The Capped Bust, Heraldic Eagle type of 1795-1807 was replaced in 1807 due to the addition of John Reich as Assistant Engraver at the Mint. His new design was significantly different than the old Robert Scot coinage with a large capped bust facing to the left wearing a large, loose-fitting cap; the reverse replaced the old Heraldic eagle design with an upright eagle whose wings are spread outwards.
Reich’s Capped Draped Bust half eagles were produced from 1807 through 1812. Mintage figures for these coins tend to be comparably high and the survival rate is greater than for nearly any other early gold type. This means that collectors should be able to find a nice example with little difficulty, even in higher grades.
A Collecting Guide by Doug Winter
Photos and text used with permission and courtesy of Douglas Winter Numismatics
There are a number of different ways to collect this series. Type collectors seek a single nice example to represent this design. As a type collector, you should be able to select from a number of different dates as many of the half eagles produced from 1807 to 1812 are common enough to sell for no real date premium. Date collectors like this type because there are no major “stoppers” unlike in nearly all of the other early gold series. And die variety collectors will discover that Capped Draped Bust Half Eagles are a real challenge with a host of significant major and minor varieties known to exist.
Before we look at the series on a date-by-date basis, let’s discuss some basic collecting tenets about Capped Draped Bust Half eagles which, in truth, can be applied to all early gold coins.
1. If possible, try to buy an original piece with nice color and luster. Most Capped Draped Bust half eagles have been cleaned or processed at one time and show little remaining originality. But there are enough nice, original coins around that if the collector is patient and if he learns the hallmarks of originality, he should be able to purchase an outstanding coin for type purposes.
2. Many half eagles of this type show adjustment marks. These are not considered detracting and generally do not have an impact on a coin’s grade.
3. If you are looking at an unencapsulated example of this type, make certain to carefully check the rims and edges. Many early gold coins have been used in jewelry and show traces of having been mounted. Unless you really know what you are doing, I’d strongly suggest you stick with a PCGS or NGC graded early half eagle.
4. Enough of these coins typically trade hands at shows and at auctions that it is possible to have a better idea what they are worth than the rarer, less frequently traded types such as the Fat Head issues of the 1820’s and 1830’s. Greysheet Bid levels on early gold coins tend to be too low as prices on these coins are quickly moving up. If you are using auction records as a reference point, only check recent ones as those prior to 2007 are worthless at this point.
5. Strike is not generally a major factor in determining grade and value in this series but, that said, avoid an example that is very softly detailed at the centers.
DATE BY DATE ANALYSIS OF CAPPED DRAPED BUST HALF EAGLES
Total Known: 600-800+
Varieties Known: 2
1. 5 nearly touches rim (rare)
2. 5 away from rim (very common)
The 1807 is a popular issue due to its status as a first-year-of-issue. It is probably the most common date of this type from the standpoint of total pieces known. It is readily available in circulated grades and only marginally scarce in MS60 to MS62. It becomes rare in properly graded MS63 and it is very rare in MS64. There are an estimated three to five Gems known as well as two amazing MS67’s that have been certified by PCGS. The finest piece that I have personally seen was sold in the November 1999 Sotheby’s auction where it brought $121,000.
The 1807 tends to be a well struck issue and it can be found with very sharp details. The centers are often fully detailed while the borders tend to be a bit weaker, especially the obverse denticles at the top and the corresponding area on the reverse. Most show a number of abrasions on the surfaces and it is hard (though not impossible) to locate clean, relatively mark-free examples. The luster tends to be excellent on original, uncleaned coins with a thick, frosty texture. The natural color ranges from medium green-gold to deep yellow-gold. Some uncleaned examples have reddish toning and others may show small copper spots from improper alloying. This is an issue that can be found with very good eye appeal and it is excellent for type purposes.
Mintage: Estimated 10,000-15,000 (out of 55,578 total)
Total Known: 125-175
Varieties Known: 2
1. Small 1 in date Wide date (rare/very rare)
2. Tall 1 in date Close date (scarce)
Viewed as a date, the 1808/7 is the scarcest issue in the 1807-1812 run. It is numismatically interesting as the only verifiable overdate of this design (I believe the 1809/8 is actually a repunched date) and it tends to be found in the EF45 to AU55 range when available. I have long regarded this as a genuinely rare issue in full Mint State and doubt if there are more than 10-12 that would qualify as such by my standards. PCGS has graded a single example in MS65 which I have not seen; the best I am personally aware of is the Heritage 1/07: 3518 coin that brought $63,250 last year. Any Uncirculated example of this date that is choice and properly graded is, as mentioned above, very rare and worth a premium over current published pricing.
The 1808/7 tends to show a somewhat flat strike with weakness on the hair and feathers. One variety (with the Small 1 in the date) is always found with dramatic obverse cracks and it tends to be weaker than the other variety of this year. The surfaces are almost always very heavily abraded and many show adjustment marks or deliberate scratches. The luster is frosty with a grainy texture and it differs in appearance from the Normal Date 1808 half eagles. The natural color is a light orange-gold and I have seen very, very few that were not dipped or processed. The eye appeal tends to be below average and any 1808/7half eagle that is aesthetically appealing is worth a strong premium over a typical example. I feel that the 1808/7 is an undervalued issue that could start selling for a much greater premium if this series becomes more popular with date collectors.
1808 Normal Date
Mintage: Estimated 35,000-45,000 (out of 55,578 total)
Total Known: 500-600+
Varieties Known: 2
1. Normal 5D (scarce/very scarce)
2. Wide 5D (common)
As a date, the 1808 is scarcer than the 1807, 1810, 1811 and 1812. It is reasonably common in circulated grades and can be found in the lowest Uncirculated grades without a major effort. It becomes very scarce in properly graded MS62, rare in MS63 and very rare in MS64. Gems are exceptionally rare and I have never personally seen one. NGC has graded a single coin MS66 and the only PCGS MS65 was last sold back in 1999 by Bowers and Merena where it realized $69,000 (my guess is that these are the same two coins). This date tends to not bring much of a premium over the 1807, 1810, 1811 or 1812 in MS63 or higher but it is much rarer and worth considerably more, in my opinion.
This is generally a well produced issue that shows a good overall strike. The centers tend to be sharper than the borders and it is not unusual to find weakness on the obverse and reverse denticles. The surfaces are nearly always quite noticeably abraded and clean, unmarked specimens are extremely hard to find. The luster is grainy but not as flat in texture as on the 1808/7. I have seen a few semi-prooflike 1808 half eagles but these tend to be unattractive. The natural color is a medium to deep green-gold with others having a lighter yellow-gold hue. Very few original examples exist as most have been cleaned, dipped or processed and examples with choice, natural surfaces deserve a healthy premium over the typical example. The date collector should be able to locate a nice 1808 half eagle but the specialist looking for an exceptional high grade piece will have quite a challenge.
Total Known: 350-450+
Varieties Known: 1
1. So-called “1809/8” (common)
This issue has long been known as an 1809/8 overdate but I have studied it carefully and am convinced that it is actually a repunched 9. As a date, the 1809 is scarcer than the 1807, 1808 Normal Date, 1810, 1811 and 1812. It is usually seen in circulated grades and it is only marginally scarce in the lowest Uncirculated grades. It becomes very scarce in properly graded MS62, rare in MS63 and very rare in MS64. There are around three or four true Gems known including two MS65’s at PCGS and a single MS66; NGC has graded ten in MS65 with none better. The only Gem I have personally seen was the ANR 9/05: 1240 coin (graded MS65 by PCGS) that sold for $77,625.
The 1809 half eagle tends to be a well-produced issue with good definition noted at the centers. On some coins, the borders may have weakness with the denticles not fully formed. The surfaces are typically abraded and I have seen a number of 1809 half eagles that displayed conspicuous adjustment marks. The luster is above average and is seen with a dense, grainy texture. The natural color tends to be a rich yellow-gold and I have also seen a number that were a medium to deep green-gold shade. Most 1809 half eagles have been cleaned, dipped or processed and no longer display any originality as a result. The level of eye appeal for this date remains high and if the date collector is patient he should be able to find an acceptable 1809 for his set.
Total Known: 750-1,000+
Varieties Known: 4
1. Small Date, Tall 5 (scarce)
2. Small Date, Small 5 (rare/very rare)
3. Large Date, Small 5 (extremely rare)
4. Large Date, Large 5 (common)
The 1810 half eagle is an interesting issue as it contains no less than four important naked-eye varieties. These range from common (the Large Date, Large 5) to extremely rare (the Small Date, Small 5). In fact, the latter variety is one of the true unsung rarities in all of American numismatics with as few as four to six pieces known. Most collectors will focus on the common Large Date, Large 5 and this is among the more available early United States gold coins. It is common in circulated grades and not especially scarce in the MS60 to MS62 range. Properly graded MS63 to MS64 1810 half eagles are very scarce to rare and Gems are extremely rare and much underrated. PCGS has only graded one in MS65 and one in MS66 while NGC has graded four in MS65 and two in MS66. The best 1810 half eagle that I have personally seen is the NGC MS66 recently sold by Heritage as Lot 3151 in the 2008 FUN auction where it realized $172,500.
The appearance of an 1810 half eagle depends on which variety it is. Assuming that most collectors will focus on the common Large Date, Large 5 the appearance-related information here is for this variety. The strike is generally above-average for this type although some are seen with weakness at the centers, especially at the reverse. The denticles are typically weak in certain spots and they may be accentuated by a partial wire rim which is not seen on other dates of this design. The surfaces are usually much abraded and a number are seen with mint-made adjustment marks. The luster tends to be among the best seen on any early half eagles and it is very frosty in texture. Most 1810 half eagles have been dipped or processed at one time but original pieces are offered from time to time and they may show attractive medium to deep green-gold or lighter yellow-gold hues. This is really the most common date of this type and the collector should be able to acquire a very nice 1810 half eagle for his date or type set. The rare varieties of this year are, of course, a different story.
Total Known: 550-650+
Varieties Known: 2
1. Tall 5 (common)
2. Small 5 (common but more available than the Tall 5)
The 1811 is similar in rarity to the 1807 and 1808 Normal Date. It is common in all circulated grades and is available in the lower Uncirculated grades. Properly graded MS62’s are scarce and this date is rare in MS63. It becomes very rare in MS64 and Gems are exceedingly rare. PCGS has graded just one each in MS65 and MS66 while NGC has graded five in MS65 and a single coin in MS66. I have never seen one personally that I regarded to be a Gem.
This is generally a well made issue that shows a good strike. Some have a bit of slight weakness at the upper part of the obverse and the corresponding reverse and it is common to find 1811 half eagles that have weakness on the denticles. The surfaces are usually noticeably abraded and many are seen with adjustment marks that range from minor to severe. The luster on higher grade, original coins is excellent with a thick, frosty texture that is somewhat grainy. The natural coloration is a medium to deep green-gold; some are seen with a medium yellow-gold hue. Most 1811 half eagles have been cleaned, dipped or processed and an original, choice example is worth a premium. The level of eye appeal for this date is better than average and the collector should be able to find a nice example without much effort.
The population figures for the Tall 5 are much smaller than those for the Small 5 but this is because these two varieties were not designated by PCGS and NGC until a few years ago. The Tall 5 is the scarcer of the two and, in my opinion, it should command a 5-10% premium.
Total Known: 500-600+
Varieties Known: 2
1. Wide 5D (common)
2. Close 5D (scarce)
The 1812 is the final year of issue for this type which was replaced by John Reich’s Capped Bust design in 1813. The 1812 is a common issue in circulated grades and it can be found in MS60 to MS62 without much effort. Examples graded MS63 are among the more available half eagles of this type although many of the pieces graded as such by PCGS and NGC are not choice. In MS64 the 1812 is very rare and Gems are extremely rare. PCGS has graded four in MS65 and one better (an MS66) while NGC has a population of ten in MS65 and none better. There are an estimated four to six true Gems known and the best that I have seen was the PCGS MS65 that was last sold as Lot 3154 in the Heritage 2008 FUN auction where it brought a very healthy $161,000.
The 1812 is not as well struck an issue as the 1811 and many show weakness at the centers. It is also very common to see examples with considerable weakness on the denticles. The surfaces are nearly always very scuffy in appearance and a number have mint-made adjustment marks. The luster is frosty in texture but is not as nice in overall quality as that seen on the 1810 and the 1811. The natural coloration is often a reddish-gold and some are a more subdued green-gold hue. Most 1812 half eagles have been cleaned or processed at one time and locating a choice, original example is more of a challenge than generally believed.
This short-lived series contains a number of readily available coins but it has some major rarities as well. The Capped Draped Bust half eagle series is starting to come into its own as more collectors focus on early half eagles and I believe that it is very well suited for type, date and variety collectors.
Designer: John Reich
Mintage: All Years 399,013
Diameter: ±25 millimeters
Metal content: Gold - 91.7% Silver and Copper - 8.3%
Weight: 135 grains (8.748 grams)
Additional Resources : Douglas Winter Numismatics