The NGC Universal ID is a four digit alphanumeric that groups coins based on a unique combination of date, mintmark, denomination and striking process (MS, PF, or SP). These IDs are a simple organization of all coins prior to variety attribution and grading.
During much of the 19th century, the 1815 half eagle was believed to be the rarest coin in the U.S. federal coinage series. Unlike many of the old-tenor gold issues, the 1815 half eagle does not owe its rarity to the massive gold melts of the 1820s and '30s. With a minuscule mintage of just 635 pieces, the 1815 was rare from its date of issue. One set of dies was sufficient to coin the entire mintage, which was delivered on November 3, 1815. The depositors of gold bullion from which the coins were produced were Thomas Parker, Charles Kalkman, and the Bank of Pennsylvania. The design for this issue was engraved by John Reich, and his secret signature can be seen in a notched point on star 13. Exactly when the 1815 issue came to the attention of the numismatic community is unknown, but it was squarely in the spotlight by 1865. In his Sixth Semi-Annual Sale, W. Elliot Woodward offered the discovery specimen of the 1798 Small Eagle half eagle and, seeking to impress potential bidders, he compared its rarity to the 1815. George Seavey exhibited his 'complete' collection of gold coins to the Boston Numismatic Society in 1869, including a specimen of this date, and the American Journal of Numismatics declared the piece to be unique. In these early times, the issue even outshone the 1822 half eagle, of which only three are known. The first auction appearance of this issue was in the Parmelee/Seavey Sale (Strobridge, 6/1873). Parmelee had purchased the Seavey Collection intact, a tactic he often employed, and was using this sale to dispose of his duplicates. Surprisingly, Seavey had two 1815 half eagles in his collection by that time. Unfortunately, the coin was withdrawn from the auction.
By the time of the Bispham Sale (S.H. & H. Chapman, 2/1880), there were four specimens of the date known to the catalogers. The Chapmans listed the coin in the Swedish Mint Museum (discovered when Joseph Mickley visited Europe in the 1870s), the example in the Parmelee Collection (Ex: Seavey), the specimen being offered in the Bispham Sale (a Seavey duplicate), and a fourth example (from Edward Cogan's sale of the Cohen Collection). The number of known specimens gradually increased over the years, but numismatists could only confirm six or seven specimens as late as 1940. Then, the population of 1815 half eagles seemed to explode. In the 1940s and '50s, a flurry of appearances occurred, leaving the pedigree trails hopelessly tangled. Apparently new specimens came on the market at the same time the known examples were being sold and resold. No researcher has successfully established a complete census of known examples since this flood of new appearances, despite the best efforts of Walter Breen, Carl Carlson, and others. Today, experts believe approximately one dozen examples are extant.
Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.
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