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Demand for a Gem 1813 Half Eagle

By Greg Reynolds for CoinLink

Half Eagles are U.S. $5 gold coins, and were minted for circulation from 1795 to 1929, though not continuously. A gem quality 1813 Capped Head Half Eagle is ‘in the news.’ On August 5, Stack’s auctioned an 1813 that is certified as MS-65 by the Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC). It realized $86,250.

1813 Half Wagle from Stack's AuctionHalf Eagles, $5 gold coins, dated 1813 are the least rare of the Capped Head type (1813-34). The 1813 is one of the three or four least rare dates of all early Half Eagles (1795-1834). The 1813 Half Eagle is often the focus of those who collect by design type. A type set includes one coin of each series of coins with the same design, within a defined framework, while a ‘date’ set includes most or all of the dates in one or more series.

An 1813 in Fine-12 condition, if one could be found, would have a retail value ranging from $2200 to $3400, depending upon the technical and aesthetic characteristics of the individual coin. An 1813 in Extremely Fine-40 grade might be found for around $5000, a marked increase over such a coin’s market value just two or three years ago.

Coins are graded on a scale from 01 to 70, though not all numbers in between are used. The four grades for ‘Very Fine’ are 20, 25, 30 and 35. All eleven points from 60 to 70 are “Mint State” (or Proof) grades. The term ‘Mint State’ is approximately equivalent to the traditional concept of ‘uncirculated.’ Coins that grade 65 or higher are usually termed ‘gems.’ This 1813 Half Eagle qualifies as a gem.

This 1813 is a very attractive coin. The very few light copper spots are appealing. My tentative conclusion is that this coin has not been cleaned, chemically processed, or surgically enhanced. It may have been lightly dipped at one time, as have a very large percentage of uncirculated 19th century gold coins. The contact marks, light abrasions, and very thin hairlines are very small and few in number. It was sharply struck on a select planchet (prepared blank). Furthermore, this 1813 Half Eagle is very brilliant. Though it is not a high end ‘65,’ it definitely makes the grade, and is an enticing coin.

This 1813 may be of slightly higher quality than the 1813 Half Eagle that Heritage auctioned in March 2005, which was earlier auctioned by ANR in July 2003. It realized $69,000 in 2005 and $52,900 in 2003. It is also NGC graded MS-65. I like that one, too. It has neat deep, original luster, and also has an attractive greenish tint. The 1813 that Stack’s auctioned, on Aug. 5, is more brilliant.

The Garrett piece is widely recognized as the finest known 1813 Half Eagle. It is graded MS-66 by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). The Garrett family assembled one of the all-time greatest collections of U.S. coins. The Garrett 1813 Half Eagle was auctioned in the Garrett 1 sale, on Nov. 29, 1979, when it realized $34,000. Much later, it became part of the ‘Gold Rush Collection.’ Among collections that were planned as type sets, the ‘Gold Rush Collection’ is possibly the greatest gold type set of all time.

At the January 2005 FUN Convention in Fort Lauderdale, the Gold Rush Collection was auctioned and the Garrett 1813 garnered $230,000. Heritage sold it again, at the Jan. 2007 FUN auction, for $316,250.

The surfaces of the Garrett 1813 Half Eagle are almost flawless. The contact marks and abrasions are extremely small and extremely few in number. It probably has never been cleaned or dipped. The natural coppery shades are attractive and well balanced. It is sharply struck, though not quite as well struck as the two 1813s discussed above. It is not the most exciting early gold coin, but I am not aware of a challenge to its status as the finest known 1813 Half Eagle.

One reason that 1813 Half Eagles are primarily demanded as type coins is that so many of the other dates of its type are extremely rare. Indeed, quite a few are Great Rarities.

As only one of three known 1822 Half Eagles is privately owned, only one privately owned complete set may exist at a time. Probably fewer than five collectors have completed such a set in the history of coin collecting, and only two in modern times. Louis Eliasberg’s gold coins were auctioned in 1982. The Eliasberg 1822 Half Eagle is now part of a set of Capped Head Half Eagles, which I believe is complete. This set is owned by a collector who wishes that his not name not be mentioned.

A set of Capped Head Half Eagles (1813-34) that is just two-thirds complete may cost $400,000 in AU grade, and between $1.5 and $2.0 million in MS-64 grade, if it could be done. An 80% complete set would be dramatically more expensive, though it would be very challenging. A type set, in contrast, requires only two Capped Head Half Eagles, one of the so-called large size type (1813-29) and one representing the small size type (1829-34).

Only nine coins are needed for an entire type set of U.S. Half Eagles: Bust Right with Small Eagle reverse (1795-98), Bust Right with Large Eagle (1795-1807), Bust Left (1807-12), Capped Head Large (1813-29), Capped Head Small (1829-34), Classic Head (1834-38), Liberty Head ‘No Motto’ (1839-66), Liberty Head [with] ‘Motto’ (1866-1907), and Indian Head (1908-29). Proof and non-proof commemorative Half Eagles that have been minted since 1986 are a different species.

The Bust Right, Bust Left and Capped Head types are generally thought of as ‘Early Half Eagles.’ The 1813 is certainly the least rare Capped Head Half Eagle, and all Bust Left Half Eagles (1807-12) are probably rarer than the 1813. There is a good chance, however, that the 1813 is rarer than the 1803/2 and 1806 ‘Round 6′ Bust Right Half Eagles.

In my CoinLink article on 1807 Bust Left Half Eagles, I estimated that from 275 to 400 of those are around, and I explained that it is the least rare date of the Bust Left type (1807-12). If I had to narrow my estimate to one number, it would be 325. In my article on 1812 Half Eagles, I estimated that there are between 150 and 225 of those. Additionally, there are 250 to 300 1810 ‘Large Date’ Half Eagles.

The total number of 1818 Capped Head Half Eagles, including all varieties, is more than one hundred, though nowhere near two hundred. There could possibly be more than one hundred 1820s, though it is unlikely. Otherwise, there are fewer than one hundred coins known, usually much less, of every other date in the Capped Head Half Eagle series.

I hypothesize that 400, more or less, 1813 Half Eagles exist. It is thus rare, but not very rare. Only five to nine, however, grade MS-65 or higher. Indeed, there are probably forty to fifty Capped Head Half Eagles, for the whole series, that have been, or would be, graded MS-65 or higher by PCGS or NGC.

Though the Capped Head Half Eagle series is comprised mostly of extremely rare dates, the Bust Left series is rarer, as a type, in MS-65 or higher grades. There are probably twenty-five to thirty-five different Bust Left Half Eagles (1807-12) that have been, or would be if submitted, graded MS-65 or higher by PCGS or NGC.

My estimate of forty to fifty MS-65 or higher grade Capped Head Half Eagles includes both the large size (1813-29) and small size (1829-34) types. In 1829, the diameter was slightly reduced, though this is not the only difference between the two Capped Head types. Other differences are subtle, including the format of the letters and the size of the stars.

When a type collector cannot find an MS-65 grade 1813 Half Eagle, he (or she) may seek an MS-64 grade 1813 or 1814/3. In the last two years, only two certified MS-64 grade, 1813 Half Eagles have sold at auction. The auction record for a certified MS-64 grade 1813 was set when an NGC certified 1813 sold for $46,000 in August 2006. In that same session, during a Heritage ‘Platinum Night,’ a PCGS graded MS-64 1813 sold for $40,250. Over the last two years, NGC graded MS-64, 1814/3 Half Eagles also have sold for prices between $40,000 and $50,000. An MS-65 grade 1814/3 may not exist.

In 2004, Heritage, Bowers & Merena, and ANR all auctioned certified MS-64 1813 Half Eagles for amounts in the $20,000 to $23,000 range. Earlier in the decade, MS-64 grade 1813 Half Eagles tended to sell at auction for prices in the range of $14,500 to $20,000. Prices for early gold coins have risen, sometimes tremendously, since 2002.

If a type collector cannot find an 1813 in MS-64 or MS-65 grade, or an 1814/3 in MS-64 grade, then an 1818 or 1820 may be considered. In 2005, certified MS-64 grade 1818 Half Eagles, regardless of variety, were auctioned for amounts between $50,000 and $60,000. In May 2007, the Palakika 1818, PCGS graded MS-64, sold for an astonishing $109,250! (Please see some of my other CoinLink articles for information on stellar coins in the Palakika collection.)

It has been awhile since an MS-65 grade 1818 has been offered at auction. The record of $71,875 was set at a Goldberg auction in May 2001. The record setting 1818 is of the overdenomination variety, ‘5 D.’ punched over ‘50′ on the reverse (back). This same 1818 might sell for more than $170,000 if offered in 2007?

Of all Capped Head Half Eagles, of both types, the 1820 may be the least rare date in certified MS-65 and higher grades including those that would be so certified if submitted. While there are five to nine different 1813s in the gem quality grade range, my guess is that there are eight to fourteen 1820s in this range.

In the second auction of the Harry Bass collection, October 1999, there were two excellent 1820s; both were PCGS graded MS-65. These then brought $52,900 and $71,300, and would bring much more if auctioned in 2007. In August 2004, the Bass 1820 that brought $52,900 in 1999 was sold again in an ANR auction, for $69,000. I wonder if the other gem Bass 1820 and the James A. Stack 1820 are the two that the NGC has graded MS-66? An NGC graded MS-65 1820 sold for $92,000 in a Superior auction in May 2006.

It does seem that, for a price of $80,000 to $110,000, a collector should be able to buy a PCGS or NGC certified MS-65 Capped Head Half Eagle. If the prices of high-grade early gold coins continue to increase, as they have since 2002, then auction levels for such coins may go well beyond $110,000 in the near future.

An 1813 Half Eagle, that is graded MS-63 by PCGS or NGC, would probably sell for $17,000 to $22,500 at auction in the present. Some MS-63 grade 1813s are a lot more appealing than others. Nevertheless, a collector would probably not have to wait a long time to acquire an acceptable MS-63 grade 1813.

Quite a few 1813s that grade from AU-58 to MS-62 exist, though many of them have moderate to serious problems. Certainly, a willingness to spend from $8,000 to $15,000 and some patience would enable a knowledgeable collector to obtain a decent, attractive 1813 Half Eagle, in the 58 to 62 range, at auction.

The 1813 Half Eagle is a rare coin in its own right and it is the least expensive member of the Capped Head Half Eagle series, which contains more Great Rarities than any other series of U.S. coins. It has a special place in the culture and history of coin collecting.

© 2007 Greg Reynolds

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About the Author

Greg Reynolds is a numismatic writer, researcher and analyst. Greg has examined almost all of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest type coins and patterns, He has extensively researched the pedigrees of important numismatic properties, and he has written about and analyzed numerous auctions, private sales and collections.

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