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1908-S Indian Half Eagle, Magnificent MS68
Tied for Finest Known
Ex: O'Neal

1908-S $5 MS68 PCGS. Ex: O'Neal. When all three gold denominations of the 1908-S are examined as a group three distinctive traits emerge that are common to all. The five, ten, and twenty dollar coins each have one of the lowest mintages in their respective series, each is among the most attractive and best-produced issues in the series, and each is occasionally available in higher grades. The 1908-S five dollar had a mintage of 82,000 pieces, the lowest of all S-mint five dollar Indians and third lowest in the series, trailing only the 1909-O and the 1911-D. The ten dollar had only 59,850 pieces produced, fourth lowest in that series among regular issues. And the twenty dollar had an impressively low output of only 22,000 coins, the lowest production run among the regular issues in that series. In each case, small hoards set aside at the time of issue account for the availability in high grades of these three denominations. The attractiveness of the 1908-S in all three denominations is primarily from the exceptional mint frost, a trait common to many San Francisco-produced coins. On the gold denominations struck in 1908, attractive color is another plus that adds even more to the superior eye appeal of these coins.
The common trait among each of these three gold coins is the newness and novelty of each design. The quarter eagle and half eagle marked a distinctive break from the Gobrecht-inspired Coronet design that began in the late, and the Longacre design for the double eagle had been in production since 1850. Each of the three new gold designs was a radical departure from its predecessors. Perhaps the most radical and innovative were the quarter eagles and half eagles, designed by Bela Lyon Pratt. These coins featured a naturalistic portrait of a Native American, rather than the 19th century stylized portrait, and the coins were struck in sunken relief. This unfamiliar naturalism and the novel sunken relief were reason enough for both collectors and the general public to set aside these special coins, especially in 1908, the first year of issue.
This piece is tied for finest known with a single MS68 coin certified by NGC (6/12). We do not know for certainty this coin's pedigree prior to its appearance in our 2005 ANA Auction. However, Walter Breen mentioned that Virgil Brand once had a small group of Mint State examples (Brand had small groups of just about everything). Perhaps this amazing example traces its history back to that group, which David Akers said "contained a number of gems as well as several superb pieces." In A Handbook of 20th-Century United States Gold Coins, Akers also noted that a few exceptional or nearly perfect examples exist today.
In general terms, 1908-S half eagles were quite sharply struck, with strong mintmarks. This is especially significant, for the present example has an S mintmark with exactly the same characteristics as found on the popular 1909-S VDB cent. The most visible characteristic is a small lump inside the upper left curve of the letter. Mintmark punches were used over several years, as long as they were still serviceable.
This incredible specimen is fully struck and highly lustrous, with frosted reddish-gold surfaces that show an occasional trace of lilac. According to Akers: "Most specimens have very good to excellent luster and the color is typically reddish gold or coppery." The only pedigree markers we see that might possibly show up in older photographs of this coin is a shallow, square-shaped planchet flake in the field below UN in UNITED and a second longer, shallow mark at 8 o'clock near the reverse border.
Previously in the collection of David Akers, per Legend Numismatics; 2005 ANA Auction (Heritage, 7/2005), lot 10366; The Jim O'Neal Collection of $5 Indians (Heritage, 1/2011), lot 5135.(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 65K3, PCGS# 8512)

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Auction Dates
August, 2012
2nd-5th Thursday-Sunday
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 11
Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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