Long residing in the John Work Garrett Collection, this prized rarity made its first modern numismatic appearance in 1976 at our (Stack's) auction of that famous collection. When offered as lot 375 in our 1976 Garrett Collection sale, this coin was preceded by the impressive headline: "Exceptional 1843 'D' Half Eagle." The catalog description went on to state:
"In the cataloguer's opinion this coin was intentionally struck as a Proof. The coin exhibits virtually a full proof surface. It is needle-sharp in strike with square borders and edges. It is one of the most unusual coins we have ever seen. A GEM specimen which should be examined!"
Indeed, Mr. Garrett had acquired this coin as a Proof from Haseltine's 69th sale in January 1884, and it was held in the Garrett Collection as a Proof for nearly 100 years.
Rolling the clock forward 36 years from our 1976 Garrett Collection sale, we now find that this spectacular coin has been certified Specimen-65 by NGC -- the only Dahlonega Mint coin of any denomination certified as a branch mint Proof or Specimen striking by NGC and PCGS. In keeping with the special status of this Specimen coin, it is included alongside the Proof listings in the current NGC Census. All branch mint coins of Specimen or Proof status are of the highest rarity and among the most sought-after of classic United States coins. Most are unique for their date and mintmark combination, and these strikings were usually done for special occasions or in commemoration of historic events.
The surfaces are incredible for such an early United States coin, especially one struck in the rustic conditions that prevailed in the Dahlonega Mint during the 1840s. The devices show considerable frost on the central areas as well as the date, stars, lettering and even the D mintmark. These features stand tall against fully reflective, mirror-like fields. Hints of faint copper-gold toning are noted near the rims, particularly on the reverse, which accents add charm and elegance to this prized rarity. Many of these historic Specimen and branch mint Proof coins show considerable evidence of handling (usually in the form of scattered hairlines) from long-ago attempts to dust up, wipe off or otherwise "improve" the appearance of the surfaces by well meaning collectors. Here the fields and devices are exceptionally well preserved and highly attractive with minimal signs of handling. Indeed, both sides remain in full Gem condition. This alone is a powerful statement and a testament to the quality of the coins assembled by John Work Garrett and the care with which they were preserved for nearly 100 years while they resided in his collection. Credit in this regard also goes to The Johns Hopkins University that inherited Garrett's magnificent coin collection. Precious few old-time collections have been preserved in such a manner, which fact helps to explain why Gem-quality coins of all classic United States types are so elusive in today's market. The number of such coins has dwindled through the generations as collectors -- and even institutions and museums -- have mishandled their precious charges. This remarkable Gem is the highest graded 1843-D half eagle certified by NGC and PCGS, and the only Specimen striking recorded or even reported for the issue. Neither NGC nor PCGS has graded a regular circulation strike 1843-D half eagle finer than MS-64.
Diagnostics include a small die chip on the upper right corner of the digit 3 in the date, with an equally minuscule die rust lump nearby in the field that nearly touches the truncation of Liberty's portrait. A few more rust lumps are seen between stars 1 and 2 on the obverse. On the reverse there is a faint, thin die crack connecting the letters E and D in the denomination FIVE D, and another that extends up to the rim from the letter D in UNITED. A partial wire edge, or fin, is present along the lower portion of the obverse and at the right side of the reverse -- testament to the force used to create this Specimen strike. Clearly these rust marks and other diagnostics confirm that this coin was produced using the same dies that the Dahlonega Mint used to produce regular circulation strike 1843-D half eagles, although both the obverse and reverse dies were obviously polished and otherwise specially prepared prior to striking this singular coin.
Comparisons to this unique 1843-D half eagle are few and far between, as Specimen coinage is not only rare, but seldom offered at auction or for outright purchase. A similar coin was sold by us (Stack's) in 2010, that being the unique 1853-O Liberty eagle certified as Specimen-61 by NGC. That coin was offered as lot 1109 in our August 2010 sale, where it realized a remarkable price of $316,250. While matching the current Specimen 1843-D as unique, the coin we are offering here is of far greater technical quality and possesses much stronger eye appeal, as evidenced by the remarkable Specimen-65 grade assigned by NGC. As previously stated, it is also more desirable from a historical perspective as the only certified Specimen strike coin from the Dahlonega Mint of any date or denomination!
Walter Breen speculated that many of the coiners assigned to the various branch mint that operated at one time or another during United States coinage history would have been trained in Philadelphia, or even visited that parent Mint in order to learn techniques to be applied when they returned to their respective stations. One of these training steps would certainly have been to assist in the production of Proof coinage at the Philadelphia Mint, thus the process could certainly be duplicated in facilities such as that at Dahlonega -- as far as available equipment and other aspect of technology at the branch mints would allow -- should a special occasion arise that required the production of such coins.
Examination of the historical references to 1843 note several interesting events that year, although none of these events, or any others for that matter, have been linked to the production of this important Specimen 1843-D half eagle either in official government records or the wide body of numismatic literature. More than 1,000 wagons left Independence, Missouri to scamper through the Wild West and Indian Territory to hopefully make it to Oregon, thus opening up the Oregon Trail and finally realizing Thomas Jefferson's dream of settling the Western territories acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Unusual weather in 1843 included a very late season snowfall on June 1 in Buffalo and Rochester, New York, as well as in Cleveland, Ohio. An alligator fell from the sky during a thunderstorm on July 2, 1843 in Charleston, South Carolina, causing all sorts of wild rumors and local excitement. Preacher William Miller of Massachusetts predicted that the world would end on March 21, 1843, but this was not borne out, much to the embarrassment of his followers. In December Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, which has continued in popularity to this very day.
Combined NGC and PCGS Population: just 1 example in Specimen format.
From our (Stack's) sale of the John Work Garrett Collection for The Johns Hopkins University, March 1976, lot 375. Mr. Garrett acquired the coin as a Proof from Haseltine's 69th sale in January 1884. The coin was held as a Proof in the Garrett Collection for nearly 100 years.