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    Description

    Gem 1823 Capped Head Half Eagle, BD-1
    Early Gold Type Coin of Unimprovable Quality

    1823 $5 MS65 NGC. CAC. Breen-6481, BD-1, High R.4. The present offering of an 1823 half eagle in MS65 marks the finest example of the issue that Heritage has had the privilege of handling. The most recent appearance previously at Heritage was an MS64 PCGS example more than six years ago--a specimen in our November 2004 Palm Beach Signature that brought a respectable $47,250 (Heritage, 11/2004, lot 8353).
    In fact, the present piece is the finest certified for the issue at both services combined. PCGS has graded five MS64 pieces as the highest, with the possibility of duplicates, as always. The two finest certified at NGC are one coin each in MS64 and MS65--the present example--with none finer (11/2010).
    As devotees of the early half eagles know, midway through 1807, the newly hired Mint second engraver (and German immigrant) John Reich introduced a new design for the series, known as the Capped Bust to Left, Large Bust design, replacing the previous Capped Bust to Right design of 1795-1807. The new design featured a Liberty with expansive bustline in front of the date. Some contemporary newspapers, commenting on the new design for Liberty, derided it as emblematic of "the artist's fat mistress."
    The first type endured for only six calendar years, from 1807-1812, before a second design superseded it. The expansive bustline on Liberty was gone, with a larger head in compensation. This type is sometimes called the Capped Bust, Small Bust, Large Diameter. It endured from 1813 through 1829 and is among the rarest of all U.S. coin types. The half eagle during the early 19th century was America's largest gold coin, and the gold content frequently rose above the coins' face value, leading to wholesale melting.
    Garrett and Guth say of the 1813-29 type, which they call Capped Head to Left, Large Diameter:

    "The Capped Head to Left, Large Diameter type, issued from 1813 to 1829, contains some of the greatest rarities in American numismatics--coins such as the 1815 half eagle, the 1822 (three known), the 1825/4 (two known), and the 1829 Large Date. Most of the dates in this series have low mintages, usually below 50,000 coins. The 1820 half eagle has the highest mintage (263,806 coins), and the 1815 the lowest (635 coins). Some dates, such as 1819, have a reasonably high mintage (51,723 coins) but remain extremely rare today. The rarity of many of the dates cannot be attributed to attrition alone--clearly, vast majorities of many dates were destroyed en masse."


    The 1823 half eagle is considered one of the more available dates of the 1820s--but again, that is the most challenging decade and denomination of U.S. coinage, overall. Akers writes in his 1988 reference:

    "The 1823 is a very rare coin but it is still one of the more 'common' dates of this type, and certainly the most available date between 1821 and 1829. When 1820 is considered just as a date and the Curved Base 2 and Square Base 2 varieties are not broken out, the 1823 is more rare than the 1820, as well as the 1813, 1814/3 and 1818."


    More recently, Bass-Dannreuther have estimated that only 80-100 examples of the 1823 survive, pegging it at High R.4. Most of those survivors grade AU or better, indicative of the slowness with which these high-face-value coins circulated (if at all) during the period from their production until the early 1830s, when the gold content was reduced. This was an era when silver half dollars were the chief medium of exchange for workaday commerce. Half eagles tended to be either be stored and hoarded, or shipped around from bank to bank during major transactions.
    All 1823 half eagles were produced from a single die pair; in fact, the reverse was used with all half eagle obverses dated 1821 through 1824. The lowest fletchings are closer to the D than 5 in the denomination, and the lowest arrow points to the right tip of the I in AMERICA. On the obverse, the 2 in the date has a curved base, and it and the 3 are a trifle larger than the 18. According to Bass-Dannreuther, die state evidence suggests that both the 1823 and 1824 issues were struck before the 1822.
    The present Gem specimen has an incredibly sharp strike, more so on the obverse than on the reverse. Unbelievably thick mint frost prevails on both sides, an attribute likely responsible (along with the strike) for both the Gem grade and the CAC approbation. A couple of faint, undistracting alloy spots appear on each side, the most noticeable one on the obverse between the Liberty cap and star 10. No planchet adjustment marks are visible on either side. This finest-certified coin represents unimprovable quality for collectors of early gold or early type.
    From The Henry Miller Collection.(Registry values: P4) (NGC ID# BFY4, PCGS# 8131)

    Weight: 8.75 grams

    Metal: 91.67% Gold, 8.33% Copper


    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

    View all of [The Henry Miller Collection ]

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    Auction Dates
    January, 2011
    5th-9th Wednesday-Sunday
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