The Survival Estimate represents an average of one or more experts' opinions as to how many examples survive of a particular coin in three categories: 1) all grades, 2) 60 or better, and 3) 65 or better. These estimates are based on a variety of sources, including population reports, auction appearances, and personal knowledge. Survival estimates include coins that are raw, certified by PCGS, and certified by other grading services.
Numismatic Rarity converts the Survival Estimate for a particular coin into a number from 1 to 10 (with decimal increments) based on the PCGS Rarity Scale. The higher the number, the more rare the coin.
Relative Rarity By Type
Relative Rarity By Type ranks the rarity of this coin with all other coins of this Type. Lower numbers indicate rarer coins.
Relative Rarity By Series
Relative Rarity By Series ranks the rarity of this coin with all other coins of this Series. Lower numbers indicate rarer coins.
The 1856-D is one of the rarest – and certainly the most underrated – Dahlonega half eagles. Until recently, it was regarded as just a little bit better than common within the series, yet it is many times rarer than dates such as the 1852-D through the 1854-D.
The 1856-D half eagle is a scarce date. It is typically seen in Extremely Fine grades. Accurately graded About Uncirculated examples are rare and it becomes very rare in the higher AU grades. In full Mint State, the 1856-D was formerly extremely rare but a newly discovered hoard has made it among the more available Dahlonega half eagles.
STRIKE: The 1856-D is generally one of the better struck of the late date Dahlonega half eagles. Most have an unusual slightly convex appearance to the obverse which results in weakness on the hair around the face of Liberty and on the curl below her ear. Many coins are quite flat at the centers but some show full radial line definition in the stars. The reverse is typically sharper than the obverse with the exception of the arrow feathers, the tops of the legs and the middle of the neck which are often weak. The denticles on both sides are clear but there is pronounced roundness to the rims.
SURFACES: It is extremely difficult to locate an example which is not very heavily abraded. Many have scratches or mint-made impairments such as laminations. Others show roughness on the planchet which can range from minor to severe. A few are known which have the sharpness of Mint State but with matte-like surfaces from exposure to sea water. These generally have the value of Extremely Fine coins.
LUSTER: This date has above average luster for a Dahlonega half eagle. The luster is often frosty in texture.
COLORATION: On original uncleaned examples, the coloration is typically orange-gold or medium rose-gold.
EYE APPEAL: Locating pieces with good eye appeal is very difficult. Most have been cleaned or have planchet problems. Sharply struck, original coins with good luster are very desirable.
PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS: Sometime in the 1990’s, an incredible hoard that contained dozens of Uncirculated 1856-D half eagles was discovered in South Carolina as a field was being excavated. This hoard passed through a few hands before it was purchased by a dealer in Georgia. He has been very slow to release these coins. Over the past few years, he has sent perhaps a dozen of them to PCGS, where they have been graded Mint State-61 and Mint State-62. There are easily identifiable by their superb rose and orange-gold color, great luster and scattered hairlines as a result of being lightly cleaned after more than a century of dirt had adhered to the surfaces.
I have yet to adjust the overall and by-grade rarity levels of this date to reflect the number of 1856-D half eagles that I know exist. It is important for the collector to know that these coins are overhanging the market and will probably be made available, a few at a time, over the coming years.
DIE VARIETIES: Only one die variety is currently known to exist.
Variety 33-BB: On the obverse, the date is centered in the field and it is not near the neck or the denticles. The reverse was used only in 1856. The upright of the mintmark is over the left serif of the right diagonal of the V in FIVE. The left edge of the mintmark is over the right serif of the left diagonal of the V while the right edge is over the center of the upright of the E. The mintmark is the same distance from the talon and the feather and it is far from the stem.
Researcher John Dannreuther believes that another variety exists. He cites Lot 467 in the Bass III sale as an example of an 1856-D half eagle with a new obverse and reverse die. I did not examine this coin and from the halftone black and white photos in the auction catalog, it is impossible to determine if this is, in fact, a new variety. If it is, it would become Variety 34-CC.
David Akers (1975/88):
The 1856-D has a lower mintage than any Dahlonega Mint Half Eagle from 1840-1855 and it also had fewer auction appearances in my survey than all but a couple of dates of that period. High grade examples above EF are very rare and no more than a few strictly uncirculated pieces exist. (I have never seen a really choice one.) This issue is generally more well struck than the D Mint coins from 1852 to 1855 but always has rounded, "beveled" rims (as do all D Mint Half Eagles henceforth until the end of production in 1861).
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