1825/4 BD-2 Half Eagle, AU50
1825/4 $5 AU50 NGC. BD-2, R.8. The 1825/4 is a part of the
Capped Head half eagle type, one of the rarest series of American
coins. The obverse was designed by Robert Scot and the reverse by
John Reich. Few collectors have ever attempted a date run of these
pieces. Such a collection would be prohibitively expensive today.
In previous years they were not as costly, but they were also no
more available than they are today. The entire series had a low
mintage and high meltage. Once the silver-gold ratio reached 18 to
1, gold coins were worth more as bullion than their face value, and
mass meltings began. A document in the National Archives uncovered
by Donald Knaack show there were several large half eagle melts,
including one in Paris in 1831 of 40,000 pieces.
A Major Rarity and One of Only Two Pieces Known
Until the late 1970s, the 1825/4 BD-2 was believed to be a unique coin. The only piece known was the former Mendes Cohen piece that ended up in the Eliasberg Collection. That piece is a disputed proof striking. The story of the discovery of this piece in the Kaufman Collection is a fascinating one, and was related in an article by Jeff Starck in the August 25, 2003 issue of Coin World:
"For years, the Cohen specimen was thought the only specimen. Then, in the late 1970s, Harry X Boosel uncovered the second coin when he appraised the N.M. Kaufman Collection, long hidden in a bank vault in Marquette, Mich.
"N.M. Kaufman was president of the Marquette County Savings Bank. He sold or gave his collection to his brother, Louis G. Kaufman, around the turn of the century. Louis was president of several banks, including the bank where it was displayed. ... When Louis G. Kaufman died, the bank retained the coins because of what they claimed was a previous arrangement. While many of the coins were on display for 50 years, the overdate rarity was stored."
To extend the Kaufman story a bit further, when Harry Boosel examined the collection he found that most of the coins had been displayed in the bank conference room in an unsafe manner that makes most numismatists shudder: They were tacked to boards. On most of the Kaufman coins the tacks created rim bumps. Depending upon what source one reads, the Kaufman specimen either does or does not have evidence of these tack-created rim bumps. What is obvious is that if there is any tack-related damage to the rim, it is not evident in the NGC encasement.
There are two variants of the 1825 five dollar, both overdates. The use of a previous year's die was a common practice in the early years of the U.S. Mint. This particular series had uniformly low mintages, as mentioned above, and as a result there are several instances when "old" dies were repunched with another year's final digit. The more "common" of the two is the "1825/1," of which approximately two dozen are known. Garrett and Guth had this to say about this more frequently seen issue: "Similar in rarity to the 1824, 1826, and 1827, the 1825/1 half eagle benefits from its closeness to the supremely rare 1825/4." In addition to the presence of different numerals in the underdigits, the two overdates show varying strengths of the underdigit. On the "1825/1" it is faint. However, the 4 beneath the 1825/4 BD-2 is remarkably pronounced. One characteristic both issues have in common is a prominent center dot in the eagle's shield on the reverse.
The comparison between the 1825/4 BD-2 half eagle and better-known rarities is inevitable. Issues such as the 1804 dollar, 1913 Liberty nickel, and 1885 Trade dollar are more highly valued than the 1825/4 five. If coin values were based solely on rarity this would not be the case. However, legend, lore, and just plain hype play a significant role in the price any particular rarity realizes. As seasoned collectors know, some coins can be too rare. In other words, not enough pieces are known (in this case only two) to generate sufficient publicity for dealers and auction houses to promote a coin as a great rarity. Q. David Bowers addressed this phenomenon in his United States Gold Coins An Illustrated History, when he wrote: "B. Max Mehl never owned one (1825/4), so there was never the opportunity to create pages of ecstatic prose extolling its virtues." This piece was forgotten by the numismatic community between 1921 and 1978, and in those 50+ years it was believed that only the Ex: Cohen piece existed. Since then, this piece has traded hands several times but the price has not risen commensurately with its rarity, especially when compared to the three high-profile rarities mentioned above. This, of course, presents an outstanding opportunity for the knowledgeable numismatist.
The roster of owners of this piece is interesting in itself and each person or company that has owned it has added something to the pedigree.
N.M. Kaufman Collection. It is unknown where Kaufman purchased the coin, but apparently it was not out of the John Story Jenks Collection, as often alleged. Exhibited for several years in the Marquette County Savings Bank. Discovered in 1978 by Harry X Boosel.
RARCOA (8/1978), lot 809. The Kaufman catalog description extols the rarity of the coin with the generous use of capital letters: "The 1825/4 half eagle is a TRUE RARITY. The fact that ONLY TWO PIECES are know after over 150 years of its minting confirms this fact. There is absolutely NO CONTROVERSY surrounding its issue - it was originally minted as a regular circulation piece - and is far RARER, in the most literal sense of the word, than many of the other highly publicized examples mentioned earlier [1804 dollar, 1913 Liberty nickel, and some patterns of questionable origin]."
Kagin Coin Company. Purchased the coin out of the Kaufman Sale for $140,000. Soon afterward the company reportedly said they would have willingly paid more for the coin.
Four Landmark Collections Auction (Bowers and Merena, 3/1989), lot 617. Purchased out of this impressive sale by a dealer for $148,500, who soon sold it to collector Raymond Sansoucy.
Witham and Sansoucy Collections (Bowers and Merena, 9/1992), lot 1547. Purchased out of this Bowers sale by collector and researcher Donald Knaack for $105,600.
Julian Leidman to Heritage Rare Coin Galleries. Sold by the famous Silver Spring, Maryland dealer to Heritage on February 20, 1996.
Heritage Rare Coin Galleries to Dr. Juan Suros. Dr. Suros purchased the coin for $275,000 in February 1996. Dr. Suros formed one of the most impressive and well thought-out collections of United States coins. Every coin in his collection was an overdate. While other collectors tend to collect the most expensive coinage they can reasonably afford, Suros chose a topical theme and pursued it relentlessly until there were no other pieces to obtain.
Dr. Juan Suros Collection (Superior, 2/1999), lot 246. The key to Dr. Suros' set of overdate U.S. coinage, the piece realized $241,500.
Only one other example is known of the 1825/4 BD-2 five dollar. That coin is technically finer than this piece, and it is also deeply mirrored. At various times it has been termed a proof, a one-sided proof, and prooflike. Only 29,060 pieces were struck, including both the "1825/1" and 1825/4 issues. This (and surely the Cohen piece as well) must have been among the first coins struck from the hardly used 1825/4 dies as the reflective finish seems not to have had any chance to diminish from repeated strikings. A few light handling marks are scattered over each side, as one would expect from a coin that has seen ten points of circulation. Rich reddish patina surrounds the devices and is especially deep around the design elements on the reverse.
The list of regular issue U.S. coins with only two coins known is a short one. This offering is an opportunity to purchase a major rarity, and the price it realizes will be of great interest to gold collectors as well as all those who follow the price trends of the U.S. coin market. (Registry values: P9) (NGC ID# BFY7, PCGS# 8134)
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