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Evaluating a Gem 1807 Half Eagle

By Greg Reynolds for CoinLink - Revised and Re-posted July 25, 2007

Half Eagles, $5 gold coins, dated 1807 are not extremely rare. The Bust Left 1807 is probably among the five least rare dates of all early Half Eagles (1795-1834). Indeed, Capped Bust Left Half Eagles (1807-1812) are not well understood, and do not receive as much publicity as Bust Right Half Eagles (1795-1807) or Capped Head Half Eagles (1813-34). It is thus worth discussing the rarity of the Bust Left type, and the reasons why an 1807 Bust Left Half Eagle just sold for $103,500 on July 13 in West Palm Beach, Florida. It is only the third or fourth time that a Bust Left Half Eagle has sold at auction for more than $100,000.

Heritage conducted the official auction of the Summer Florida United Numismatists (FUN) convention. This inaugural summer event should not be confused with the primary FUN convention that is held every year in January, usually in Orlando, though an epic FUN event was held in Fort Lauderdale in 2005.

1807 Half Eagle - Heritage AuctionsThis 1807 Half Eagle has been graded MS-65 by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). 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, and those that grade 65 are usually termed ‘gems.’ This coin is definitely a gem.

This 1807 Half Eagle has a very attractive obverse (front) and a more than very attractive reverse (back of the coin). Under three-times magnification, there are very few contact marks and light small scratches on the obverse, and almost none on the reverse. It merits a mid range MS-65 grade. The reverse, by itself, might even grade MS-66. The very few, short, light scratches on the face and in the obverse left inner field, along with one medium length hairline scratch from the eleventh star to Miss Liberty’s hair, probably prevented this coin from grading MS-66! It has, or nearly has, sufficient eye appeal for a MS-66 grade.

The obverse is subtly brilliant, and somewhat lustrous. The reverse is brighter and has a rich luster accompanied by some light orange-russet toning about the design elements and near the periphery. Like most early U.S. gold coins, the gold itself has a greenish tint. On the obverse, this green color is subtle. It is a little richer on the reverse. I like this coin a lot. It has an appealing personality, which cannot be completely described.

In more than fifteen years, only one other 1807 ‘Bust Left’ Half Eagle has ever realized more than $100,000 at auction. In 1999, the Moore 1807, PCGS graded MS-67, sold for $121,000. The PCGS graded MS-67 1807 that was reportedly auctioned for $115,000, in 2002, is very likely to be a re-appearance of the Moore coin. It was previously auctioned, before it was certified, in New York in 1988. More than once, I had the opportunity to carefully examine it. For the whole Bust Left Half Eagle type, the Moore 1807 is the highest quality coin that I have ever seen. It is widely believed that another PCGS graded MS-67 1807 Bust Left Half Eagle, similar to the Moore 1807, is in a private collection in Texas.

The 1807 Bust Left Half Eagle may be the least rare date of this short-lived design type. The 1808/7, 1809/8 and 1810 ‘Small Date’ are all clearly rarer. The 1808 ‘Normal Date,’ 1811 and 1812 are probably rarer as well.

While the 1807 is the least rare (or second least rare) date of the Bust Left Half Eagle design type, it is not a common coin. In last Tuesday’s ‘Rarity of the Week’ column, I explained that a 19th century date is ‘Very Rare’ if 250 or fewer pieces exist in the present, and is ‘Rare’ if fewer than 500 are around today. The Bust Left 1807 date is probably not Very Rare, though it might be.

It is true that the two leading grading services, the PCGS and the Numismatic Guaranty Corp., report a combined total of much more than 250 1807 Bust Left 1807 Half Eagles. A large number of the recorded submissions, however, are repeat counts of the same coins. Sometimes, a dealer will keep ‘cracking out’ a coin from its holder and sending it in again because he believes that it will eventually be certified at a higher grade level. An increase in one grade increment may amount to a dramatic increase in market value.

It is also true that some collectors will remove coins from their PCGS or NGC holders for emotional reasons. These are often resubmitted by dealers or other collectors, years later.

1807 Half Eagle Reverse - Heritage AuctionsIt is debatable as to whether as many as 250 different 1807 Bust Left Half Eagles have been submitted to PCGS or NGC. There are, however, additional 1807 Half Eagles that have problems that are so serious that these would not qualify for PCGS or NGC certification. Over the decades, some coins of almost every issue are deliberately abused, including mounting for use as jewelry, or accidentally harmed. These additional pieces will not be reflected in PCGS or NGC data.

It could be fairly argued that there are fewer than 250 1807 Bust Left Half Eagles in existence. My rough estimate, though, is 275 to 400. I am almost certain that fewer than 500 are known. It is thus a rare date. Indeed, all dates of the Bust Left Half Eagle (1807-12) type are rare.

In their Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold coins (Atlanta: Whitman, 2006) Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth say that, “Other than the 1810 issue, this [1807 Left] is the most common date of this type” (p. 184). Although this is an excellent book and is strongly recommended, I disagree with a few statements therein, including this one. Also, Garrett & Guth report that the 1807 Bust Left Half Eagle in the Smithsonian grades “MS-61.”

Of the four major varieties of 1810 Half Eagles, the least rare is the 1810 Large Date, Large 5. As there are fewer than ten 1810 Large Date, Small 5, Half Eagles in existence, for purposes here, I will refer to the 1810 Large Date without reference to reverse varieties. It seems that Garrett & Guth asserted that there are more 1810 Large Date Half Eagles in existence than 1807 Bust Left Half Eagles. I disagree.

Sometimes, researchers rely too heavily on auction data when formulating conclusions regarding rarity. The 1810 Large Date, Large 5 is more likely to be consigned to auctions than the 1807. Beginning collectors, and potential buyers among the general public, will find Large Date, Small Date, and ‘Large 5 – Tall 5 -Small 5′ concepts to be confusing or annoying, or both. The 1807 is much easier than any 1810 variety to market to people who are not interested in die varieties or who do not know very much about coins in general.

In comparison with the 1810, there are more AU, MS-61 and MS-62 grade 1807 Bust Left Half Eagles in existence, and these can be marketed without a detailed explanation of numerical grading. These certified AU and “MS” 1807 Half Eagles could be fairly called ‘Almost Uncirculated’ and ‘Uncirculated,’ respectively.

There are firms that sell millions of dollars worth of coins to the general public and they are tend to sell coins that are relatively easy to explain. In contrast, knowledgeable collectors who understand the varieties of 1810 Half Eagles are more likely to participate in auctions or to authorize agents to represent them. So, dealers and collectors are more likely to consign an 1810 Half Eagle to auction while an 1807 Half Eagle would be relatively easier to wholesale and retail at predictable prices. So, one reason, though not the only reason, to conclude that the 1810 Half Eagle is rarer than the 1807 Bust Left Half Eagle is that totals of auction appearances are more likely to understate relatively the number of 1807 Bust Left Eagles in existence as 1810 Half Eagles are more likely to be consigned to auction.

Additionally, PCGS and NGC data needs to be interpreted before being used in the process of estimating the rarity of individual dates. There is reason to believe that there are more resubmissions of 1810s than of 1807s. The seventy 1810 Large Date Half Eagles that PCGS has graded MS-64 probably represent ten to twenty different coins. Only four to seven different, certified MS-64, 1810 Half Eagles have appeared at auction over the past ten years. The fact that nearly 100 have been graded MS-64 by PCGS or NGC should not be used as a literal factor in the formulation of an estimate of the number of 1810 Large Date Half Eagles that exist.

Consider that a MS-64 grade 1810 Large Date might be worth $40,000 retail, while a MS-65 grade piece could be worth anywhere from $70,000 to $200,000 depending upon the pedigree and characteristics of the individual coin. It is obvious that there is a financial incentive to resubmit multiple times an MS-64 grade 1810 Large Date Half Eagle in hopes of receiving an MS-65 grade, especially since the PCGS has only graded two Half Eagles of this date above MS-64.

Gems are very rare for ALL dates in the Bust Left Half Eagle series. I doubt that there are more than six for any one date. The PCGS and the NGC together have probably only certified twenty to thirty-two different Bust Left Half Eagles in MS-65 and higher grades!

Only two or three collectors are seriously aiming to complete the whole Bust Left Half Eagle set with the highest quality pieces that they can find. Therefore, as long as there are more than two privately owned gems for a date, most of the demand for gems of that date will come from type collectors. It is also true that speculators and connoisseurs who are not completing sets are interested in gem quality Bust Left Half Eagles. Put differently, almost all of the demand for a gem quality 1807 comes from buyers who would be equally interested in other dates of Bust Left Half Eagle type. Potential buyers of gem early Half Eagles are focused on the quality of the coins.

Type collectors need only one coin of each design type for a type set. Only nine coins are needed to complete a Half Eagle type set: Bust Right Small Eagle (1795-98), Bust Right 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 ‘Motto’ (1866-1907), and Indian Head (1908-29). Proof and non-proof commemorative Half Eagles that have been minted since 1986 are a separate topic.

In recent years, Bust Left Half Eagles that are PCGS or NGC graded MS-65 have tended to sell at auction for prices in the $50,000 to $80,000 range. Besides the above-mentioned PCGS graded MS-67, Moore 1807, I know of only one other Bust Left Half Eagle has been auctioned for more than $100,000. The Palakika 1812 sold in May at a Heritage auction for a staggering $149,500. It is PCGS graded MS-65, and I have never seen it.

Another PCGS graded MS-65 1807 Bust Left Half Eagle sold for $97,750 at Heritage’s January 2007 FUN auction. In May 2006, a PCGS graded MS-65 1807 was auctioned for $80,500.

In Sept. 2005, a PCGS graded MS-65 1809/8 Half Eagle was auctioned by ANR (later merged with Stack’s) for $77,625, which could be the auction record for an 1809/8 overdate. Only two 1811 Half Eagles have sold for more than $50,000 at auction, and both of those are NGC graded MS-65 coins that realized between $60,000 and $70,000.

I have seen the one 1812 Half Eagle that the PCGS has graded MS-66. It was in a great type set. It was offered at auction in 1991. The high bid of $148,500 notwithstanding, it did not sell. The fact that the underbid of $143,000 was not enough is worth noting.

It does seem that the $149,500 price for the Palakika 1812 in May set an auction record for the whole type. The Moore 1807 brought $121,000 back in 1999 (and maybe $115,000 in 2002). The Moore 1807 might be worth more than $300,000 now?

The price of $103,500 for this MS-65 grade 1807 is indicative of strong and growing interest in high quality Bust Left Half Eagles. Why did the Palakika 1812 bring much more? It is plausible that the Palakika 1812 is of higher quality than this 1807 and/or it may be true that a bidding collector who already has a gem 1807 needed a gem 1812.

Although it is not noted in the catalogue, Heritage auctioned the Palakika 1812 in July 2003 for $54,625, a little more than a third of its May 2007 price. As for certified MS-65 grade 1807s, in addition to the recent $80,500 and $97,750 prices mentioned above, Heritage auctioned an NGC graded MS-65 1807 for $51,750 in June 2004. It is certain that prices for certified MS-65 Bust Left Half Eagles have gone up over the last two years, though the price increases may apply largely or exclusively to coins that the potential buyers judge to be truly of MS-65 grade and appealing in other ways.

© 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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