Incredible Gem 1820 half eagle

How Rare is Rare?

The word rare has never been defined—whether it is “what is so rare as a day in June,” or “A glass of Louis Roederer Cristal champagne is a rare treat,” “Among Lincoln cents the 1909-S V.D.B. is considered to be rare.” In numismatics a number of efforts have been made to quantify rarity, the most famous of which is the Sheldon Rarity Scale devised by Dr. William H. Sheldon in 1949 as part of a market formula to determine the prices of large copper cents dated 1793 to 1814. The formula did not work in the marketplace. However, the Sheldon Rarity Scale has lived on. The presently showcased 1820 half eagle is rated as Rarity 7, denoting 4 to 12 known in that rating system. This means that in the wide world of numismatics only a dozen or fewer of the 1820 Curved Base 2, Small Letters Bass-Dannreuther coins are thought to exist. This covers all grades from worn to Mint State.

Even more to the point is the subtitle above: The D. Brent Pogue Collection coin is the only one ever seen by PCGS. Considering that PCGS, formed in 1986, has examined tens of millions of coins has never seen another is even more astonishing than the coin’s Rarity-7 rating. Add to that the incredible MS-66 grade of this coin—thought to be the very finest in existence anywhere—and we have a World Series winner quality coin! The term once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity would seem to be appropriate.

Notes: There are nine confirmed varieties of 1820 half eagles. BD-6 is a prime rarity among them. Of all these only this variety has the Small Letters reverse, prompting us to muse whether it could have been made later in the decade by combining a die made in 1828 with an unused 1820 obverse. John Dannreuther working with Harry W. Bass, Jr.’s research notes published in the magisterial Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties stated: “This rarity is represented by only a handful known (fewer than 10, possibly only 6 or 7 coins).”

At the time half eagles were minted some were available through banks. This was the last year for par between high-quality bank notes (such as from the second Bank of America) and federal gold coins. Later in 1820 the price of bullion rose slightly, and it cost more than face value to produce them. Nearly all of the half eagles made this year were shipped overseas and melted, although a few were bought and sold domestically by exchange brokers, primarily in New York City.

Provenance: From an unspecified Sotheby’s sale; Tony Terranova; Larry Hanks. Tony Terranova has been a fine friend and client of our company for decades. Larry Hanks, with a fine eye for quality, acquired this coin on behalf of D. Brent Pogue.


Books on the Pogue Collection

If you haven’t already, we encourage you to find out more about the D. Brent Pogue Collection by reading two great books by Q. David Bowers. These books offer general background information and much more about the numismatic market and events from the 19th century onward:

Treasures from the D. Brent Pogue Rare Coin Cabinet, 208 pages, color illustrated, quality hardbound. This tells the stories of 100 special coins in the copper, silver and gold series, selected from over 650 specimens to be auctioned. We guarantee you several evenings of enjoyable reading. $39.95 plus shipping.

The 1822 Gold Half Eagle: Story of a Rarity, 128 pages, color illustrated, quality hardbound. The Pogue Collection 1822 half eagle, the only one in private hands, provides the opportunity to discuss the three pieces in existence (the other two are in the National Numismatic Collection), their owners over a long period of time, and the story of coin collecting from the 19th century to modern times. $39.95 plus shipping.

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