Few numismatic rarities are as truly rare as the 1854-S Liberty Head $5 gold half eagle. With a mintage of 267 pieces and just three known to exist today, this golden treasure is technically rarer than trophy coins such as the 1804 Draped Bust dollar, 1894-S Barber dime, or 1913 Liberty Head nickel. Hailing from the San Francisco Mint during its first year of operation, the 1854-S half eagle is a rarity of historic significance.
Much mystique surrounds this coin… Why were so few made, and what happened to the other 260-plus specimens that seem to have disappeared forever? One theory suggests a large deposit of $1,311.92 in gold was paid out mostly in half eagles — perhaps $1,310 in 1854-S $5 coins, with a specimen heading for assay and perhaps the remaining few paid out to other entities, though there is no record proving to whom the half eagles were distributed.
Of the three known specimens, an 1854-S Liberty Head half eagle graded AU58+ by Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) is the finest specimen and has earned much deserved attention upon crossing the auction block. During the coin’s most recent foray into the public arena at a March 2020 Stack’s Bowers Galleries offering, the 1854-S $5 gold coin fetched $1,920,000. It was the first time this example had appeared for sale in a public setting since 1982.
This legendary specimen has resided in some of the most exquisite numismatic cabinets of all time, including the collections of F.C.C. Boyd, Louis E. Eliasberg, and D. Brent Pogue. Such luminous provenance only further cements this coin’s place in history.