The Very Rare 1821 Half Eagle

The Very Rare 1821 Half Eagle I recently purchased an 1821 half eagle graded AU53 by PCGS and I’d like to share some information about a coin that ranks as one of the rarer numismatic items that I have handled in some time. This piece was Lot 3684 in the recent Bowers and Merena November 2009 Baltimore auction where it realized $112,125 including the buyer’s charge. It is now owned by an East Coast specialist who is assembling a set of early gold by date.

The mintage for the 1821 half eagle is recorded as 34,461 but it seems likely that at least some of the coins struck during this year were actually dated 1820. Today, there are probably no more than 15 1821 half eagles known. Two die varieties exist with two different obverses sharing a common reverse (which is also seen on certain varieties of 1820 half eagle). The more common of the two (BD-1) has the final star on the obverse close to the back curl. The rarer (BD-2) has this star distant from the curl and placed higher up in relation to the back curl.

Why is the 1821 half eagle such a rare coin? The answer, as with virtually all half eagles of this type, lies in the fact that nearly the entire mintage was melted by 1834 after the weight of gold coins were reduced. The old tenor half eagles were suddenly worth more than their face value and this led to wholesale meltings. In the case of some dates (like the 1822) virtually the entire mintage was wiped-out. In the case of the 1821, nearly all of the coins were melted as well but a few of the survivors appear to have been set aside intentionally.

PCGS has graded a total of eight 1821 half eagles. This includes three in Uncirculated: MS62, MS63 and an amazing MS66. NGC has graded seven with three in Uncirculated as well: an MS61, an MS63 and an MS66. The PCGS and NGC populations are virtual mirror images of one another and we can assume that there are a number of duplications. Obviously, the MS66 is the same coin and I believe that the MS63 is the same as well.

There are two superb business strike 1821 half eagles known. One is in the Bass core collection at the American Numismatic Association’s museum and it is estimated to grade MS65 or better. It was obtained from Stack’s in October 1971. The other is the Amon Carter: 659 coin that last sold at auction in January 1984 for $24,200. I believe that it is the one graded MS66 by both services.

Remarkably, there are two Proofs known as well. One is in the Bass core collection and it has an impressive pedigree: Norweb I: 773, ex Farouk, Green, Newcomer, Woodin and Randall. It is estimated to grade PR63 and it brought an impressive $198,000 in 1987. The other is in the Smithsonian collection and it is part of a complete 1821 proof set that has been part of the Mint’s collection since it was placed in the Smithsonian in 1838.

The 1821 half eagle that is illustrated above, as I mentioned earlier, has been graded AU53 by PCGS. It is conservatively graded in my opinion and I regard it as at least an AU55 with some claims to an AU58. It is from the Globus collection and it was obtained by this collector via private treaty (probably from Stack’s) at least three to four decades ago. I have not had the opportunity to perform pedigree research on this 1821 half eagle but I am assuming it can be traced to an auction sale from the 1960’s or 1970’s.

The coin has wonderful coloration with rich orange-gold and medium greenish hues that are accentuated by deep coppery hues at the border. There are a few light marks visible including a small semi-circular scrape to the left of Liberty’s eye.

The all-time auction record for a business strike 1821 half eagle remains $155,250 which was what an NGC MS62 brought the Superior 5/06 sale.

It is always a pleasure for me to handle great numismatic rarities such as this 1821 half eagle in PCGS AU53.