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American Gold Rarity – A Favorite Among Collectors


Representing one of the most popular pre-1933 gold categories, early United States Half Eagle gold coins are categorically rare. The denomination, struck almost continuously from 1795 through 1929 with few exceptions, is popular with numismatists who wish to build a comprehensive set of gold coins. One of the most popular series in the gold Half Eagle run are the Capped Bust to Left coins designed by John Reich and struck from 1807 through 1834, a period during which the design saw some modifications, including reduction of the coin’s diameter in 1829 from approximately 25 millimeters to 23.8 millimeters.

Some of the greatest numismatic rarities known are found among these Capped Bust to Left Half Eagles, and these include the varieties from the year 1810. The 1810 Half Eagles offer four varieties, and each is so distinct that there is no numismatically "normal" 1810 example, and most are rare. Among the rarest is the 1810 Small Date, Small 5 Half Eagle (BD-2). Just four or five specimens are known, and the highest-graded example of these was recently certified by PCGS in MS63. Slabbed within its Gold Shield holder, this warmly toned top-pop rarity has an estimated value of $200,000.

While the reported mintage for all 1810 Half Eagles is a respectable 100,287, a closer look at the many 1810-dated Half Eagles reveals that the four major varieties for the year were not struck in equal numbers and that the vast majority of these coins were melted or lost to time anyway. Today, a tiny fraction of all 1810 half eagles ever made still exist, and all command strong premiums. A collector pursuing a complete set of Capped Bust to Left Half Eagles would need to spend a large sum of money and time to obtain examples of each of the four 1810 Half Eagle varieties, which we will profile below.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

1810 Half Eagle Small Date, Small 5

1810 Capped Bust Half Eagle, Small Date, Small 5 PCGS MS63. Courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts. Click to enlarge.

The aforementioned 1810 Small Date, Small 5 Half Eagle is not only one of the rarest issues of its period but of all half eagles. PCGS estimates there are just 22 survivors in any grade, with but only a tiny handful accounted for at this time. Those that do appear are normally found in the lightly circulated XF grade range, and all that have been examined show die breaks through the date on the obverse.

This issue has a sporadic auction history over the past two decades, mostly because of its extreme rarity and the relatively few occasions that examples of any grade have been offered for public sale. Two transactions of PCGS-graded XF45 examples are recorded in 1999 and 2002 at $29,900 and $27,600, respectively. Trades involving PCGS-certified AU55s show the increasing value for this variety over the course of 10 years, with an example realizing $36,800 in 1997 and $126,500 a decade later in 2007. Meanwhile, a PCGS AU58 notched $109,250 in 2012.

1810 Half Eagle Large Date, Small 5

1810 Capped Bust Half Eagle, Large Date, Small 5 PCGS VF30. Courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts. Click to enlarge.

Similarly, a major rarity as the 1810 Small Date, Small 5 is the 1810 $5 Large Date, Small 5. This coin shows the larger date numerals and prominent "0" at the end of the date approaching Miss Liberty’s lower hair curls. Meanwhile, the "5" in the denomination on the reverse is of the small variety, showing a more bulbous lower serif and open loop. We estimate there are only 5 survivors, including just 1 in uncirculated condition with the rest grading VF to XF. This piece has a scant auction record, with the same XF example appearing twice in the 1970s.

1810 Half Eagle Small Date, Tall 5

1810 Capped Bust Half Eagle, Small Date, Tall 5 PCGS MS65. Courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts. Click to enlarge.

Another rare 1810 variety bears a small date on the obverse and tall 5 on the reverse. The small date numerals sit further south of Miss Liberty’s bust and show more angular points atop the "1" numerals in the date than as seen with the large date. Meanwhile the base of the "tall" 5 virtually touches the denticles on the lower reverse rim. Though this is the second-most common of the 1810 varieties, it is approximately twice to three times as rare as the 1810 Large Date, Large 5 and is scarcer than several other notable pieces in the series, including the 1807 Capped Bust Left, the 1808, 1809/8 overdate, either 1811 issues, and the 1812. We estimate there are 225 survivors, including just 67 in uncirculated grades.

1810 Half Eagle Large Date, Large 5

1810 Capped Bust Half Eagle, Large Date, Large 5 PCGS MS66. Courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts. Click to enlarge.

The most common issue of the four 1810 Half Eagle varieties is the 1810 $5 Large Date, Large 5. Of course, the word "common" is a relative term in numismatics, especially when referencing early gold coins. That is certainly the case here, where we estimate there are 675 survivors, with about half that sum comprising uncirculated pieces. While comparatively large survivorship figures when discussing early gold coins, these numbers represent mere handfuls in the scope of numismatics, where mintage figures and survival estimates often range well into the millions for particular issues. The 1810 Large Date, Large 5, has a unique attribute in that the shape, style, and size of the numeral 5 denoting this coin’s denomination is unlike any other found among the half eagles dated 1807 through 1812.

1810 Half Eagles Are Sought by Collectors

While the PCGS MS63 1810 $5 Small Date, Small 5 is a coin that could realistically command a quarter million dollars at auction, perhaps even more, there are plenty of buyers just waiting for the opportunity to buy it. That’s because the quarter eagle series, as mentioned earlier, encompasses a wide range of coins spanning from the late 18th century into the first decades of the 20th century and attracts a large number of collectors. Of course, collecting these highly scarce and valuable gold coins isn’t for the impatient or the faint of heart.

A solid date-run collection of half eagles would take many years for the typical buyer to complete. Add in varieties such as those from 1810, and then the required investment of both time and money for completing such an objective exponentially increases. Still, there are plenty of diehard numismatists with the dedication and financial resources necessary for completing such a sophisticated set, as seen by the sensational quarter eagle collections in the PCGS Set Registry®.

History Early Half Eagles (1795-1838)