An 1809 Half Cent from eBay

As a break from my usual posts, I thought it might be fun to present a coin and explain my thought process when I was contemplating the purchase. A perfect opportunity presented itself when I recently purchased an 1809 Half Cent that had some problems off of eBay. I’ll also tell you that I overpaid. The best part is I would do it again in a minute. Here’s why!

I was browsing through some early copper auctions on eBay and came across this coin. It was listed with no attribution and no reserve. The seller also made no claims to its grade, rarity, or originality. The seller did however have many previous coin sales and a great satisfaction rating. She also offered a 7 day, no questions asked return service. These are all “must- haves” for me when I decide to turn loose of my cash for something I can only judge by a photo, which in this case was large and of good quality.

From that photo it was obvious that the coin had been cleaned. The surfaces were unnaturally red for a 200 year old coin that had seen a substantial amount of circulation. If you focus on the actual wear present on the high points of the design (hair curls, leaves of the wreath) you can see that the coin is around a low to mid VF. There’s also a scratch traveling diagonally through the I and B in LIBERTY which is fairly well hidden, ending in the hair.

So why did I buy this coin? Well I just happened to have a copy of  “Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents” (see the Resources page for a link). Breen describes 6 distinct varieties for the 1809 Half Cent, ranging from Rarity 1 (Common, more than 1250 known) to Rarity 6 (Very Rare, 13 to 30 known). From the diagnostics on this coin I attributed it to be the Cohen-2 variety. The ES in STATES is punched higher than STAT and the date is punched close together and straight rather than having the 1 and 8 spaced wide apart. This particular variety is listed as a high Rarity 3, nearly Rarity 4 in the Breen Encyclopedia. A fairly scarce variety!

With shipping I ended up paying about $35 too much if this had been a common variety. But even after knocking the grade down to a Fine-12 for the problems, once I took into account the scarce variety designation, I figure I made a good purchase. In time this Half Cent will tone to a more natural color and I can live with that for the price paid. Knowledge is power!

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