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Newly Discovered 1854-S $5 Gold Coin Sold for $2.1 Million at Heritage Auctions

by Heritage Auctions

Published on August 20, 2018

Obverse side of the Rare 1854-S $5 Half Eagle
Obverse side of the Rare 1854-S $5 Half Eagle

Newly discovered fourth existing 1854-S $5 gold piece initially called a fake

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One of the world’s rarest coins, the fourth known genuine surviving 1854-S San Francisco Mint $5 gold piece – initially believed to be a fake – sold for $2,160,000 Thursday, August 16, by Heritage Auctions in Philadelphia. The 19th-century gold rarity is one of just 268 struck by the San Francisco Mint in 1854, an extraordinarily low mintage for a U.S. gold coin produced during the California Gold Rush.

Of the three remaining 1854-S $5 Liberty half eagle gold coins, one is sequestered in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, forever out of reach of collectors. One remains in a private Texas collection and no one has seen the third coin since armed robbers stole it from the wealthy duPont family in 1967.

“This coin truly is a discovery of a lifetime and collectors were not about it let it get away,” said Greg Rohan, President of Heritage Auctions, who watched the coin sold in a standing-room only auction room. “This auction rewrites the history of coin collecting.”

The seller and the new owner of the fourth coin both wish to remain anonymous at this time. The seller discovered the coin and sought the opinion of collectors and dealers who claimed it must assuredly be fake because of the coin’s legendary rarity.

Seeking a final answer, the discoverer submitted the 1854-S to the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) for authentication. After verifying the coin was not the stolen duPont specimen, NGC enlisted the help of the Smithsonian Institution, which provided photographs of its coin. The firm determined coin was authentic and a new discovery.

Heritage Auctions offered the 1854-S Liberty Head Half Eagle in an auction of additional historic coins, including a one-of-a-kind gold coin believed to have once been a cherished memento of U.S. President George Washington, which sold for $1.74 million in its first appearance at public auction since 1890.

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