Rare 1796 half-cent sells for over $350,000 by CBS News | January 22, 2013,
In a small provincial auction in southwest England, a rare
1796 Liberty Cap half-cent in mint condition came under
the hammer Tuesday. The small copper coin, which looks like
nothing special to the naked eye, sold for ?185,000 ($293,540)
to an American bidder from the Numismatic Financial Corporation
of Winter Springs, Fla. The final price including the auctioneer's
premium was over $358,000, one of the highest prices ever
for a half-cent.
The small coin lay undiscovered for 50 years at the back
of a cupboard in a homemade coin cabinet fashioned out of
matchboxes. It was almost chucked away as junk by relatives
of the original owner, who suffered an untimely death in
That original owner was a young English scholar named Mark
Hillary, who died in a climbing accident at the age of 20
before completing his studies at Oxford University. His
love of coins had often taken him to London as a young boy,
though where he acquired this coin is unknown. His brother
unearthed the small collection while clearing out an old
cupboard and brought it to the local auctioneers.
The 1796 Liberty Cap, of the "With Pole" variety,
is one of only 1,390 coins minted that year. Only a few
dozen are known to be in existence today, and less than
ten are in such a mint condition, according to coin specialist
Daniel Fearon. Fearon, who first spotted the Liberty Cap
amongst a collection of ordinary pennies, said at first
inspection not much appeared to be of interest, but then
the half-cent "jumped out."
The coin was auctioned off Tuesday at Woolley and Wallis,
of Salisbury, England, which placed a conservative estimate
on the coin of $40,000 to $48,000. Auctioneer Paul Viney
said he was "thrilled" with the hammer price of
?185,000 and admitted he had secretly hoped for a sale of
?100,000 and over.
The history of this particular coin remains a mystery until
the time it was added to Hillary's collection sometime in
the 1950s. What happened during the 160 years after it was
stamped in pure copper at the Philadelphia mint and before
Hillary found it is unknown, but during the last two centuries
the coin has increased in value by 71,600,000-fold.