In the numismatic world there are certain auctions that remain famous decades after they take place. The Eliasberg sales immediately come to mind, as do several others. One such sale is the Pogue Collection, which is in the process of being sold over multiple installments in a joint venture by Stack’s Bowers and Sotheby’s.
We have now reached part IV of this landmark auction, which is will commence in New York City on May 24. Many consider this next installment to be the most important of the sale. While the auction consists of just 63 lots, it is filled with rarities, including two of the most important coins in American numismatics. The auction includes Reeded Edge Bust half dollars, Gobrecht silver dollars, Half Eagles of numerous types, and a single ten-dollar gold piece.
The first highlight we will consider is lot 4007. The coin is one of approximately nine known examples (from a reported mintage of twenty) of the 1838-O Capped Bust half dollar, graded Specimen-64 by PCGS. Considered to be among the first coins struck at the New Orleans Branch Mint, this is a legendary issue. No half dollars were struck at the New Orleans Mint in 1838 despite initial plans, but the denomination would be produced regularly there starting in 1839.
The first ten pieces struck with a date of 1838 are considered to have been test pieces struck in early 1839 with backdated dies to test the machinery; another batch was produced around May. All manufactured with care, they are considered Specimens, and the surviving pieces are well-struck on reflective planchets — thought not quite to Proof standards, which is why they are considered Specimens. The coin in the Pogue collection is considered to be among the finest known and has a pedigree that goes back to the early 20th century.
Another Specimen issue, this time from the early Philadelphia Mint, is offered as lot 4012 and is one of the most spectacular special strikes from the time period. The 1795 Draped Bust silver dollar is graded Specimen-66 by PCGS, and is considered to be among the most desirable early dollars. Carefully produced and cared for since its striking, the coin highlights the beauty of early American coinage.
Most likely it was struck as a memento for what was new design at the time, replacing the Flowing Hair dollar introduced the previous year as the first coins of America’s largest silver denomination. It is not known whether others were struck with this piece, but to date only this example has appeared on the marketplace. Its pedigree is complete going back to the late 19th century, and it last appeared on the market in the 1985 Jimmy Hayes sale, so the Pogue sale may amount to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for specialists to add one of the most important silver dollars in existence to their numismatic collection.
It might be hard to believe, but to many the 1795 Specimen dollar described above won’t be the highlight of the silver dollars in this sale. That honor would most likely go to lot 4020, one of the most famous American coins ever made, even though it wasn’t struck until about 30 years after the date on the coin. It is the Sultan of Muscat 1804 silver dollar, graded Proof-68 by PCGS.
A class I Original (re-strikes were made in the 1850s and 1870s), this is without a doubt the finest known example of this enigmatic rarity. Originally part of an 1834 Proof set presented to the Sultan of Muscat, the United States Mint included 1804 dated examples of the silver dollar and the ten-dollar gold piece in the set, as those were the last dates they were produced. The Mint, however, did not realize that the silver dollars struck in 1804 were actually dated 1803, and in the process created one of the most famous rarities in American numismatics.
The 1804 silver dollar in the Pogue collection is not the only Class I or original example known. Another, identical Proof set was presented to the King of Siam, which is still complete. Numerous other pieces, presumably from other sets, are also known to exist; they were supposed to be presented to dignitaries in what is now Vietnam and Japan, but those visits were cancelled and the sets disappeared. Yet none of the other examples known can compete with the Pogue coin, which has been owned by some of history’s most famous numismatists.
The auction catalog has the complete story as we know it, including an extensive write up on the previous owners of the coin, which is worth a read. It was last sold publicly in the sale of the Walter H. Childs collection in 1999, when it realized $4,140,000, which at the time was the highest price ever paid for a coin. That price, however, could well look like a bargain after the item crosses the auction block again on May 24.
We now move on to the true highlight of the Pogue collection. Lot 4026 is one of the most legendary rarities in all of numismatics — a coin so rare that only a few people have been able to own it privately during the past century. It is the only 1822 Half Eagle known in private hands, with two others permanently impounded in museum collections.
Graded AU-50 by PCGS, the coin was last sold in the 1982 Eliasberg sale, when it realized $687,500. Its rarity is well known among specialists, but a little surprising, as 17,796 pieces were reportedly struck that year. Perhaps most were back-dated, as some research suggests, or else an unusually high number of pieces were later melted, destroyed, or lost (none of the other dates of this period are particularly common either). The rarity of this date has been known for a long time, although it took until the late 19th century before it was fully realized exactly how unusual this coin was. From then on, however, it has been prized as one of most important of all American coins.
While this piece is certainly deserving of a stand-along article, we are not going to do that because Q. David Bowers already wrote an extensive book on the coin that also includes information on the two other known examples. The book is worth reading even if you only have a cursory interest in the coin, if only for the histories of many of the key players in American numismatics. The book also features many noteworthy pictures not published elsewhere. When the Pogue 1822 Half Eagle sells, no doubt for some sort of record price, the book and the auction catalog will be noteworthy and valuable for future research on this legendary American numismatic rarity.
All images courtesy of Stack’s Bowers.