It is interesting how our view of coins and their importance and rarity has evolved. The 1927-D Saint-Gaudens double eagle was not seen as one of the most important Saint-Gaudens double eagles for many years, and then one day someone discovered there were none to be had at any price.
In some respects the 1815 gold half eagle might be seen as the opposite. It is not a case where the 1815 has become more available than was once the case, but rather it has been passed by the 1822 in rarity and importance.
Before you start assuming everyone can own an 1815, however, it’s worth noting that one day the 1815 might produce a $1 million price. It remains a very significant coin and an extreme rarity.
The story of the 1815 is one that goes back to the time just prior to its production as the United States was involved in the War of 1812. At the time gold coins would sometimes be seen in circulation while other times there would be none to be found. It would also vary from city to city, and there was even something of a business opportunity moving gold coins from one place to another.
Technically the peace treaty for the War of 1812 was signed in December of 1814. The shooting did not stop right away and even when it did, gold coins would continue to be seen on and off. Then suddenly in 1821 they all simply vanished.
The 1815 $5 gold coin would have been produced just as the guns fell silent. The war and an embargo that basically shut down American maritime commerce might well have resulted in limited gold supplies or limited reasons to produce gold half eagles.
The 1815 had a reported mintage of 635. This certainly alerted early collectors to the fact that the 1815 was potentially a very rare coin.
The 1815 has not become more common with the passage of time. It is still extremely rare. The reason why it may seem to be more available is that we have learned that there are only three known examples of the 1822 half eagle, so that naturally gets more attention.
At present there are perhaps 11 examples of the 1815 known to exist both in and out of museums. They tend to be in upper circulated grades. An example graded MS-64 by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation sold for $460,000 at a recent Heritage sale. We have to believe that the right example could come close or even pass the $1 million mark.
Whatever the next price, the 1815 remains one of the most important coins in U.S. history, and remember, it was not a special product made for a dealer. The 1815 was made for circulation. Everyone had a chance to acquire one, but it appears very few took advantage of that chance.