Recently, it was widely reported that a very rare 1796 U.S. half cent fetched a whopping $357,000 at a European auction held by Wooley and Wallis of Salisbury, England. Also known as the Liberty Cap Half Cent, this coin was certainly a prime offering as there were only 1,390 ever minted by the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.
Untouched for the past 50 years and remaining “very much in its original condition,” the coin was found by the seller by complete accident. The original owner was Mark Hillary, an Oxford scholar, who died in a mountain climbing accident in Greece in 1963. He kept this coin in a cabinet he constructed out of glued-together matchboxes, and this is where it sat for the past half century. While housecleaning, Mark Hillary’s brother found his coin collection. Originally thinking the coins were junk, he brought them to the auction house for appraisal. While the actual value of the half cent would ultimately be determined by the open market, the coin was originally estimated to be worth between $40,000 and $47,000. Not bad for some old junk!
Although no one knows how this American gem ended up in England, it is now back on American soil thanks to our friend Bob Johnson, a Florida-based coin seller, an affiliate of the Numismatic Financial Corporation (NFC) and a friend of the family since the 1970s. Bob is a specialist in rare U.S. and foreign coins, and is one of the few dealers in the country that buys at auctions both in the states and overseas. Ryan Hoolahan, owner of West Seattle Coins and Bellevue Rare Coins, first met Bob through his dad with whom Bob did business in the ’70s. Now, 35 years later, Ryan is keeping the tradition alive, working regularly with Bob, just like his father did. Ryan credits Bob with playing a major part in making the coin business what it is today.
NFC expects the 1796 half cent to grade MS-66 red/brown, and plans to submit the item to either Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) or Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), with no immediate plans to resell the item. Honoring the unique history of this coin, NFC also opted to purchase the homemade coin cabinet Mr. Hillary made for $572.
West Seattle Coins and Bellevue Rare Coins specializes in gold buying and dealing in rare coins. We are a family-owned business that was first established in 1979 and is now located in West Seattle, Bellevue and Lynnwood. We also buy and sell gold, silver, diamonds, currency and jewelry. Visit us first for a free evaluation.
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