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    1796 No Pole Half Cent, MS67 Red and Brown
    The Finest Known Cohen-1, Breen-1
    A Legendary Numismatic Rarity

    1796 1/2 C No Pole, C-1, B-1, R.6, MS67 Red and Brown PCGS. The year 1796 is important in the history of the first Philadelphia Mint and some collectors have made a specialty of 1796-dated coinage. It is the first year that every authorized denomination of U.S. coinage was produced, from the half cent to the eagle.

    There are two dates among circulation-strike half cents that stand out as rarities among all others. Those dates are 1796 and 1831, although many, this cataloger included, consider the 1831 as a proof-only issue. Half cent authority William Eckberg describes the 1831 as "a conundrum." However, there is no doubt that the 1796 is a circulation-strike issue and that date stands alone as the legendary rarity among all half cents.

    Varieties of 1796

    There are two 1796 varieties, the No Pole that is offered here, and the more plentiful With Pole variety. The two obverse dies, one without the pole supporting the Liberty cap, and the other with that supporting pole, were combined with a single reverse die. Due to the small number known, the emission sequence or order of striking for the two varieties, remains uncertain. In most situations where two varieties share a common obverse or reverse die, the deterioration of that die will conclusively show which variety was struck first. For the 1796 half cents, the small production run was insufficient for the dies to deteriorate, thus the order of striking is not proven.

    Ebenezer Gilbert was the first to describe all half cent varieties in The United States Half Cents published in 1916. He recorded the No Pole as the second 1796 variety. Gilbert prepared little commentary aside from a description of each half cent variety.

    Roger Cohen, Jr. was next to describe the half cent varieties in his 1971 reference, American Half Cents, the "Little Half Sisters," with a second edition published in 1982. Cohen recorded the No Pole variety first.

    Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents 1793-1857 was published in 1983 and has long been considered the definitive reference for the series. Breen recorded the No Pole first, although he provided no explanation for that decision.

    Ronald P. Manley published The Half Cent Die State Book 1793-1857 in 1998, and he provided some basis for recording the 1796 With Pole second:

    "Apparently, the device punch for the head and cap was shallowly impressed into the 1796 C-2 obverse die. As a result, the lower edge of the cap is very weak and the hair is in low relief (the third lock even appear incomplete or 'broken'). Of the other 1795-1797 half cent varieties, only 1797 C-1 shares these similarities to 1796 C-2. I consider this noteworthy, since 1797 C-1 is believed to have immediately followed 1796 C-2 in order of mintage."

    Therefore, Manley suggested that the 1796 C-1 No Pole was the first half cent minted that year. However, he also wrote: "Insufficient die state data exists to firmly establish the emission sequence of the two 1796-dated varieties."

    The most recent entry among half cent literature was published in 2019. In The Half Cent, 1793-1857, The Story of America's Greatest Little Coin, long-time half cent collector and researcher William R. Eckberg writes: "Though the varieties are die chained through a common reverse, so few were struck that the reverse die did not deteriorate enough to permit identification of multiple states." Eckberg compared mintage figures and surviving populations to conclude that the 1796 No Pole coins were struck after the With Pole coins.

    Mintage Figures

    In the early days of the Philadelphia Mint, coinage production figures are based on the record of deliveries from the Chief Coiner to the Mint Treasurer. There are many instances where those figures are unrelated to the actual dates displayed on the coins. It is unlikely that there were any coins that were struck in a year earlier than the date displayed. For example, there were no 1797-dated half cents struck in 1796. The opposite situation occurred frequently in the 1790s and early 1800s. For example, there are many 1794-dated half dimes in existence even though the first recorded delivery was not until March 31, 1795.

    The following coinage deliveries of half cents took place in 1796:

    January 22, 1796: 30,000

    March 5, 1796: 30,000

    March 12, 1796: 2,000

    March 18, 1796: 32,000

    March 21, 1796: 15,000

    April 19, 1796: 3,350

    June 8, 1796: 1,740

    October 24, 1796: 1,390

    Today, we are reasonably confident that the 109,000 coins delivered in the first quarter of 1796 were all dated 1795. What of the 6,480 coins delivered from April to October 1796? Historically, numismatists have spoken of a 3% survival rate for coins of the 1790s. That survival rate suggests that 194 examples should have survived from the 6,480 coins struck in the second and fourth quarters of 1796.

    The true survival rate for coins of the 1790s is not conveniently related to a single percentage. Gold coins were more likely to survive than silver coins, and silver coins were more likely to survive than copper coins. Research suggests that the survival rate for gold coins approached 10%. A 2% survival rate for copper coins almost exactly fits the number of 1796 half cents known today.

    1796 No Pole Population

    Current estimates suggest a total population of about 140 half cents dated 1796 include about 30 of the No Pole variety, per William Eckberg. He writes: "Three are known in UNC, but the next finest barely makes VF."

    While early 20th century catalogers have described the 1796 No Pole half cent as "very rare" or "extremely rare," few if any catalogers provided an estimate of population until Stack's described the variety as "Rarity 7" in their 1954 Anderson Dupont catalog, presumably based on the scale published by Dr. William Sheldon, equating to a population between four and 12 coins.

    Roger Cohen, Jr. wrote in 1971: "There is one known in Uncirculated condition and approximately 12 known in lower condition." At the time, there were actually three known in Uncirculated condition. In 1982, Cohen rated the variety Rarity 6 and provided a condition census: Unc (3)-F (2)-VG (3).

    The following year, 1983, Walter Breen stated that there were about 20 specimens known and the Condition Census in his tome included a dozen coins including three Uncirculated, one About Very Fine, two graded Fine, and six graded Very Good.

    In his 1998 Die State book, Ronald Manley rated the variety Rarity 6 but made no other comments about the number known.

    Michael Spurlock, another active half cent researcher, provided population estimates for the rarest half cent varieties in a Penny Wise article. He suggested that the population included 26 coins, although he provided no further information.

    The PCGS and NGC population data includes 13 grading events. Five of those are four the four Mint State coins, and eight are for coins that grade from Fair 2 to Fine 15. There are no certified 1796 No Pole half cents at either service graded VF20 through MS61.


    1. MS67 Red and Brown PCGS.
    George H. Earle, Jr. Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1912), lot 3609, which realized $400; Colonel James W. Ellsworth; Knoedler Galleries (privately in 1923); Wayte Raymond and John Work Garrett (sold privately); William C. Atwater (B. Max Mehl, 6/1946), lot 129, which realized $1,125; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; Eliasberg Estate (Bowers and Merena, 5/1996), lot 407, which realized $506,000; Spectrum Numismatics (privately in 2002); D. Brent Pogue Collection (Stack's Bowers, 2/2016), lot 3008, which realized $763,750. The present lot and clearly the finest known.

    2. MS65 Brown PCGS.
    John Gormley Murdoch Collection (Sotheby, Wilkinson, and Hodge, London, 7/1903), lot 963; S.H. and H. Chapman; C. David Pierce; Philip M. Showers Collection; Stack's (sold privately in 1969); Willis Harrington duPont Collection; Fred S. Werner (sold privately in 1976); Superior (sold privately in 1976); Joe Flynn and Sons Rare Coins, Inc. (sold privately on April 28, 1982); R. Tettenhorst Collection; Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society; Missouri Cabinet (Goldberg Auctions, 1/2014), lot 36; High Desert Collection. Possibly earlier from the Richard B. Winsor Collection (S.H. and H Chapman, 12/1895), lot 1012.

    3. MS63+ Brown NGC.
    An old English Collection; Stack's (sold privately in 1992); John Whitney Walter Collection (Stack's, 5/1999), lot 1705; Donald G. Partrick.

    4. MS63 Brown PCGS.
    Virgil M. Brand Collection (journal #15328); Burdette G. Johnson (sold privately in 1941); James Kelly; Anderson Dupont Sale (Stack's, 11/1954), lot 1054; Dorothy Nelson (Stack's, 3/1975), lot 823; R. Tettenhorst Collection (sold privately in 1982); Jim McGuigan Collection.

    PCGS Coin Facts records these four coins in their Condition Census, and then adds a fifth Mint State coin that they state is PCGS graded MS62 Brown. However, no such coin appears in their population report. Until such a coin might appear in a hidden collection, we consider the four coins recorded above to be the only Mint State 1796 No Pole half cents.

    This Superb Gem

    In his 1946 catalog of the Atwater Collection, B. Max Mehl, perhaps one of the greatest numismatic promoters of the middle 20th century, couldn't help himself when he wrote of this coin:

    "I am endeavoring to be conservative in both my description of condition of these coins, and also the use of superlative adjectives, but this gem is simply too much for me to overcome. It is simply too exquisite and thrilling a coin not to lavish all possible bouquets at it. It is worthy of everything fine and thrilling that may be said of it."

    While trying to suppress the use of superlative adjectives as Mehl noted, this Superb Gem 1796 No Pole half cent is a wonder to behold. As one well-known numismatist is fond of saying, it is the stuff of dreams. This is an extremely important opportunity as only the 11th auction appearance of any Mint State 1796 No Pole half cent, and this example is clearly the finest known.

    In the 1912 catalog of the Earle Collection, Henry Chapman called this piece a proof with exquisite light olive color and traces of original red on both sides. Mehl wrote that this piece is a "brilliant semi-proof."

    This is the second time that the present cataloger has described this piece, having enjoyed its company a quarter-century ago. Described as "fully Prooflike and most probably a presentation or specimen coin; just as easily called Proof-65 or finer"

    The mirrored surfaces are light chestnut-brown with traces of original mint red in the protected areas including the date numerals, letters on both sides, and the leaves of the wreath. The strike is full and well-centered, showing a full and complete border details. Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. summed up this piece in 1956: "This is the finest known specimen of the rarest half cent."

    This remarkable American rarity is legendary and destined for the finest cabinet of numismatic treasures. Our EAC grade MS67.
    Selections from The Oliver Jung Collection.

    Coin Index Numbers: (Variety PCGS# 35096, Base PCGS# 1031)

    Weight: 6.74 grams

    Metal: 100% Copper

    View all of [Selections From The Oliver Jung Collection ]

    View Certification Details from PCGS

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2021
    20th-24th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 39
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