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.

The Half Eagles of 1818

There are just a handful of Capped Bust Large Diameter half eagles produced from 1813 through 1829 that are not very rare. This type includes some of the rarest United States gold issues ever produced so the type collector is left with essentially four dates that are sometimes available: 1813, 1814/3, 1818 and 1820. In my opinion, the 1818 is one of the most interesting of these four issues and it is certainly one of the most misunderstood.

The original mintage for this year is believed to have been 48,588. As with all of the half eagles produced during this decade, a significant percentage of these coins were melted between the year they were produced and the mid-1830’s. This is, of course, due to the fact that the half eagle denomination had its weight reduced in 1834, making the “old style” pieces worth more than face value. For most dates, well over 95% were melted and in the case of the 1818 there are probably no more than 200-250 examples known.

Given the fact that this issue saw little circulation domestically, the majority of the surviving 1818 half eagles tend to be in Uncirculated grades. The small number of circulated examples that do exist are often in the AU53 to AU58 range and these may not have much in the way of wear but tend to show light cabinet friction or signs of numismatic mishandling.

There are three distinct varieties of 1818 half eagle known. All are recognized by PCGS and NGC and each is considered to be an integral part of a date set of Capped Bust half eagles. Let’s take a quick look at each of the three varieties.

1. Normal Dies (Bass Dannreuther-1). The obverse of this variety has a unique feature that is not seen on any other 1818 half eagle. Each star shows a “notch” which is believed to be a signature used by John Reich to indicate that this die was his work. But the obverse is not the side of this coin that specialists use to determine its BD number. This is the only one of the three varieties of half eagle for this year that has a “normal” reverse. The words STATES OF are properly spaced and there is no recutting on the value.

Bass and Dannreuther estimate that between 10,000 and 15,000 examples of this variety were struck and that 50-65 exist. I tend to agree with these estimates. This variety is generally seen in the AU55 to MS61 range and is often characterized by softness of strike at the centers. The coloration is typically a distinctive orange-gold and most have been lightened or processed. The finest I am aware of is Goldberg 2/01: 4009 ($51,750), ex: Superior 2/99: 3184 ($52,900) which has been graded MS65 by PCGS.

The 1818 Normal Dies is the second scarcest of the three varieties known for this year and I think it is an underappreciated issue.

2. STATESOF variety (BD-2). This variety has a different obverse than the Normal Dies but it is immediately recognizable by having virtually no spacing between the words STATES and OF.

Bass and Dannreuther estimate that between 25,000 and 35,000 examples of this variety were produced and that 100 to 125 survive. I think this estimate may be a touch on the low side but the actual number known is almost certainly less than 150.

This variety is the least scarce of the three 1818 half eagles and it is typically seen in Uncirculated grades. I can’t recall having seen more than a handful that graded lower than AU55 and this suggests that the 1818 STATESOF saw little use in circulation. Most examples are better struck than the other varieties for this year and original, untampered with pieces may show excellent frosty luster that is complimented by light to medium lemon-gold hues.

The finest known 1818 STATESOF half eagle is a remarkable PCGS MS66 that was once part of the Norman Stack type set. It is one of the finest half eagles of this type that I have ever seen or am aware of. The current auction record for this variety is held by Heritage 5/07: 2289 that brought $109,250. It is graded MS64 by PCGS.

3. 5D/50 variety (BD-3). The obverse of this third and final variety is different than that seen on BD-1 or BD-2. But it is the blunder on the reverse that gives this variety its notoriety. The D in the denomination was originally cut over a zero; not because the engraver thought this was a half dollar. This reverse was reused in 1819 with the Wide Date obverse.

Bass and Dannreuther believe that between 7,500 and 10,000 were struck and that there are 35-45 survivors. Given the rarity of this issue, these figures seem accurate. This is a rare coin in all grades and most are in the lower Uncirculated grades. There are a few Gems known including a PCGS MS66 and a PCGS MS65 that was last sold as Goldberg 5/01: 1351, where it realized $71,875.

I’ve had the good fortune to handle all three varieties in the past few months and was able to quickly sell each. These 1818 half eagles are some of the more interesting early half eagles and it would be a fun but not overly-ambitious challenge to acquire all three in reasonably comparable grades.