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1824 Half Eagle, BD-1, MS65
The Randall-Garrett-Benson Specimen

1824 $5 MS65 NGC. BD-1, High R.5. Sole dies for the year in Bass-Dannreuther Die State a/b, summed up as the sole use of the obverse die and a non-terminal state for the reverse (the terminal state remains unconfirmed in practice).

This is only the eighth offering of an 1824 half eagle at a Heritage auction in the last 20 years, a clear indication not only of the date's rarity but how infrequently examples trade. The Bass-Dannreuther reference suggests a surviving population of 30 to 40 survivors and lists 19 auction appearances in total from 1990 to 2005, but the authors caution: "A census is difficult, as many of the coins have appeared multiple times at auction, making the date/variety appear more available than it really is." The same reference also notes that Harry W. Bass, Jr., famous for collecting rare gold varieties by the multiple, only owned one 1824 half eagle.

The 1824 half eagle, elusive as it is, long has flown under the radar because it is surprisingly far from the rarest issue, not only in its series but within its decade. The 1822 half eagle, with one variety represented by just three survivors, receives the most numismatic press despite (or perhaps because of) the staggering infrequency with which it trades; the 2014 edition of the Guide Book, for instance, has to reach back to 1982 for an auction price. Other, more recently offered issues that are great rarities include the 1825/4, 1828/7, and 1829 Large Date.

What makes the 1820s half eagles a partial series where rarity itself is commonplace? The mintages never were high to start, with only the 1820 issue, divided among a multitude of die pairs, reaching the six figures. After the discontinuation of the ten dollar (eagle) coin, half dollars became the largest gold coins struck by the United States Mint, but Spanish gold and its descendants, legal tender until 1857, remained most prominent in commerce. Contemporary demand for new U.S. gold coins never was strong during the period.

Most devastating of all, however, was the shift in economic conditions that led to lighter coins with less gold content being authorized in 1834. Old-tenor coins were worth more as bullion than coins, formalizing an incentive to melt them down that had been present in practice long before the change in law. In a quirk of fate echoed by the experiences of late-date Saint-Gaudens double eagles around a century later, while older old-tenor coins had achieved significant distribution from the meltdown channels--less formally, they had time to "get away"--later issues were not so fortunate. Today the half eagles of 1811 are more available than even relatively common 1820s issues such as the 1823 and 1826.

This is the Garrett specimen of the 1824 half eagle, a Condition Census coin with few serious rivals. One such piece is ex: Stack's, 10/1988, called "clearly superior" to the Garrett and Eliasberg representatives by the cataloger, though this is of course up for debate. That coin may correspond to the lone finest PCGS example, which is graded, like this sole-finest NGC piece, MS65 (11/13).

The Garrett specimen's most easily identifiable attribute is a small planchet flaw just below Liberty's chin; this is a coin that amply rewards plate-matching within the pedigree listed below. It also is notable for its striking colors, yellow and orange on the obverse with even deeper intensity of the latter hue on the reverse. While a handful of old, light flaws combine to account for the grade, this lustrous piece's simple existence is a marvel. No certified MS65 examples of the 1824 half eagle have appeared at auction before and a new record is all but certain.
Ex: J. Colvin Randall (George Cogan, 3/1882); T. Harrison Garrett (lent to Princeton University); John Work Garrett; The Garrett Collection on behalf of Johns Hopkins University (Bowers and Ruddy, 11/1979, lot 466; Auction '90 (Superior, 8/1990), lot 1318; Benson II (Ira and Larry Goldberg, 2/2002), lot 1998.
From the collection of Donald E. Bently, sold for the benefit of the Bently Foundation.(Registry values: P6) (NGC ID# BFY5, PCGS# 8132)

View all of [The collection of Donald E. Bently, sold for the benefit of the Bently Foundation ]

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Auction Dates
January, 2014
8th-12th Wednesday-Sunday
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 10
Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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