The 1815 Bust half dollar is actually an 1815/2, but either way you look at it, the 1815 is the key date of its type. That is no small order as the type was made from 1807 through 1835.
The 1815 is an interesting story on a variety of fronts. The year 1815 was a time of fairly low mintages because the War of 1812 was just ending. What with British troops running all over the countryside the prior year and assorted other problems, coin collecting was not at its peak. The few collectors there might have been were likely to be looking for cents.
As it happened, 1815 was the one year when the U.S. Mint did not produce cents. The country’s situation was strained, to say the least.
The average half dollar at the time was in many ways a reserve coin as it was the largest silver denomination in production. The Second Bank of the United States reportedly had large numbers and, while located in Philadelphia, it had many branches so the coins could have been moved around.
Of note is that, like other dates of the period, the 1815 was not always well made. The dies were frequently used for too long.
There is a somewhat unusual trait for the half dollars of the period in that they tend to be about VF-20. Examples in lower grades are not that common, primarily because the coins did not see that much circulation. Higher grades are not common because they were not saved in any numbers when released.
Overall, however, the type is available, but the 1815/2 is not primarily because it had a mintage of just 47,150 pieces. That results in a price today of $1,100. An MS-60 is $14,500, and an MS-65 is $85,000. The most available VF-20 would be around $3,650.
In terms of price, it could be a lot worse. However, according to the March 1881 Coin Collector’s Journal, 100 examples of the 1815/2 were found in Economy, Pa., in the hoard of the Harmony Society. The hoard contained well over 110,000 silver coins but especially half dollars.
The Harmony Society was a utopian group that believed in paying “in money,” which meant silver. Their huge stash of half dollars has made an enormous difference in the number of half dollars from the period up to 1836 found in the market today. This might well be he case with the 1815/2.
The 1815/2 half dollar has been graded 187 times by the Professional Coin Grading Service. Five of that total were called Mint State. At the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, a total of 162 examples of the 1815/2 are reported with 21 being called Mint State.
It is difficult to determine why the Mint State percentage at NGC is higher than the percentage at PCGS. Assorted factors could come into play including very simply that NGC was sent nicer coins.
Combined, about 350 examples of the 1815/2 have been graded. Some were certainly repeats, but it seems fair to assume there might be 400 examples known. If so, that means the Harmony Society hoard accounted for 25 percent of the number known today. Even though the 1815/2 commands premium prices today, they could have been much higher were it not for the hoard.