Extraordinary 1839 Half Eagle, PR61
1839 $5 PR61 NGC. "Semi-Unique" is an oxymoron that B. Max
Mehl and other 19th and 20th century coin dealers enjoyed using,
and the 1839 proof half eagle fits the definition perfectly, with
only two pieces known to exist. NGC has certified a single piece
that was formerly PCGS graded PR61. The other PR61 PCGS coin is the
second known example, as shown in the following roster:
Just Two Proofs Known
The Long Hidden King Farouk Coin
1. PR61 NGC. William H. Woodin; Waldo Newcomer; Col. E.H.R. Green; Burdette G. Johnson; King Farouk (Sotheby's, 2/1954), lot 249; Thomas Melish Sale (A. Kosoff, 4/1956), lot 1983; Paul and Art Kagin; Hollinbeck Coin Company (11/1959). The present specimen. This coin has been off the market for 50 years. In his Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins, Walter Breen speculated that the Farouk coin and the Melish coin, that he assigned separate entries. Today, we can confirm that they are the same coin.
2. PR61 PCGS. Purchased in Europe in January 1982 by Marc Emory for New England Rare Coin Galleries, as part of a three-piece 1839 gold proof set. The set was apparently the property of a European museum that was divesting its holdings of foreign (to them) coins. Later, offered provisionally in Bowers and Merena (5/1993), lots 2537-2539, but sold as a set in lot 2540.
Few 1839 proof gold coins are known to exist today, and each of the three denominations represents a distinctly different design. We are aware of three 1839 proof quarter eagles representing the Classic Head design, two 1839 proof half eagles representing the modified Liberty design, and three 1839 proof eagles representing the first Liberty design introduced in 1838.
Breen reported in his proof reference that Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson sent two 1839 proof half eagles to Levi Woodbury, the Secretary of the Treasury, on March 22, 1839, illustrated the improved Liberty design, although he provides no documentation for his statement. If true, and with just two known today, it is likely that they are the same two coins. The modified or second Liberty Head is distinctly different from the original 1838 design that appeared on the eagles.
This piece and the 1839 proof half eagle from the European museum are from the same dies. The obverse has several areas of minor die rust, including one on the bust above the 8, and another on the neck behind the hair curl. Several other areas of die rust appear on Liberty's head and in the field around the date and most of the stars. Some past collectors and dealers have called this variety an 1839/8 overdate. High magnification observation reveals a short diagonal line that connects the ball of the 9 to its upper loop, and that feature appears to be characteristic of the original die, rather than a result of die rust. The reverse also has noticeable die rust, but no other indications of die deterioration. The overdate status is unlikely, in our opinion, as it seems that any 1838 die would feature the original head of Liberty as those on the eagles.
This proof half eagle, like the other known 1839 proof half eagle, is lower in the numerical scale due to cleaning. Hairlines are clearly visible on both sides, mostly in the fields. The obverse and reverse have fully mirrored fields that mark this coin as an unquestioned proof. The devices are fully lustrous with satiny mint frost. Both sides exhibit attractive greenish-gold color, and the devices are boldly detailed. All aspects of this coin other than the minor hairlines suggest that it is a first-rate specimen.(Registry values: P3) (NGC ID# 28BH, PCGS# 8428)
Weight: 8.36 grams
Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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