Collecting Indian Half Eagles 1908-1929
Posted by Jeff Garrett on 12/6/2012
There are some real “killers” in this series, but for ambitious collectors, a doable project. There are no million dollar show stoppers that would make collecting Indian Head Half Eagles impossible. I believe the series offers great value, and should be studied carefully by anyone interested in United States gold coinage.
INDIAN HALF EAGLES 1911 to 1929
1911. Mintage 915,000. This date is one of the more readily available of the Philadelphia Mint issues in most grades. Mint State examples can be found with little effort. The average coin for this issue is not particularly well struck and the luster can range from average to exceptional. As is the case with many coins of this series, Gem examples are scarce, with only around 50 coins having been certified as MS 65 by NGC. The coins trade for about the same as the most common dates of the series, and are a great value if one can be found. Superb examples are virtually non-existent. NGC has graded a single coin as MS 66 (12/12), and that piece last sold at public auction for $25,300 in January, 2000.
1911-D. Mintage 72,500. The 1911-D Half Eagle ranks as one of the great coins of the series, and is extremely undervalued at current levels. Like its cousin, the 1911-D Quarter Eagle, the mintage is one of the lowest for the issue. It is however, many times rarer than the Quarter Eagle in all grades, especially Mint State. Finding an uncirculated 1911-D Half Eagle will present a challenge for any collector. The prices for this issue jump considerably at every grade point, and many coins have been sent in multiple times for the maximum grade. Therefore, the population reports should be viewed with the knowledge that not all old certificates have been returned and the date is actually rarer than the reports indicate. Unlike the Quarter Eagle of this year and mint, the mint mark is usually clearly defined and not an issue. In fact most examples I have examined were well struck in all respects. Anything approaching Choice or Gem should be considered a major rarity and highly coveted. Just three of four coins are known at the Gem level and none have been certified as MS 66. The Smithsonian collection contains one of the finest known examples for the issue and would certainly qualify as Gem, MS 65 or better.
1911-S. Mintage 1,416,000. Despite a large mintage, this issue is actually quite scarce in Mint State. This issue saw wide circulation and most seen are well worn. The date brings a tiny premium in the circulated grades, but climbs steadily in the uncirculated grades. Several years ago a small hoard of this date surfaced in a Florida estate auction. I had the privilege of purchasing most of the coins and selling them to national dealers. The hoard contained approximately 125 coins, and in a testament to the popularity of the series, sold out in less than a week. They are now widely distributed, and rarely surface. Most of the coins in this hoard graded MS 61 to MS 63. There were none that approached Gem condition. In Choice or Gem condition, the 1911-S Half Eagle is rarely seen. Just 4 coins have been certified as MS 65 by NGC. The last one sold at auction in 2006 for $29,900.
1912. Mintage 790,000. With a similar mintage to the 1911 Philadelphia issue, the 1912 is about the same rarity in most grades. Average Mint State coins are easy to locate, and usually display excellent luster and eye appeal. Some coins seen have minimal bag marks with radiant, yellow gold color. Caution should be used when buying this date, as I have seen some incredibly deceptive counterfeits. Purchasing only NGC-certified coins is highly recommended. Gem examples are rare, but with 40 or so coins certified by NGC, they do show up quite often. There have been 3 coins certified as MS 66, and one last sold at auction in 2011 for $20,470.
1912-S. Mintage 392,000. The 1912-S Half Eagle is one of the classic “condition rarities” for the series. Despite a moderately high mintage, the issue is quite scarce in all grades. Most are poorly struck, with an ill-defined mint mark. Even in Gem condition, the very small number of examples known in that grade has an unimpressive appearance. Over the years many important collections formed had to settle for either a circulated or low range Mint State example - John J. Pittman being a prime example. Any Gem condition example of this date would be considered a major, six-figure rarity. NGC has certified a single coin as MS 65, and that piece has never traded at public auction. Interestingly the Smithsonian collection contains a Gem example of the issue, and it was probably acquired from the US Mint at the time of issue.
1913. Mintage 915,901. The 1913 Half Eagle is very similar in rarity to the other Philadelphia Mint issues of this era. The coins were minted in ample quantity and finding an example in all grades up to MS 64 is quite easy. Most seen are well struck with nice luster. Gem examples are represented by only 37 coins that have been certified by NGC. When these are offered the coins usually sell for that of the most common dates for the series (around $10,000) and represent a wonderful value. NGC has certified 5 coins as MS 66, but none have appeared at public auction. This could mean that a single coin had been submitted multiple times, and the rarity is distorted on the population report. I have not seen an example that would grade MS 66.
1913-S. Mintage 408,000. The 1913-S is rarer than its mintage would suggest. Considering the date and mint, the 1913-S Indian Head Half Eagle is frequently found with an average or worse strike, often with peripheral weakness. The mintmark is normally encountered quite mushy and lacking any central definition. A rare exception can be found with sharpness and luster throughout. In Gem MS 65 or finer grades, this date is one of the most difficult to secure. NGC has only certified one example as MS 65 and two as MS 66 (12/12). Any Mint State example of this date should be considered extremely desirable, and an easy sell. It should be noted that the retail catalogue prices for this date in Mint State are quite low and do not reflect the true market for the issue.
1914. Mintage 247,000. As can be seen from the lower mintage, this issue is somewhat rarer than other Philadelphia Mint issue of the time period. In the lower grades of Mint State, the coin is considered common by most measures. The average coin is well struck and lustrous in correspondence with the grade. Choice and Gem examples are quite rare, with survival numbers roughly half of the 1909 to 1913 Philadelphia issues. NGC has graded just one example as MS 66, and it has not traded at auction in recent years (12/12).
1914-D. Mintage 247,000. With an identical mintage it is no surprise that the rarity of the Denver Mint and the Philadelphia issue are very similar. The date is readily available in all grades up to Choice MS 64. Gem examples are seldom seen and bring a healthy premium when offered. Most seen are well struck, with acceptable luster. A single coin has been certified as MS 66 by NGC, but has not crossed the auction block (12/12).
1914-S. Mintage 263,000. The 1914-S Half Eagle has long been recognized as a significant condition rarity. I remember selling a coin in the 1980’s that I had purchased from a San Francisco dealer. The coin was sold to Harry Bass for the huge sum of around $5,000. I can’t remember if the coin would classify as Gem condition by today’s standards, but it was clearly the best this legendary collector had encountered. Small groups of this date have been found over the years in the lower levels of Mint State, and are usually available with modest effort. NGC has certified just one coin as MS 65, and it sold for $80,500 in 2005. I wonder if that is the coin I sold Harry!!
1915. Mintage 588,000. The 1915 Half Eagle is one of the most seen issues in Mint State for the series. Most are well struck and luster is not an issue. Gem examples are represented by just 41 coins at NGC, with none above that level. When offered the date usually sells for that of a common issue, and is an excellent value in my opinion.
1915-S. Mintage 164,000. The 1915-S Half Eagle is of nearly identical rarity to the 1914-S at the highest levels of Mint State. It is however much rarer in the all grades of mint state. There have been no hoards or small groups of this date that I am aware of. Any Mint State 1915-S Half Eagle is extremely desirable. Many great collections have lacked a Choice specimen. For example, the Smithsonian collection has a single coin that grades AU at best. NGC has graded just one coin as MS 65 (12/12) and it sold for $42,500 in December of 2000. That was the bargain of the century!
1916-S. Mintage 240,000. With a moderately low mintage the 1916-S Half Eagle is scarce in most grades. There have been a few significant hoards found over the years. The Virgil Brand estate contained a few hundred examples, most in the MS 61 to MS 64 grades. Around a dozen or so coins have been certified by NGC as Gem. The finest example I have seen for the date is a Superb MS 66 coin that resides in the Smithsonian collection. It interesting that the Smithsonian collection is so hit and miss for examples of this series.
1929. Mintage 662,000. Unlike the Quarter Eagles for this year, most 1929 Half Eagles remained in the vaults of the United States treasury until they were melted in the 1930’s. The 1929 Half Eagle is rare in all grades and very difficult to locate. When offered, be prepared to pay handsomely to acquire an example. Most of the coins seen have heavy bag marks, and just a few coins have been certified as gem. The 1929 is considered the “key” to the series and will always be very popular. It is one of the most sought after coins struck in the twentieth century.