Incredible Ultra-Gem 1794 Half Cent

The usually-rare word treasures is common in regard to the D. Brent Pogue Collection, what with the rarest of the rare, the finest of the fine – a collection like no other ever formed.

Among the treasures is lot 3004 of our Part III sale, a 1794 half cent, High Relief Head, Cohen-7, graded MS-67 RB (PCGS). In all grades the 1794 C-7 is elusive, with only a few dozen known.

All bets are off, however, when it comes to the Pogue coin! This incredible half cent from the Missouri Cabinet was designated by the catalogers as “the finest graded early half cent” when offered for sale by Ira and Larry Goldberg. Not the finest graded 1794 half cent, but the finest of any early half cent year seen by Bob Grellman and Chris Victor McCawley. They continued: “Lustrous mint red mellowing to light steel brown, at least a third of the original color remaining. The fields are reflective, and the eye appeal is amazing. This is a true ‘WOW!’ coin.”

It would be difficult to improve on this enthusiasm! Suffice it to say that this is a highlight of the D. Brent Pogue Collection and is one of the foremost treasures in American numismatics. Once sold, the opportunity to acquire it may be lost for a lifetime or more. Again the word opportunity is very appropriate.

When one thinks of rarities among early half cents the first year of issue, 1793, comes to mind as do the two varieties of 1796 – With Pole and Without Pole – and the Pogue Collection has these coins as well. The 1794, as discussed here, is a sleeper—not thought of as a basic rarity, but in MS-67 grade it is of stellar importance, as Bob Grellman and Chris Victor McCawley stated.

Some background information may be of interest:

In 1794 the design of the half cent was changed by engraver Robert Scot. The Liberty Cap style with head facing left, as used on the coins of 1793, was reformatted to a portrait with large head and facing to the right. The large designation applies only to half cents of 1794. The motif was continued from 1795 to 1797, but with the head much smaller. The obverse of the Pogue Collection coin is Walter Breen’s High Relief Head. The cap is spaced away from the dentils. The 4 very nearly touches the neck. The pole is distant from dentils and terminates about even with the neck tip. Among half cents of this year the High Relief Head is the most distinctive. As such it has been in everlasting demand. A case could be made for it being a separate type and being essential for a complete set of American coin designs.

Beyond the design change, half cents of 1794 have a further personality all their own. Generally, they were struck on rough planchets, granular, and if not dark and spotted at the time of use, certainly with enough metallic imperfections that such pieces quickly toned to gray or even black. Although there are some exceptions, the typical half cent of 1794 is rather rustic in appearance, not particularly well struck, and somewhat porous.

Considering all the varieties of this year, not many 1794 half cents have survived in higher grades. Typically encountered are pieces in Good, VG, and Fine, not often VF, and hardly ever EF or finer. No matter what the grade, aesthetic appeal is apt to be low – a factor that numismatists have to live with, although some specimens are nicer than others. There is a market advantage in that not everyone considers the 1794 to be a separate type, and, beyond that, relatively few non-specialists are aware of the rarity of pieces with good eye appeal. Mint State 1794 half cents are very hard to find and are several orders rarer than are Mint State 1793 half cents. As to gem 1794 High Relief Head half cents, no other is even remotely close to the Pogue Collection coin.

Provenance: Swiss family collection; Fred Weinberg (Numismatics, Ltd.), by sale, at a small coin show outside of Zurich, Spring 1977; R. Tettenhorst Collection, by sale, via Julian Leidman, after May 1978; R. Tettenhorst to the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society, by gift; Missouri Cabinet Collection; Ira and Larry Goldberg Auctioneers’ sale of the Missouri Cabinet Collection of U.S. Half Cents, January 2014, lot 20.

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