As a specialist in rare United States gold coins, there are few series that I find more interested than the Capped Head half eagles produced from 1813 through 1834. I recently purchased (and quickly sold) a PCGS graded AU53 1823 half eagle. This date, by the standards of the type, is no big deal. But the more I researched the 1823, the more I realized that it is an underrated and enigmatic issue.
The so-called Fat Head series is typically divided into segments: dates that are obtainable (1813, 1814, 1818 and 1820) and those that range from virtually unobtainable to impossible. What's interesting about the 1823 is that it is really the only issue of this type that is clearly rare but which is not an extreme rarity. Let's take a more in-depth peek at this issue.
The 1823 has the lowest recorded mintage of any half eagle made between 1821 and 1834 with only 14,485 having been struck. There are an estimated 70-90 known and nearly all of these are in the AU58 to MS62 range. As with nearly all half eagles from the 1820's, the 1823 saw very little in the way of actual circulation and virtually all of the mintage was melted in 1834 when the weight of gold coins was lowered.
It should be pointed out that mintage figures of half eagles from the 1820's are probably highly inaccurate. I feel that many of the coins struck in 1820 were actually dated 1821, 1822 and 1823. At some point, it may be possible to breakdown these mintages more accurately but it is not currently possible.
There are a few very choice 1823 half eagles known. The finest that I am aware of is the one in the Bass core collection which is ex Norweb I: 774. It sold to Harry Bass for $52,800 all the way back in 1987 which is still an uaction record for this date (!) I grade the coin MS64+ to MS65 and it has superb original luster and color. The second best that I have seen is James Stack: 1069 that sold in October 1994 for $35,200. I grade this coin MS64 or better by today's standards.
NGC has graded one example of this date in MS65 (the Stack coin?) as well as one in MS64. PCGS has never graded an MS65 but does show five in MS64. My hunch is that this number is slightly inflated by resubmissions.
As with all half eagles from the 1820's, the 1823 is a well-produced issue. It is typically fairly sharply struck although I have seen examples that are weak on the curls above Liberty's eyes and a few of the stars lacked their radial lines. High grade 1823's show splendid rich, frosty luster and original uncleaned pieces have lovely rich orange-gold color.
One of the more curious facts about the 1823 half eagle is its current pricing structure. The most recent Coin Values has a value of $13,500 for this issue in AU50 (which seems about right) and a value of $14,500 in AU55. It is hard to imagine that the value of an AU55 would only be $1,000 than an AU50 but I'm assuming that part of this has to do with the fact that so few AU 1823's are known that a small jump in grade doesn't equate to a large jump in value. Right?
Every series has a date or two that fall through the cracks and in the fabulous Fat Head fives from the 1820's and 1830's it seems that the 1823 is (currently) getting the short end of the proverbial stick. This date does not sell for an especially large premium over dates like the 1813, 1814, 1818 and 1820 but it is many times scarcer. Obviously, few people collect Fat Head fives by date so prices for this series are not as carefully scrutinized as Indian Head quarter eagles. That said, it seems to me that the 1823 is a very undervalued issue and it is a coin that I look forward to owning more of in the future.