rarity.

1. 1810 Small Date, Tall 5. BD-1, Breen-6462, Miller-114. This is the second most available variety of the year. Dannreuther estimates that there are 150-225 known from an original mintage of approximately 20,000-30,000 coins. I think his number extent may be just a bit on the low side. This variety is reasonably easy to locate in all circulated grades although choice AU’s with original color and surfaces have become quite scarce. In Uncirculated, the 1810 Small Date, Tall 5 is quite scarce with an estimated five to six dozen accounted for. The finest known is a coin graded MS65 by PCGS that I have not personally seen. There are four to six known that grade MS64.

The Small Date variety can quickly be identified by its having the flag of the 1 in the date being at a steep angle that points downwards. The overall date size is also noticeably smaller than the Large Date. On the reverse, the 5 is placed low in the field and it appears to rest on the denticles. The three denticles below the 5 appear to be shortened and this exact reverse is found on the 1811 BD-1 half eagle.

2. 1810 Small Date, Small 5. BD-2, Breen-6461, Miller-111. This is the second rarest variety of the year. Dannreuther believes that 25-30 are known from the original mintage of approximately 2,000-4,000. Based on the total number that have appeared at auction during the last decade as well as the total number graded by PCGS and NGC (a combined eight coins with definite duplication) I would have to think there are fewer than this. The 1810 Small Date, Small 5 is very rare and much underappreciated. It is generally seen in lower grades and I am aware of a handful that are either damaged or have problems severe enough that they cannot be graded by PCGS or NGC. The probable finest known is an NGC MS62 that is ex: Stack’s 6/08: 2077 where it brought $138,000. PCGS also shows an MS62 having been graded; this may well be the same coin.

The obverse of this variety has previously been described as being the same as on BD-1 but it is slightly different. On this, the 1 is centered over the space between two denticles; on BD-1, the 1 is centered just about over a denticle. On the reverse, the 5 is distinctly smaller than on the Tall 5 variety and it is far from the denticles. The exact same reverse is found on the 1810 Large Date, Small 5 (BD-3)

3. 1810 Large Date, Small 5. BD-3, Breen-6460, Miller-110. This is by far the rarest of the four varieties and it is among the rarest early United States gold coins. Dannreuther estimates that just four to six are known from the original mintage of approximately 500-1,000. I agree with his numbers. On this variety, the configuration of the 1 in the date is different than on the Small Date. The Large Date has the flag of the 1 almost at a horizontal point. The date is also considerably larger with the 181 appearing to be equally spaced but the 10 looking closer. The reverse is the same as on BD-2 and is described above.

Recent population data for the 1810 Large Date, Small 5 confirms this coin’s extreme rarity. NGC has not graded a single example while PCGS claims to have graded two (both MS63) but I, for one, am highly skeptical that there are two known in Uncirculated.

If the Capped Bust Left half eagle series were better known and more widely collected, this coin would almost certainly have acquired semi-legendary status at this point. As it is, the 1810 Large Date, Small 5 is a coin that specialists regard as one of the most important rarities of this era.

4. 1810 Large Date, Large 5. BD-4, Breen-6459, Miller-109. This variety is the most common of the four 1810 half eagles. Dannreuther estimates that 500-750 are known from the original mintage of approximately 75,000-90,000. It appears to be at least three to four times more available than the 1810 Small Date, Tall 5.

This variety has the same obverse as the very rare Large Date, Small 5. It has a different reverse and the designation of this reverse has been the cause of a great deal of confusion over the years. The 5 in the date is actually less tall than on the Tall 5 (BD-1) but it certainly can’t be called a “Small” 5 given its size. Harry Bass referred to it as a “Fat” or “Squat” 5 and this is far more accurate.

There are a few really superb examples known. PCGS has graded an example in MS66 as well as an MS65 while NGC shows two in MS66 and five in MS65. I believe that there are as many as 250-350 known in Uncirculated with most in the MS60 to MS62 range.

To the best of my knowledge, the only collectors to have ever assembled a complete set of 1810 half eagles are George Gozan and Harry Bass. Remarkably, Bass had two examples of the ultra-rare 1810 Small Date, Small 5.