1826 Capped Bust Left Half Eagle, MS66
1826 $5 MS66 PCGS. CAC. BD-2, R.8. Ex: Jenks-Newcomer-Akers.
Bass-Dannreuther Die State a/a. As a group, the Capped Bust Left
half eagles of the 1820s include more absolute rarities than any
10-year series in U.S. numismatics. The 1826 half eagle figures
prominently in the roster of this elite fraternity, a group that
includes the ultra-rare 1825/4 (two examples known) and the famous
1822 (three specimens extant). As a variety, the 1826 BD-2 half
eagle is of equal rarity with these more famous issues, as only
three examples are known, with one in the National Numismatic
Collection at the Smithsonian Institution and another impounded in
the Harry W. Bass, Jr. Research Foundation. The present coin is the
finest known specimen of the BD-2 variety by a wide margin and one
of the highest quality half eagles of the entire decade. Heritage
Auctions is pleased to offer this remarkable rarity, the only
example available to collectors, which once graced the prominent
collections of John Story Jenks, Waldo Newcomer, and David
Extremely Rare BD-2 Variety, Three Examples Known
Finest Certified, Ex:Jenks-Newcomer-Akers
As a date, the 1826 half eagle is a rare issue with a recorded mintage of 18,069 pieces. Only two die varieties are known for the date, the BD-1 Large Letters variety, with a surviving population of 30-40 examples in all grades, and the present BD-2 variety with exactly three specimens extant. The BD-2 is easily recognized by the position of star 13 located high and away from the curl and the Small Letters reverse. This was the only use of the obverse die, but the reverse was used to strike the single variety of 1827 and the BD-1 variety of the 1828/7 half eagles over the next two years. The BD-2 probably accounted for 3,000-6,000 pieces of the reported mintage, and only the three specimens mentioned above survive today.
The 1826 half eagle has been a favorite with collectors since the earliest days of the hobby. Specimens began appearing at auction at least as early as the Fifth Semi-Annual Sale (W. Elliot Woodward, 10/1864), lot 1650, "1826 Splendid impression, nearly proof; exceedingly rare." The lot realized $35 to J.O. Emery, a highly respectable price at the time. Since no study of die varieties had been attempted in 1864, the variety of this piece was unrecorded, but the general description provided would be an accurate depiction of the present coin, as far as it goes.
The first auction appearance of this coin that can be traced with any certainty is lot 5769 of the John Story Jenks Collection (Henry Chapman, 12/1921):
"1826. Uncirculated. Sharp, even impression. Mint lustre. Very slight dent on edge of reverse. Very rare. Plate."
Only the obverse of the coin was plated, but the image clearly shows the high position of star 13, away from the hair. The edge of the coin is not visible today because of the PCGS holder, but we can see no evidence of a rim bruise on this coin, so the damage must be "Very slight" indeed. Perhaps Chapman was actually describing some faint planchet adjustment marks (as struck) that can be seen in the denticles with magnification. The lot realized $130, again a generous price for the era.
The buyer of lot 5769 is unknown, but this coin came into the possession of noted numismatist Edgar H. Adams shortly after the Jenks sale. Adams often acted as partner or agent for William H. Woodin, one of the most accomplished collectors of gold coins and pattern issues of all time. It is possible that Woodin actually owned the coin during this time frame, with Adams acting as his front man. Adams was one of the early pioneers in the classification of early gold die varieties, and he recognized how rare the BD-2 variety is. He classified it as Adams-2 in his extensive notes on early die varieties.
Another avid student of early gold varieties, the wealthy Baltimore financier Waldo Newcomer, was the next owner-of-record of this remarkable piece. Newcomer purchased the coin from Adams for $1,500, a staggering price for any coin in the mid-1920s. According to the Bass-Dannreuther series reference, Newcomer's notes on the transaction include:
"Close date. Wider space between 6 and star. Reverse: Leaf more distant from 5. Only this specimen seen. (Adams priced this at $2,000 as being the only known specimen of this die. I secured a reduction in the lot of coins and arbitrary [sic] took $500 off this."
Adams certainly secured a handsome profit for this piece, which had sold for $130 at the Jenks sale, an early and dramatic example of the advantage knowledge can give an advanced collector.
Like many prominent businessmen of his time, Waldo Newcomer experienced severe financial hardships during the Great Depression and sold most of his American coins, including this 1826 half eagle, through B. Max Mehl around 1931. Mehl sold the great majority of Newcomer's gold to eccentric millionaire Colonel E.H.R. Green, who eventually acquired seven examples of the 1826, including this coin, a magnificent proof 1826 BD-1 half eagle (also from Newcomer's collection), and a second example of the extremely rare BD-2 variety from another source.
While we have a pretty clear record of this coin's history leading up to its acquisition by Col. Green, we lose sight of it for a long time afterward. Col. Green died in 1936, and his collection was dispersed in the early 1940s in a series of private-treaty transactions. Stack's brokered the dispersal of most of the gold coins, selling marvelous runs of rarities to King Farouk and Clifford T. Weihman. Farouk acquired the proof 1826 BD-1 half eagle from Newcomer's collection, and the second example of the BD-2 went to Weihman, later passing to Josiah K. Lilly and the Smithsonian Institution. Unfortunately, the lucky collector who purchased this delightful coin from Green's estate remains a mystery.
Sometime later noted gold specialist David Akers acquired this piece. Akers was one of the most astute students of U.S. gold coinage, and he did much of the seminal research on the rarity of early dates and varieties throughout the entire gold series. He succeeded in matching this example with the image in the very rare plates of Newcomer's collection that Mehl had prepared when he acquired Newcomer's holdings, thus establishing the link to the illustrious early history of the coin. This piece remained with Akers until his recent passing, when it was acquired by the present consignor.
The coin offered here is a magnificent Premium Gem with well-preserved yellow and reddish-gold surfaces that show no mentionable signs of contact. Close inspection with a loupe reveals some barely perceptible planchet adjustment marks in the dentils of lower reverse rim, possibly the "very slight dent on the edge of the reverse" referred to in the Jenks description, but the marks do not extend into the field. The surfaces display prooflike reflectivity in many areas, mixed with vibrant satiny mint luster on both sides. The design elements exhibit remarkably sharp definition for a coin of this era, with full star centrils and just a touch of softness on the shield. Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth estimate that auction appearances of the 1826 half eagle occur about once per year, but we can find only one offering of an 1826 BD-2 since this coin last appeared in the John Story Jenks catalog in 1921. For the advanced student of early die varieties, this offering of the finest-known and only available example of the BD-2 is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Population, including all varieties of 1826 half eagles: 2 in 66, 0 finer (10/13).
Roster of 1826 BD-2 Half Eagles
1. MS66 PCGS. The present coin. John Story Jenks Collection (Henry Chapman, 12/1921), lot 5769; Edgar Adams (possibly acting for William H. Woodin); Waldo Newcomer; Colonel E.H.R. Green; Green estate; unknown intermediaries; David and Sharron Akers.
2. AU Cleaned, per Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth. Colonel E.H.R. Green; Green estate; Clifford T. Weihman, via Stack's; Josiah K. Lilly, via Stack's again; Lilly estate; National Numismatic Collection in the Smithsonian Institution.
3. Extremely Fine Sharpness, Repaired. S.S. Forrest, Jr. Collection (Stack's, 9/1972), lot 212; Harry Bass; Harry W. Bass, Jr. Research Foundation.
From The David & Sharron Akers Collection.(Registry values: P6) (NGC ID# 25R4, PCGS# 8135)
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 David & Sharron Akers Collection ]
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