Nearly 200-year-old U.S. gold coin expected to bring millions at auction

The finest known 1822 U.S. half eagle coin, the only example in private hands, is expected to bring upwards of $5 million US (about $6.3 million Cdn.) at auction in Las Vegas this March.

Stack’s Bowers Galleries will conduct the March 23-26 sale that offers one of only three known specimens of the 1822 half eagle. Certified as About Uncirculated-50 by Professional Coin Grading Service, the example to be offered next month – once owned by late collector D. Brent Pogue – is the finest of the three known pieces.

“The legendary 1822 half eagle is the most famous and desirable United States gold coin,” wrote David Akers in his 1979 book, United States Gold Coins, An Analysis of Auction Records, Volume IV, Half Eagles 1795-1929. “It traded hands at fantastic prices when other great rarities that are now worth six figures were bringing mere pittances.”


An 1822 half eagle has only been sold at auction twice, including in 1906 at the H.P. Smith Collection Sale and in 1982 at Stack’s sale of the Louis E. Eliasberg Gold Coin Collection.

Another notable offering took place sometime before 1941, when B. Max Mehl showcased an 1822 half eagle in his William Forrester Dunham Sale with the headline, “The rarest and Most Valuable Coin in the Entire United States series! (Probably the Rarest Coin in the World). The 1822 $5.00 Gold!”

It never crossed the auction block, however, as Mehl sold it privately before the Dunham Sale to Charles Williams, a Cincinnati insurance executive. That coin later passed to Josiah Lilly, of pharmaceutical fame, and was donated with the Lilly Collection of gold coins to the National Numismatic Collection in the Smithsonian Institution.

The other example, also in the Smithsonian, was from the Mint Cabinet Collection, where it had been since the 1830s.

“Today, the 1822 half eagle stands at the peak of American rarities in private hands—with just one coin available,” according to auctioneers with the New York-based Stack’s firm. “Opportunities to acquire an example happen only very seldom, and generations pass without even the most well-financed collectors, dealers, and museums having an opportunity to own one.”

Auctioneers also recall the story of U.S. financier J.P. Morgan, who had “unlimited finances and who later gave much of his coin collection to the American Numismatic Society.” He wished to own an 1822 half eagle and offered “a tremendous sum for the Dunham coin – multiples of any price any coin had ever sold for anywhere in the world – but was refused,” according to auctioneers.

In 1899, nearly eight decades after the 1822 half eagle was struck, late Chicago numismatist Virgil Brand acquired the example (shown) to be auctioned this March.


The example offered in Stack’s March sale was acquired by Virgil Brand in 1899 and held in his vast collection until sold by his heirs in 1945.

At that time, it entered the unparalleled cabinet of Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. and became part of the only complete collection of U.S. coins ever formed.

When the gold coins from the Eliasberg Collection were auctioned in 1982, the successful buyer was the young D. Brent Pogue, who was in the early stages of building what would become the most valuable coin collection in numismatic history. The half eagle was considered a family treasure when it was offered in May 2016, before Pogue’s untimely death in August 2019.

The 1822 half eagle will be offered as Lot 4149 in Stack’s “Rarities Night” on March 25 at the Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

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