The Celebrated 1815 Half Eagle, MS64, BD-1
1815 $5 MS64 NGC. Breen-6469, BD-1, R.7. During much of the
19th century, the 1815 half eagle was believed to be the rarest
coin in the U.S. federal coinage series. Unlike many of the
old-tenor gold issues, the 1815 half eagle does not owe its rarity
to the massive gold melts of the 1820s and '30s. With a minuscule
mintage of just 635 pieces, the 1815 was rare from its date of
issue. One set of dies was sufficient to coin the entire mintage,
which was delivered on November 3, 1815. The depositors of gold
bullion from which the coins were produced were Thomas Parker,
Charles Kalkman, and the Bank of Pennsylvania. The design for this
issue was engraved by John Reich, and his secret signature can be
seen in a notched point on star 13.
A Classic Rarity, Ex: Garrett
Exactly when the 1815 issue came to the attention of the numismatic community is unknown, but it was squarely in the spotlight by 1865. In his Sixth Semi-Annual Sale, W. Elliot Woodward offered the discovery specimen of the 1798 Small Eagle half eagle and, seeking to impress potential bidders, he compared its rarity to the 1815. George Seavey exhibited his "complete" collection of gold coins to the Boston Numismatic Society in 1869, including a specimen of this date, and the American Journal of Numismatics declared the piece to be unique. In these early times, the issue even outshone the 1822 half eagle, of which only three are known. The first auction appearance of this issue was in the Parmelee/Seavey Sale (Strobridge, 6/1873). Parmelee had purchased the Seavey Collection intact, a tactic he often employed, and was using this sale to dispose of his duplicates. Surprisingly, Seavey had two 1815 half eagles in his collection by that time. Unfortunately, the coin was withdrawn from the auction.
By the time of the Bispham Sale (S.H. & H. Chapman, 2/1880), there were four specimens of the date known to the catalogers. The Chapmans listed the coin in the Swedish Mint Museum (discovered when Joseph Mickley visited Europe in the 1870s), the example in the Parmelee Collection (Ex: Seavey), the specimen being offered in the Bispham Sale (a Seavey duplicate), and a fourth example (from Edward Cogan's sale of the Cohen Collection). The number of known specimens gradually increased over the years, but numismatists could only confirm six or seven specimens as late as 1940. Then, the population of 1815 half eagles seemed to explode. In the 1940s and '50s, a flurry of appearances occurred, leaving the pedigree trails hopelessly tangled. Apparently new specimens came on the market at the same time the known examples were being sold and resold. No researcher has successfully established a complete census of known examples since this flood of new appearances, despite the best efforts of Walter Breen, Carl Carlson, and others. Today, experts believe approximately one dozen examples are extant.
Since the early 1990s, most pedigrees of the present specimen have begun with Joseph Mickley. However, in the opinion of the present cataloger, it is unlikely Mickley owned this coin. In his only published numismatic work Dates of United States Coins and Their Degrees of Rarity, Mickley omitted any comment on the 1815 half eagle, because he had never encountered one. Mickley collected actively for several years after he wrote this pamphlet, but if he acquired an 1815 half eagle in those years there is no record of it. Further negative evidence can be found in the correspondence between Woodward and T. Harrison Garrett in the early 1880s, when Garrett was actively seeking an example for his collection. In a letter dated January 23, 1883 Woodward wrote, "I have been looking up the subject of 1815 half eagles. I know of one abroad, and I am pretty certain there are three in this country. I knew of one in New York some twenty years ago which I have lost track of, and I am not certain if it is one of those referred to." Clearly, Woodward was referring to the four specimens listed in the Bispham Sale, none of which was a Mickley coin. Woodward sold Mickley's collection in 1867, with the gold portion going to Appleton in a private transaction. The 1815 half eagle was at the height of its fame during that period, and Woodward would surely remember if one had been involved in his sale to Appleton. His failure to mention any such coin to Garrett is telling evidence that Mickley did not have one.
A more likely pedigree for the coin begins with the Mendes I. Cohen Collection (Edward Cogan, 10/1875). According to a salesroom copy of the sale, annotated by William Poillon, the buyer of the 1815 half eagle was Heman Ely. When Woodward later sold Ely's collection, in January 1884, he noted in his lot description that the half eagle in the sale was the one he had lost track of twenty years before and it was the finest known to him. The coin failed to meet the reserve on the day of the sale, so Woodward kept it for stock. H.P. Newlin eventually purchased the coin, which he traded to Garrett in a blockbuster deal in October 1884. From this point on, the traditional pedigree is accurate.
The present coin features an extraordinary strike for such an early issue. Crisp detail is evident on the hair, star centrils and eagle's feathers. Full mint luster is present, and the undimmed gold color catches the eye enticingly. This coin is one of the finest examples of this classic rarity. Census: 2 in 64, 0 finer (11/08).
Ex: Mendes I. Cohen Collection (Edward Cogan, 10/1875), lot 138; Heman Ely; Ely Collection (Woodward, 1/1884), lot 830; W. Elliot Woodward; H.P. Newlin, private treaty; T. Harrison Garrett, private treaty; Garrett Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 11/1979), lot 460; Auction '84 (Paramount, 7/1984), lot 901.
From The Deb-Ann Collection.
See: Video Lot Description(Registry values: P8) (NGC ID# BFXU, PCGS# 8118)
View all of [The Deb-Ann Collection ]
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