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Unique Items: 1878 $5 Liberty Head Half Eagle Pattern – Judd-1570 PCGS PR-65

1878 $5 Liberty Head Half Eagle, Judd-1570, Pollock-1764, Unique, PR65 PCGSA bold, aggressive representation of Liberty shown facing left, her hair combed back and tied in a bun, with a long curl that extends well down the back of the neck. Two ornamental ribbons decorate the top of her head, including one that runs horizontally and proclaims the word LIBERTY in incused letters.

The portrait is framed by the date and by E PLURIBUS UNUM, with the words of this obverse motto separated by pellets or periods. The reverse design features a defiant heraldic eagle grasping an olive branch and three arrows in its talons. The inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, IN GOD WE TRUST, and FIVE DOL. encompass the eagle. Struck in gold on a thin, reeded edge planchet and a diameter very close to one inch (25.4 mm.), compared to the 21.6 mm. diameter that was standard at the time.

These broad, thin planchets were first suggested by Dr. J.T. Barclay of the U.S. Mint in the mid-1850s and an initial prototype was struck in the form of the 1860 gold half eagle pattern, Judd-271, which has an even larger diameter of 27 mm., equaling that of a ten dollar piece. They were intended as an anti-counterfeiting measure during a period when rising production of gold coins and increased availability of similarly heavy, but contemporarily less valuable platinum metal ignited concern among Mint officials over the potential use of platinum plugs for existing gold coins. This fear, referred to in Mint reports as the “platinum menace,” apparently gained at least mild support in the years following the Civil War, although it eventually proved to be unfounded as a widespread problem.

This piece is plated in the Sotheby’s February 1954 catalog of the King Farouk Collection, and Andrew Pollock noted an earlier pedigree to Waldo C. Newcomer. This is probably the same piece that has an earlier pedigree back to Harold Newlin in 1884.

According to an article by Carl W.A. Carlson in the November 1981 issue of The Numismatist, Harold Newlin offered a set of three gold patterns to T. Harrison Garrett, via a letter date November 28, 1884. Carlson noted: “Newlin reported in that letter that Morgan had told him no more than two or three sets had been struck in gold. As a complete set was thus in Newlin’s hands in late 1884, and as no other complete set has ever surfaces, it seems extremely probable that the Farouk set is the same one owned by Newlin and referred to in his letter to Garrett.” The information presented by Carlson suggests that this coin has an incomplete pedigree back to 1884, and was probably acquired by Newlin from an unidentified Mint officer who kept it in his possession from the time it was struck in 1878.

Ex: Possibly from an unidentified Mint officer to Harold P. Newlin; later, Waldo C. Newcomer; Col. E.H.R. Green and illustrated in the photographic inventory of his collection; Palace Collection of King Farouk (Sotheby’s, 2/1954), lot 315, where it realized the princely sum of $746.20; still later, Ed Trompeter; Heritage Galleries; 1999 ANA Convention Sale (Heritage, 8/1999), lot 7776; 2002 ANA convention Sale (Superior, 8/2002), lot 831.

This coin was sold by Heritage at the January 2007 Fun Sale. Price Realized $402,500

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