Created on: January 29, 2013
Legends are born in the field of numismatics. Passionate coin collectors around the globe sometimes lust for just a glimpse of those rarities in the world of coins that reach lofty stratospheric levels. Such coins often have intricate histories wound about them—tales of intrigue, mystery, love and death.
Such American coins as the 1913 Liberty Head nickel or the gold Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle coin minted in 1933, are indeed the stuff that legends are made of to any person who has ever seriously collected coins.
Now another legendary coin has surfaced, a pure copper American half-cent coin, minted in 1796 just nine years after the ratification of the United States Constitution, the coin is considered exceedingly rare.
How it arrived at an English auction block after being hidden inside a matchbox for five decades is a story that's poignant and heartening.
The Liberty Cap half cent
The Liberty Cap half cent, minted between 1795 to 1797, was designed by John Smith Gardiner.
While all the series minted have a level of scarcity to them, the 1796 series has two basic types: ones with a pole and one without. The coin without a pole is the rarest of the two and many numismatic experts consider the 1796 "No Pole" Liberty Cap half cent to be one of the top 10 rarest American coins. Records from the time state merely 1,390 of the "No Pole" half cents were struck at the Philadelphia Mint.
Family tragedy leads to family fortune.
After a family member died during a mountain climbing expedition, relative Mark Hillary discovered the American half cent piece hidden in an old matchbox. It sat inside the box for 50 years waiting to be discovered. At first the family thought the jumble of old matchboxes they found was junk, until they realized that a total of 70 old coins were stuck inside the boxes.
While some of the other old coins also have numismatic value, the 1796 half-cent was the crowing treasure. The coin was eventually sold for $353,000—a whopping 72 million times its original face value.
Huffington Post reports: "the Numismatic Financial Corporation, a Florida-based coin seller, purchased the sought-after coin, auction house Woolley and Wallis of Salisbury, England, announced in a January 22 release."
It's not unusual for American copper coins to be discovered in England because during that period copper items, including coins, were taken back from the American colonies on a regular basis. How this particular rarity found its way to the British Isles will never be known.
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Rare coin sells for 72 million times its face value