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The Most Legendary Rarity in American Numismatics

- April 21, 2016

1822 half eagle holder
Click to enlarge

By Ron Guth.

Rarity can be defined as the number of survivors of a particular coin.  However, rarity can also be defined as the number of times a coin appears on the market or by the length of time since its last appearance.  In general, if a collector waits a few years, most American rarities will appear for sale at least once during that period.  In some instances, it might take a decade for a coin to appear on the market. In the most extreme cases, it may be multiple decades, if not generations, before a coin finally becomes available.  Such is the case with the 1822 Half Eagle, a supreme rarity among U.S. coins, and one which has not appeared on the market since October 1982.  Now, for the first time in nearly thirty-four years, collectors will have an opportunity to bid on (and potentially own) the Brand-Eliasberg-Pogue 1822 Half Eagle when it appears next month in a combined Stack's/Bowers and Sotheby's auction.  As in 1982, an appreciative crowd is expected to greet it with a record price.

1822 half eagle
Click to enlarge

Of all the U.S. numismatic rarities, the 1822 Half Eagle is one of the purest.  It was not made by mistake, it was not a fantasy issue made for sale to collectors, it was not a restrike, nor was it a special coin created as a presentation piece.  It was a regular old half eagle made for normal use in circulation, but few were made and even fewer survived.  The 1822 Half Eagle is what is known as a "trophy" coin in the industry – a coin that is unique (or nearly so), very expensive, of the best quality available, having an impeccable pedigree, and possessing a story and an allure that transcends all of numismatics.  This is a coin that all numismatists recognize as the rarest of the rare and the best of the best, but it is also a coin that can attract buyers from outside the normal numismatic borders -- which may be why Stack's/Bowers teamed up with Sotheby's to offer the coin to a broader base of wealthy clients.  When the 1822 Half Eagle appeared in 1982, it was one of only three examples known of the date and the only one available to collectors (the two other examples were, and remain today, in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution).

To get a preview of what will happen on May 24 when the 1822 Half Eagle appears again for sale, one needs only to look back to the 1982 sale.  Though billed generically as "The United State Gold Coin Collection", everyone "in the know" knew it was the collection of Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr., the only person then (and now) who had ever completed a collection of ALL U.S. coins.  Bowers and Ruddy conducted the sale and promoted it heavily in the numismatic press.  Q. David Bowers, one of the principals of the firm, authored a companion volume that provided background information beyond that of the catalog.  The national press, having caught wind of this remarkable numismatic event, interviewed Bowers on CBS News for his impressions before the auction.  On the second day of the sale, when the 1822 Half Eagle was to appear, more than three hundred bidders filled the auction room to capacity.  After opening at an already impressive $175,000, the 1822 Half Eagle soared to $687,500, matching the price for the second most valuable coin to be sold at auction.  The apparent buyer of the coin was the late David Akers, a dealer who represented the actual buyers, Mack and Brent Pogue.  The numismatic press went crazy because of the many, record-breaking prices achieved at the sale.

There are two reasons to be in New York City on May 24, 2016.  The first is to witness history as this remarkable 1822 Half Eagle crosses the auction block once again.  The second is to raise your bidder paddle and actually attempt to purchase the coin.  You may not have another opportunity to own this trophy coin until another thirty-four years have passed.




Article provided by PCGS at www.pcgs.com

 
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