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    1833 Small Date Half Eagle, MS61
    Extremely Rare BD-3 Variety
    Possibly Unique in Private Hands, Ex: Norweb

    1833 $5 Small Date, BD-3, High R.7, MS61 PCGS. Bass-Dannreuther Die State b/b. BD-3 is by far the rarest of the three 1833 half eagle varieties; in fact, it is among the rarest die pairings of any early half eagle issue. It shares its obverse die with BD-2, the other Small Date (or, more accurately, Close Date) die pairing, although the reverse, which distinctively features the period in the denomination close to the D rather than distant, is unique to the BD-3 marriage. Only one die state is documented, showing a light peripheral crack through OF, the wing tip, and the AM in AMERICA. An earlier, uncracked die state likely existed at one time since this is the only use of the reverse die, but it was probably eradicated by the vast private gold melts of the 1830s that decimated the survival of the 1833 half eagle overall.

    Concerning the BD-3 die marriage, John Dannreuther writes in Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties:

    "Some numismatists have suggested that fewer than one-half dozen coins exist of this variety, and the author concurs. Perhaps a few more coins are extant, but the number known is unlikely to exceed seven or eight."

    This survival estimate has been largely unchanged since Walter Breen published his monograph on early half eagles in 1966, where he called BD-3 (Breen I-1) a High R.7 variety. The Bass-Dannreuther reference (2006) retains that rarity factor, suggesting that three to five pieces are known. However, we believe that BD-3 is slightly rarer still, bordering on an R.8 ranking.

    The present coin's pedigree has been traced back to a 1953 Hollinbeck sale, but the earliest confirmed documentation of the Bass coin is only in 1973, when Bass acquired it from Numismatics, Ltd. Efforts to locate additional representation of the variety in old auction catalogs have yielded little data. BD-3 coins were plated in two early Chapman sales, including S.H. Chapman's 1907 auction of the David S. Wilson Collection and Henry Chapman's 1912 offering of the George H. Earle Collection, as well as later in A. Kosoff's 1962 "Illustrated History" catalog of the Judd Collection. However, in each case, the quality of the plate was insufficient to positively match the coin to a known specimen today. Going by strike, each plate shows a coin that appears too sharp to be the Norweb specimen, although it remains possible that all three were earlier appearances of the Bass coin. If so, then it is unlikely that more than two BD-3 specimens exist.

    "Colonel" E.H.R. Green at one point had a staggering seven 1833 half eagles, but their varieties are unknown. Waldo Newcomer's collection contained only BD-1 and -2 coins, and the piece in the Farouk sale was a BD-1 proof. The John Story Jenks Collection, auctioned by Henry Chapman in 1921, contained a Small Date 1833, but as only the obverse was plated, it is not known if the piece was a BD-2 or BD-3. In his 1966 monograph, Breen listed William Woodin's 1914 ANS exhibit coin as a BD-3, but it was actually a BD-2. The Smithsonian's 1833 half eagle is a BD-2, and the permanent ANS coin is a BD-1.

    In our estimation, available data reveals the capacity for there to be as many as three or four BD-3 representatives extant. However, if examples do survive in addition to the Bass and Norweb specimens, they have been tightly held off of the auction market for at least half of a century. We would not be surprised if future research is able to prove that only two representatives are known.

    Both the Bass and Norweb coins exhibit moderate strike weakness on the hair curl in front of Liberty's ear and on the eagle's left (facing) wing, although the Norweb specimen more so. This piece is straw-gold with semiprooflike fields that transition to delicate luster amid the peripheral stars and legends. The surfaces are largely devoid of singular abrasions, showing mainly light lines in the fields that limit the grade. However, a small mark in front of Liberty's forehead and another next to the eagle's neck below the M in UNUM serve as reliable pedigree markers.

    Among 1833 half eagles of any variety, this coin would be an attractive, high-end piece. Add in the extreme rarity of the BD-3 die pairing, and this piece becomes one of the most important coins in this auction. We anticipate intense collector interest. Population (both Small Date varieties): 2 in 61, 5 finer (10/19).

    Roster of 1833 BD-3 Half Eagles
    1. MS61 PCGS. Auction Sale (Hollinbeck Coin Company, 3/1953), lot 645D; The Norweb Collection, Part I (Bowers and Merena, 10/1987), lot 783; Four Landmark Collections (Bowers and Merena, 3/1989), lot 620; Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 5/1994), lot 661; Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2017), lot 4263. The present coin.
    2. Ungraded. Purchased from Numismatics, Ltd., (6/9/1973); Harry W. Bass, Jr. Foundation; ANA Money Museum. Bass Sylloge 3162.

    Additional Appearances
    A. Uncirculated. David S. Wilson Collection (S.H. Chapman, 3/1907), lot 83, realized $40.00; Virgil Brand, Brand Journal #37149; Brand Estate; Horace Brand.
    B. Ungraded. George H. Earle Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1912), lot 2404, realized $57.50.
    C. Uncirculated. J. Hewitt Judd; Illustrated History United States Coins (Kosoff, 1962), lot 85. (Variety PCGS# 519954, Base PCGS# 8158)

    Weight: 8.75 grams

    Metal: 91.67% Gold, 8.33% Copper

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

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    December, 2019
    5th-7th Thursday-Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 44
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,369

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