Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice

    Description

    1821 Capped Head Left Half Eagle, MS63+
    Classic Early Gold Rarity
    Second-Finest Business-Strike BD-1 Example

    1821 $5 BD-1, High R.6, MS63+ PCGS Secure. Bass-Dannreuther Die State a/a. According to Mint records, 34,641 Capped Head Left half eagles were struck in 1821. This date begins a decade-long run of rare issues in the half eagle series and the 1821 has been somewhat overshadowed by its more famous, and even rarer, 1822-dated counterpart. The 1821 is a classic rarity in its own right, however, with a surviving population of approximately 15 specimens in all grades, split between two different die varieties. The 1821 is also known in both proof and business-strike formats, but the two known proofs are both in institutional collections and not available to collectors. Heritage Auctions is privileged to present the second-finest known business-strike example of this rare early gold issue in this important offering.

    The reason for the extreme rarity of all U.S. gold coins of this era lies in the shifting value of gold versus silver in the international marketplace in the early 19th century. When the United States first set up its monetary system in the 1790s, an ounce of gold was worth about 15 times as much as an ounce of silver on the open market. In the following decades, huge quantities of silver entered the market, primarily from Spanish American mines, but the supply of gold remained relatively constant. The principle of supply and demand caused the price of gold to rise compared to silver during these years, but the U.S. coinage system did not adjust. By 1820, the ratio was more like 18 to 1 in favor of gold, and bullion brokers were happy to purchase the old-tenor gold coins at a premium, melt them down, and exchange the bullion for the equivalent amount of silver at the new rate. Foreign governments were eager to acquire the overweight U.S. gold coins and convert them to their own lighter-standard coinage, as well. Walter Breen noted a reference in the National Archives to an assay in Paris in 1831 where 40,000 half eagles of "recent mintage" were destroyed in this manner. That figure represents more than the total production for 1821, and similar events no doubt occurred with some regularity in the 1820s and '30s. The great majority of U.S. gold coinage of this era met a similar fate, until congress finally changed the specifications for gold coinage in 1834.

    In the case of the 1821 half eagle, there may be another factor that explains the extremely low survival rate of the issue. John Dannreuther believes that the reported mintage of 1821 half eagles may have included many coins that were dated 1820. The fact that 1820-dated half eagles appear with much greater frequency than those dated 1821 or 1822, and that there are nine die varieties known for the date makes this theory plausible. In those early days the Mint often continued using dies from previous years that were still serviceable long after they were technically out of date, as a work-saving and cost-cutting measure.

    The present coin represents the more "available" BD-1 variety, if such a term is really applicable to an issue for which we can trace only 12 survivors (see roster below). The BD-1 is easily recognized by the position of star 13, which is lower than the corresponding star on its BD-2 counterpart, and actually has one point touching Liberty's hair. This was the only use of the obverse die, but the hardy reverse was employed to strike a total of six different die varieties between 1820 and 1824.

    The 1821 half eagle has always been a popular issue with collectors, and examples began appearing at auction as early as the A.C. Kline Sale (Moses Thomas & Sons, 6/1855), lot 189, which was described as a proof example. Of particular interest is the description of the coin in lot 1639 of the William Cutler Atwater Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1946):

    "1821 Beautiful uncirculated specimen with frosty mint surface, with considerable brilliancy. A tiny short hair-line scratch on right obverse, hardly noticeable, but is mentioned here only for the sake of accuracy and due to the great rarity of the coin. Excessively rare. One of the rarest of all Half-Eagles."



    The coin realized $725, a strong price at the time. Mehl's description of the Atwater coin could well be applied to the coin offered here, the Amon G. Carter specimen, as it is certainly a "Beautiful uncirculated specimen" with "considerable brilliancy" and an inconspicuous hairline scratch in the right obverse field. We hesitate to declare the Atwater coin is definitely the same coin we are offering in this lot, but the description is certainly similar to this piece, and Amon Carter, Sr. was buying heavily at the Atwater sale. We leave the bidder to reach his own conclusion. The record price realized at auction for an 1821 half eagle was set by this identical coin when it appeared in lot 1777 of the Del Valle Collection (Ira and Larry Goldberg, 1/2014), where it brought $540,500.

    The present coin is a high-end Select example that ranks high in the Condition Census for the variety. Only one business-strike specimen of this date has been certified finer at either of the leading grading services (12/14), and that coin has been off the market for 33 years. The design elements are sharply detailed throughout and the warm olive-gold surfaces show just a few minor contact marks. Both sides radiate vibrant mint luster and eye appeal is tremendous for an early gold issue. This coin was a highlight of the famous Amon Carter Collection for many years and it possesses an irresistible combination of high technical grade, intense historic interest, and outstanding visual appeal. Heritage has only offered a specimen of the 1821 half eagle three times before this memorable lot, and the finest of those examples only graded AU58. The discerning collector should bid accordingly.

    Roster of 1821 Half Eagles. The grades are per the last auction appearance, unless a later certification is reported. Some coins have undoubtedly been resubmitted since their last public offering.
    1. PR65 Cameo. BD-1. An example in the National Numismatic Collection, Smithsonian Institution, formerly in the Mint Cabinet. Grade by Garrett and Guth.
    2. PR63 to 64. BD-1. John Colvin Randall Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 6/1885), lot 927, per Walter Breen; William H. Woodin, displayed at the 1914 ANS Exhibition (plate 15); Waldo Newcomer, plate matched to Newcomer plates, first example; Colonel E.H.R. Green; B.G. Johnson; King Farouk; Palace Collections of Egypt (Sotheby's, 2/1954), lot 237; Norweb Collection (Bowers and Merena, 10/1987), lot 773; Harry W. Bass, Jr.; Harry W. Bass, Jr. Foundation. Grade per the Norweb catalog.
    3. MS66 PCGS. BD-1. Abe Kosoff; Texas collector; Roy E. Naftzger Fixed Price List (Paramount, 1981).
    4. MS63+ PCGS. BD-1. Amon Carter, Sr.; Amon Carter, Jr.; Amon Carter Family Collection (Stack's, 1/1984), lot 659; Pre-Long Beach Sale (Goldberg, 1/2014), lot 1777, realized $540,500. The present coin.
    5. Uncirculated. BD-1. Wolfson Collection (Stack's, 10/1962), lot 365; Nate Shapero Collection (Stack's, 10/1971), lot 975; Harry W. Bass, Jr.; Harry W. Bass, Jr. Foundation. Grade per the Wolfson catalog.
    6. MS62 NGC. BD-1. George Seavey, exhibited before the Boston Numismatic Society on February 14, 1869; Seavey Descriptive Catalog (William Strobridge, 6/1873), lot 437; Lorin G. Parmelee, who purchased Seavey's collection intact before the date of the sale; Parmelee Collection (New York Coin & Stamp, 6/1890), lot 930; Harlan Page Smith Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 5/1906), lot 209; John H. Clapp; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. in 1942, via Stack's; Eliasberg estate; United States Gold Coin Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 377; James Newton Howard; Pre-Long Beach Auction (Superior, 5/2006), lot 1104.
    7. AU58 PCGS. BD-1. F.C.C. Boyd; World's Greatest Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 1/1946), lot 370; Memorable Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 3/1948), lot 320; Adolphe Menjou Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 6/1950), lot 1466; Farish Baldenhofer Collection (Stack's, 11/1955), lot 1238; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2012), lot 4673, realized $161,000.
    8. AU55. BD-1. Colonel E.H.R. Green; C.T. Weihman; Josiah K. Lilly; National Numismatic Collection, Smithsonian Institution. Grade by Garrett and Guth.
    9. AU55 NGC. BD-1. A. Dohrmann Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 3/1882), lot 514; T. Harrison Garrett; Garrett Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 11/1979), lot 464; October Sale (Superior, 10/1990), lot 2094; Pre-Long Beach Sale (Superior, 5/2003), lot 3697; Frog Run Farm Collection (American Numismatic Rarities, 11/2004), lot 1797; Baltimore Auction (Bowers and Merena, 3/2009), lot 3707; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2014), lot 5427.
    10. AU55 NGC. BD-1. Belden Roach Collection (B. Max Mehl, 2/1944), lot 545; Jerome Kern Collection (B. Max Mehl, 5/1950), lot 355; ANA Convention Sale (Stack's, 8/1976), lot 2938; March Sale (Stack's, 3/1983), lot 1294; purchased privately from Stack's by the owner of the Rajj Collection, 4/1983; Rajj Collection (Stack's Bowers, 8/2011), lot 7671.
    11. AU53 PCGS. BD-1. Dr. Clifford Smith Collection (Stack's, 5/1955), lot 1684; Public Auction Sale (Lester Merkin, 9/1967), lot 423; Auction '81 (Paramount, 7/1981), lot 1428; Baltimore Auction (Bowers and Merena, 11/2009), lot 3684.
    12. AU. BD-1. Golden Sale (Kreisberg-Schulman, 3/1962), lot 2483; S.S. Forrest, Jr. Collection (Stack's, 9/1972), lot 209; Robison Collection (Stack's, 2/1979), lot 357. Grade per the Forrest catalog.
    13. MS61 NGC. BD-2. James Lawson before 1880; Lawson's collection was stored in a bank vault after his death until it was consigned to Abe Kosoff by Mrs. Mabel R. Sandford, presumably one of his heirs; ANA Convention Sale (Numismatic Gallery, 8/1947), lot 429; Thomas Melish Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 4/1956), lot 1947; J.F. Bell II (RARCOA, 4/1963), lot 599; 10th Anniversary Auction (Kreisberg-Schulman, 4/1967), lot 771; Davies/Niewoehner Collections (Paramount, 6/1975), lot 555; Arnold and Romisa Collections (Bowers and Merena, 9/1984), lot 127; Auction '85 (RARCOA, 7/1985), lot 435; Charles Kramer Collection (Stack's/Superior, 12/1988), lot 323; Auction '89 (Superior, 7/1989), lot 888; Michael Keston Collection (Superior, 1/1996), lot 112; Pre-Long Beach Sale (Superior, 5/2001), lot 4043. Akers plate coin.
    14. AU55 NGC. BD-2. George H. Earle Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1912), lot 2391; Waldo Newcomer, pictured on the Newcomer plates, second example; Col. E.H.R. Green; Flanagan Collection (Stack's, 3/1944), lot 1097; J.F. Bell Collection (Stack's, 12/1944), lot 343; H.R. Lee Sale (Stack's 10/1947), lot 1240; Eliasberg-Evans Collections (New Netherlands, 6/1957), lot 378; unknown intermediaries; Baltimore ANA (Heritage, 7/2008), lot 1954; Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2014), lot 5727. Note: The plates in the Flanagan, Bell, and H.R. Lee sales are all stock photos that depict the proof BD-1 example from the Newcomer/Col. Green collections in number 2 above.

    Other Appearances. Note: Many of the earlier appearances were not attributed by die variety or pictured in the catalogs.
    A. A.C. Kline Sale (Moses Thomas & Sons, 6/1855), lot 189, called a proof in the description.
    B. Sixth Semi-Annual Sale (Woodward, 3/1865), lot 2773, realized $33 to John F. McCoy; sold privately to Heman Ely for $40; Heman Ely Collection (Woodward, 1/1884), lot 834.
    C. Mendes I. Cohen Collection (Edward Cogan, 10/1875), lot 142, realized $200 to Phineas Adams; William J. Jenks; Sixty-Ninth Sale (John W. Haseltine, 6/1883), lot 356.
    D. Randall Collection, Part II (Woodward, 9/1885), lot 1029, called proof, possibly a reappearance of the coin in the first Randall sale (see number 4 above). Although Walter Breen indicated that Woodin bought the coin in lot 927 of the June 1885 Randall sale, Woodin himself wrote in the May 1911 issue of The Numismatist that he purchased his first gold coins from Randall around 1888. It is possible that Randall bought the coin in at the first sale, where it sold for only $17, offered it again in the second sale, bought it in again, and finally sold it to Woodin in 1888.
    E. BD-1. Mathew Stickney Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1907), lot 664.
    F. BD-1. James Ten Eyck Collection (B. Max Mehl, 5/1922), lot 187.
    G. Sale Number 399 (J.C. Morgenthau, 5/1939), lot 142.
    H. BD-1. William Forrester Dunham Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1941), lot 2094.
    I. BD-1. William Cutler Atwater Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1946), lot 1639, possibly the Amon Carter coin in number 4 above.
    J. Texas Sale (Kagin/Hollinbeck, 12/1951), lot 1822.
    K. Farish Baldenhofer Collection (Stack's, 11/1955), lot 1239.
    L. BD-1. FUN Sale (Federal Brand, 1/1963), lot 4182.
    M. A specimen purchased by Virgil Brand in 1906 from a dealer named Pelletier for $250.
    N. BD-1. Rare Coin Auction (Superior, 12/1972), lot 1941.
    O. Collector's Portfolio (Kreisberg, 10/1978), catalog not available for comparison.
    P. According to the inventory of his collection, Colonel Green owned at least one more coin, in addition to the three examples attributed to him above.

    Coin Index Numbers: (Variety PCGS# 519929, Base PCGS# 8129)

    Weight: 8.75 grams

    Metal: 91.67% Gold, 8.33% Copper


    View Certification Details from PCGS

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2015
    7th-12th Wednesday-Monday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 22
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,084

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    17.5% of the successful bid (minimum $14) per lot.

    Sold on Jan 7, 2015 for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)
    Track Item

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    VIEW BENEFITS
    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
      winnings 
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Only 14 days left to consign to the 2021 September 29 - October 3 Long Beach Expo US Coins Signature Auction - Long Beach!

    Learn about consigning with us

    Had we endeavored to sell it without your support, it would have taken us at least 10 lifetimes, i.e. it would have been impossible.
    Melinda L.,
    Greenville, SC
    View More Testimonials

    HA.com receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source: Similarweb.com)

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search