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Extraordinary 1839 Liberty Half Eagle, PR61
1839 $5 PR61 PCGS. "Semi-Unique" is an oxymoron that B. Max
Mehl and other 19th and 20th century coin dealers enjoyed using,
and the 1839 proof half eagle fits the definition perfectly, with
only two pieces known to exist. Both known specimens are certified
PR61 PCGS, while the PCGS Population Report shows three
examples, each similarly graded, and the NGC Census shows a single
PR61 specimen. This coin was once certified PR61 PCGS, recertified
PR61 NGC when it was offered in our 2010 FUN Signature, and now it
is again certified PR61 PCGS. The other example has apparently only
been submitted one time. Both known proofs are enumerated in our
Just Two Proofs Known
The King Farouk Coin
--PR61 PCGS. William H. Woodin; Waldo Newcomer; Col. E.H.R. Green; Burdette G. Johnson; King Farouk (Sotheby's, 2/1954), lot 249; Thomas Melish Sale (A. Kosoff, 4/1956), lot 1983; Paul and Art Kagin; Hollinbeck Coin Company (11/1959); later, FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2010), lot 2192. The present specimen.
--PR61 PCGS. Purchased in Europe circa 1982 by Marc Emory for New England Rare Coin Galleries as part of a three-piece 1839 gold proof set. The set was apparently in a European collection, part of which was being disbursed. Later offered provisionally in Bowers and Merena (5/1993), lots 2537-2539, but sold as a set in lot 2540.
Few 1839 proof gold coins are known to exist today, and each of the three denominations represents a distinctly different design. We are aware of four 1839 proof quarter eagles representing the Classic Head design, two 1839 proof half eagles representing the modified Liberty design, and three 1839 proof eagles representing the first Liberty design introduced in 1838.
Breen reported in his proof reference that Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson sent two 1839 proof half eagles to Levi Woodbury, the secretary of the Treasury, on March 22, 1839, illustrating the improved Liberty design, although he provides no documentation for his statement. If true, and with just two known today, it is likely that they are the same two coins. The modified or second Liberty Head is distinctly different from the original 1838 design that appeared on the eagles.
This piece and the 1839 proof half eagle from the European collection are from the same dies. The obverse has several areas of minor die rust, including one on the bust above the 8, and another on the neck behind the hair curl. Several other areas of die rust appear on Liberty's head and in the field around the date and most of the stars. Some past collectors and dealers have called this variety an 1839/8 overdate. High magnification observation reveals a short diagonal line that connects the ball of the 9 to its upper loop, and that feature appears to be characteristic of the original die, rather than a result of die rust. The reverse also has noticeable die rust, but no other indications of die deterioration. The overdate status is unlikely.
This proof half eagle, like the other known 1839 proof half eagle, is lower in the numerical scale due to cleaning. Hairlines are clearly visible on both sides, mostly in the fields. The obverse and reverse have fully mirrored fields that mark this coin as an unquestioned proof. The devices are fully lustrous with satiny mint frost. Both sides exhibit attractive greenish-gold color, and the devices are boldly detailed. All aspects of this coin other than the minor hairlines suggest that it is a first-rate specimen.(Registry values: P3) (NGC ID# 28BH, PCGS# 8428)
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