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Relatively high mintage helped 1820 half eagle survive

Although not large by normal standards, the relatively high mintage for the 1820 Capped Head left half eagle (when compared to its contemporaries) led to a higher number of examples surviving in Mint State today than one would expect.

Let’s be honest – the average collector has little chance of acquiring a Capped Head left half eagle from the 1820s. It is just not likely to happen since the mintages are so small. The odds are especially dire when it comes to Mint State examples. Even if you have a large budget, it might be tested; and even if your budget is not tested, your patience might well be.

The lone exception might be the 1820. While certainly not found in large numbers, the 1820 is seen with some regularity, even in Mint State. It is easy to take this date for granted, but it survived the same problems as the other Capped Heads, which makes for a very interesting story.

The gold coins of the 1820s and those up to 1834 were a group with low odds of survival. The quarter eagle was not heavily used in commerce, which may have saved it. There is not quite the same indication of virtually no examples surviving to the present day as with the half eagle.

Gold half eagles are not tough today because they circulated. If enough coins are produced over a nearly 15-year span, there is going to be a share in the market today. So it was not the simple fact of having circulated that caused half eagles to basically disappear.

As mentioned above, mintages of the Capped Head left type produced from 1813 to 1834 were generally low. A good example is the 1815, with just 635 pieces struck – virtually no mintage at all! Coming in at 263,806, the 1820 had by far the highest mintage date of the period, although other dates in the early 1830s were at least over 100,000.

There was another factor at work that caused half eagles of the 1820s to disappear. At the time, the United States had slightly more ­­gold in its coins than did European nations. As a result, a person receiving a gold half eagle in the United States could sell the coin to a broker for a few cents’ profit on the dollar, and the broker would then have the coin exported. Back in the 1820s, a few cents extra per dollar was not an amount to be taken lightly.

There were virtually no U.S. gold coins in circulation for nearly 15 years. The proof of the degree of destruction can be seen in the high prices of today. It can also be illustrated by the 1822 half eagle, which supposedly had a mintage of 17,796. Only three are known today.

With its large mintage, the 1820 naturally should have survived in slightly greater numbers, explaining its $4,200-$4,650 price range in F-12 for any of the various varieties. The most available MS-60 is $17,000, which is actually higher than some other dates.

Its price may be higher than a couple other dates, but there is no basis for this in numbers. The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has seen 47 examples of the 1820 half eagle in Mint State. No other date produced in the 1820s comes close. The 1813 tends to be more available, but it was produced long before the exporting began.

Things are the same at the Professional Coin Grading Service, where the 1820 has been seen 53 times in Mint State.

Why there are so many examples of the 1820 in Mint State is unknown. Even with its high mintage, its seeming availability is a surprise. Even so, if you want a half eagle from the 1820s – especially one in Mint State – the 1820 is your best choice.


This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.


More Collecting Resources

• Is that coin in your hand the real deal or a clever fake? Discover the difference with U.S. Coins Close Up, a one-of-a-kind visual guide to every U.S. coin type.

• The 1800s were a time of change for many, including in coin production. See how coin designs grew during the time period in the Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1801-1900 .

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