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Superb Gem 1796 Half Cent, Ex Earle, Eliasberg Solo Finest PCGS Coin

By Q. David Bowers, Founder

Author: Q. David Bowers / Friday, November 06, 2015 / Categories: Highlights from the D. Brent Pogue Collection

1796 half cent, No Pole to Cap. MS-67 RB (PCGS).


The D. Brent Pogue Collection is laden with the rarest of the rare, the finest of the fine. Of all 18th century federal coins, few can eclipse this in terms of numismatic rarity. The 1794 No Pole to Cap half cent is rare in all grades. In MS-67, as offered here it will be forever remembered as one of the most famous, most rare American coins to be sold in our lifetime. In error Engraver Robert Scot omitted the pole to the Liberty Cap. The number of coins minted is not known, but the production may have been only in the hundreds.

The superb gem 1796 No Pole half cent from the D. Brent Pogue Collection is of incredible quality. It is so nice that Henry Chapman and B. Max Mehl each called it a Proof. This half cent is an old friend for us, as in 1996 we offered it in our Louis E. Eliasberg Collection sale described in part:

A superb, sharp strike and well centered with excellent definition of all denticles. Square edge. Fully prooflike and most probably a presentation or specimen coin; just as easily called Proof-65 or finer. Mirrorlike characteristics in every aspect of obverse and reverse. Mostly light brown with significant areas of original mint red, especially in protected areas such as the date numerals, LIBERTY, and, on the reverse, within the wreath and letters.

A truly exceptional, fantastic coin in every respect. An American numismatic treasure. In the Condition Census in his Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents, Walter Breen described this, very simply, as “a true Mint State coin, free of any problems.”

B. Max Mehl (1884-1957), probably the most publicized professional numismatist of all times, described this coin as “Brilliant semi-proof” when cataloging the William Cutler Atwater Collection. Mehl continued:

I really believe the coin is and was struck as a Proof. It has a brilliant light olive surface with traces of the original mint red nicely blended in. It is magnificently struck and centered with deep milled borders and sharp edge. While I am endeavoring to be conservative in both my description of condition of these coins, and also the use of superlative adjectives, but this gem is simply too much for me to overcome.

Not only is this 1796 No Pole half cent a landmark because of its position as the finest seen by PCGS, the variety, as noted above, is a classic rarity in any grade, and even a VF or EF coin would cause excitement in an auction. We expect that this will be one of the great highlights of the Pogue Collection and congratulate the fortunate next owner in advance.

Notes: The 1796 half cent is one of America’s “trophy” rarities, a classic. Two obverse dies were prepared for this coinage. The first lacked the pole to the cap, not because of grinding it away (as with 1795), but due to forgetfulness on the part of the die cutter, a true engraving error. This die developed a horizontal crack at an early stage, and relatively few were made. The second die had the pole.
We estimate that only two dozen or so of the 1796 No Pole half cents exist, mostly in low grades, about Good to Fine, often porous. There are only a few high grade and notable examples to delight connoisseurs who can afford them.

Provenance: George H. Earle, Jr. Collection; Henry Chapman’s sale of the George H. Earle, Jr. Collection, June 1912, lot 3609; Col. James W. Ellsworth Collection; William Cutler Atwater Collection, via M. Knoedler & Co. and Wayte Raymond, by sale, 1923; William Cutler Atwater Estate, February 1940; B. Max Mehl’s sale of the William Cutler Atwater Collection, June 1946, lot 129; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection; Richard A. Eliasberg, by descent, 1976; Bowers and Merena’s sale of the Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection, May 1996, lot 407; Warren Trepp Collection, by sale, via Spectrum Numismatics; Paul Nugget (Spectrum), by sale, December 2002.