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The Allure of the 1822 Capped Bust Half Eagle

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Capped Bust $5, 1822 $5, PCGS AU50. Click image to enlarge.

The 1822 Capped Bust Half Eagle turned heads at a March 2021 auction when it sold for $8.4 million, becoming the most valuable gold coin ever made by the United States Mint. And there’s a reason this coin drew such big figures… Sure, it’s rare. But it’s about more than just that alone. It’s the kind of coin upon which the best numismatic stories are built.

A total of 17,796 specimens were made, but many were spent as money, lost to the hands of time, or melted for their gold content. In relatively short order, numbers dwindled for this issue. Collectors couldn’t seem to find any specimens. And now just three are known to the numismatic world, with only one available for which collectors can vie. The other two reside in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., untouchable to private collectors. One Smithsonian example hails from the United States Mint Cabinet Collection; the other once circulated among a tight carousel of colorful collectors before its last set of private hands – those belonging to the estate of collector Joseph K. Lilly – donated the rare coin to the Smithsonian Institution.

That leaves just one last example for collectors to bid over, and bid they do. This third specimen, graded by PCGS as an AU50 (making it the best of the three known examples), was in just three coin collections over the span of 115 years; these include the cabinets of Virgil Brand, Louis Eliasberg, and D. Brent Pogue.

The coin traded among a few collectors during the 19th century, with a provenance tracing back to noted collector Joseph J. Mickley, one of the earliest major collectors of United States coins and often dubbed the “father of American numismatics.” Following Mickley, the lone privately owned 1822 Capped Bust Half Eagle went to William Sumner Appleton, and W.E. Woodward. Virgil Brand then became its next owner in 1899, with his heirs selling it to Louis Eliasberg in 1945 for the sum of $14,000. After Eliasberg’s passing in 1976, the coin once more hit the auction circuit, selling to Pogue in 1982 for $687,500 – then one of the highest prices ever paid for any single coin.

Pogue passed away in 2019, and his treasured 1822 Capped Bust Half Eagle has again come up for sale at a Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction in Las Vegas, where it hammered for record money on March 25, 2021. Its $8.4 million price tag not only made it the most valuable gold coin produced by the United States Mint, but it’s also among the top three most valuable coins ever sold at public auction.

“We are thrilled to see this coin cross the auction block to set a world-record price,” said PCGS President Brett Charville upon the sale of the 1822 Capped Bust Half Eagle. “We graded this coin AU50 when it was owned by the late, great collector D. Brent Pogue, and this specimen was formerly owned by the legendary Virgil Brand and Louis Eliasberg. The 1822 Capped Bust Half Eagle has been offered for sale only a few times in the last century, and therefore it’s no surprise this unique piece just became the most valuable gold coin ever made by the United States Mint.”

So, who owns the coin now? As of this writing, that information is not known to the public. But what is entirely evident is the 1822 Capped Bust Half Eagle has mesmerized American numismatists for centuries. Its allure transcends generation and period. As the wheels of time keep spinning, collectors remain firmly fixated on the sheer rarity and value of the 1822 Capped Bust Half Eagle, a trophy coin whose legacy is every bit as important as that of the 1804 Draped Bust Dollar, 1894-S Barber Dime, and 1913 Liberty Nickel. Where the 1822 Capped Bust Half Eagle goes next is just about anybody’s guess. However, its allure, its mystique, its significance – the legends of the great collectors who have owned it – are all clearly going nowhere but into eternity.

Great Collectors and Collections Early Half Eagles (1795-1838)