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    Description

    1815 Capped Head Left Half Eagle, BD-1, AU Details
    Classic Early Gold Rarity, Ex: Flanagan/Stack
    Only 635 Examples Struck

    1815 $5 BD-1, R.7 -- Cleaned -- ANACS. AU Details, Net XF45. Bass-Dannreuther Die State b/e. The 1815 half eagle is one of the great classic rarities of American coinage, from a tiny post-war mintage of only 635 pieces. For much of the 19th century it was considered the rarest coin in the U.S. federal gold series, as there was no example in the Mint cabinet until 1885, and only four coins were known to contemporary collectors. A few more specimens have surfaced over the years, and exactly ten examples are known today, but four of those coins have been assimilated into institutional collections, specifically the Smithsonian Institution (two coins), the Harry Bass Foundation (one example), and the Royal Coin Cabinet in Sweden (one specimen). As a result, the 1815 half eagle is essentially no more available to collectors today than it was at the height of its fame and popularity in the 19th century.

    The economic stresses of the War of 1812 resulted in widespread hoarding of bullion and other assets, and gold deposits declined sharply at the Philadelphia Mint during the war years. Although the war ended in February of 1815, the effects were still being felt a year later. The entire mintage of 635 1815 half eagles was delivered on November 3, from deposits made by Thomas Parker, Charles Kalkman, and the Bank of Pennsylvania. This minuscule mintage represents the only gold production accomplished by the United States Mint in 1815. The coins were released into circulation and no more was heard about the issue for the next several decades.

    Oddly, the first numismatist to acquire an 1815 half eagle was the King of Sweden, who purchased an example from a Captain Sandeberg in 1851. Sandeberg was a sea captain who reportedly purchased the coin from the estate of his father-in-law, Stockholm merchant Carl Scharp (see The 1815 Half Eagle: New Discoveries, by Heritage numismatists David Stone and Mark Van Winkle for details). Scharp probably acquired the coin in the normal course of business, near the time of issue, illustrating how far American coinage circulated at this early date. Beginning about 1821, changes in the price of silver vs. gold made the intrinsic value of U.S. gold coinage greater than its face value, and the coins were rarely seen in circulation after that.

    The first American collector to own an 1815 half eagle was probably Matthew Stickney, who purchased his coin from New York bullion brokers Beebee & Co. on October 1, 1851, for its bullion value of $5.30, the first pricing information we have for any 1815 half eagle. This is certainly a far cry from the record price recently paid for the MS65 PCGS D. Brent Pogue specimen, which realized $822,500 in the Stack's Bowers auction of that collection in February 2016. The 1815 half eagle is one of the most celebrated rarities in American numismatics, but it appears so infrequently at auction that it had become something of a "sleeper" before the Pogue offering, and available pricing data is mostly outdated. The only other specimen to sell in the last decade was the MS64 NGC Garrett coin, which sold for $460,000 in a Heritage sale in 2009.

    The present coin was one of the last to be discovered and one of the most difficult to trace. It first appeared in 1938, when B. Max Mehl offered it in an advertisement in the October issue of The Numismatist. It was purchased by Colonel James Flanagan, who held it until he sold his collection through Stack's in March 1944. Stack's used a stock photo of the coin in their lot description, making later plate matching problematic. Noted researcher P. Scott Rubin was able to reconstruct the later pedigree from information found on the envelope that accompanied the James A. Stack specimen when it was offered by Stack's more than 50 years later. It seems that Stack's bought the coin in at their 1944 auction, and later offered it to James A. Stack (no relation), who had been the underbidder at the sale. James Stack purchased this coin for $2,800 in December 1944 and it remained a center-piece of his remarkable collection until after his death. This coin was publicly offered for just the second time in its long history in lot 469 of the James A. Stack Collection (Stack's, 3/1995). It has been off the market ever since.

    The design elements of this coin were strongly impressed, and only minimal wear can be detected, but some minor detail was lost to lapping on the reverse, which had been used to strike two other varieties in 1813 and 1814. A faint die crack runs from the base of D on the reverse, through the period and the tops of the letters in AMERICA. Another crack is seen on the obverse, connecting the points of stars 12 and 13. A diagnostic scribe line can be seen through the tops of the dentils on the obverse. The pleasing antique-gold surfaces are lightly abraded, with a small reverse rim bruise mentioned in the 1995 Stack catalog, but not apparent in the present holder. Some original mint luster remains intact, though somewhat muted by the noted cleaning, which occurred long ago. The overall presentation is most attractive. This lot marks only the third time any example of the 1815 half eagle has been publicly offered in the last decade. With four of the ten known examples permanently off the market in institutional collections, it may be many years before another specimen becomes available.
    Ex: B. Max Mehl, advertised in the October 1938 issue of The Numismatist; Col. James Flanagan; Flanagan Collection (Stack's, 3/1944), lot 1092, bought in by Stack's; James A. Stack in December of 1944; James Stack Collection (Stack's, 3/1995), lot 469.
    From The Hutchinson Collection. (Variety PCGS# 519909, Base PCGS# 8118)

    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 Hutchinson Collection ]

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2017
    4th-9th Wednesday-Monday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 30
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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