One of the most remarkable and scarce coins in all of American Numismatics will be offered on public auction in early November 2017. The 1861 Confederate States Half Dollar Coin is one of only four coins of it's kind in existence.
In 1861 the United States was very much a country divided when seven southern states - South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas – declared their secession from the Union, creating the Confederate States of America or simply - the Confederacy. A four year bloody civil war was soon to follow.
The half dollar also holds the distinction of being the only coin to have been officially struck by the Confederate Government to serve as circulating currency. While it is true that Confederate 1 cent coins were privately struck in Philadelphia(which was of course Federal Territory) by established die maker Robert Lovett, Jr., these can best be described as patterns. There is also no known of documented record of the Lovett penny dies and resulting coins having been officially commissioned by the Confederate Government in any capacity, although it seems likely that this was the case.
The 1861 Confederate Half dollars were minted in late April of 1861 in the New Orleans Mint at the request of Christopher Memminger, CSA(Confederate States of America) Treasury Secretary. The obverse of the coin was minted using an existing unaltered federal 1861 seated Liberty half dollar die sent to the New Orleans mint from the mother mint in Philadelphia prior to secession.
The reverse however was an entirely new design consisting of a centre shield adorned with seven vertical bars below and seven five-pointed stars atop. This was representative of the seven southern states that seceded from the union to form the Confederate Government. The shield is topped by a Phrygian cap representing the ideal of Liberty. The shield is flanked by a wreath of sugar cane to the right and blossoming cotton sprigs to the left. Plants central to the confederate economy. The legend reads : “CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA” and “HALF DOL.”
The relief of this new reverse die was so high that it made mechanical minting impractical. As a result only four coins were struck using a fly press on specially prepared and burnished planchetts, giving the coins a “proof-like” appearance.
The New Orleans Mint was closed by the Confederate Government shortly afterwards due to concerns over it's operating costs and the financing of the ongoing war effort. Thusly leaving the four coins mentioned as the only examples of these rare coins ever officially struck.
The exact provenance of the four coins from this point is a matter of some contention still. However, it is broadly agreed that the four coins were likely distributed to the Chief Coiner of the New Orleans Mint B.F. Taylor. The second either to CSA Secretary of the Treasury Christopher Memminger or to Confederate General Francis T. Nicholls. There is some evidence to suggest that the third example was in the possession of Confederate President Jefferson Davis until the time of his capture and imprisonment towards the end of the civil war. Another was possibly sent to John Leonard Riddell, former melter and refiner at the New Orleans Mint and Postmaster of New Orleans.
Remarkable all four coins managed to survive not only the war, but have re-surfaced and are today accounted for. Of the four coins one has been curated by the American Numismatic Society since 1918 as a part of their permanent collection. Two more re-appeared in 1961 and 1970, after being lost to the numismatic community for more than a century.
The example that is being offered here is the second coin to be discovered, which had it's provenance firmly re-established in 1912 after it's former owner, one Mark Jacobs, sold the coin to renowned coin dealer Thomas Elder. From there it eventually found it's way into the Eric P Newman collection, where it has remained until now.
The coin is tied for the finest known of the three graded pieces in existence with the Riddell specimen at NGC PR40. Through inconceivable workings of circumstance all three coins which are available to collectors(excluding the coin in the ANS museum) have come up for auction since 2015. In the coin's century and a half history this marks only the sixth time that one has been offered at public auction and the first time that this particular specimen has been offered as such.
The coin will be auctioned off by Heritage Auction as a part of their 2017 November 1 & 3 Eric P. Newman Collection Part IX, US Coins Signature Auction in Dallas, Texas.
To grant some perspective on the sale, the Riddell specimen was sold in 2015 by Stacks & Bowers for $646 250.00. While earlier in the same year the coin that once supposedly belonged to CSA President Jefferson Davis, which is graded as NGC PR30, was sold by Heritage for a record $881 250.00.