The 1854-S Liberty Head Half Eagle is an ultra-rarity, struck in the first year that the official branch Mint in San Francisco was operational. From the minuscule reported mintage of 268 pieces, there are only three known to have survived to the present day. One example resides within the Smithsonian’s collection, leaving only two pieces in private hands.
It has been suggested that the extraordinarily low mintage for this issue was the result of the preferences of bullion depositors. At the time, the San Francisco Mint produced the coins ordered by depositors, who generally desired the smaller or larger denominations. This theory is supported by the higher mintages for gold dollars, eagles, and double eagles.
The 1854-S half eagle ranks amongst the rarest of all American gold coins, along with a few other unique issues and other ultra-rarities. It’s creation can also be directly linked to the California gold rush, which commenced in 1848 and continued into the 1850’s necessitating the opening of the San Francisco Mint.
The finest known example was included in the Eliasberg collection and estimated to grade Choice AU, if not Uncirculated. The piece was sold at the 1982 Eliasberg sale, which also represents the last public auction appearance for the issue.