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Press Release - May 9, 2005
Branch Mint Proof 1838-O Half Dollar Rarity to Sell In Heritage's Long Beach Signature
Dallas, TX: One of the rarest American branch mint proof coins, the 1838-O Half Dollar minted in New Orleans, is being featured in Heritage Numismatic Auctions Inc. upcoming Signature Auction, June 2-3, 2005 in Long Beach, California. This is the Official Auction of the Long Beach Coin Expo.
"Among our 3,000-plus Long Beach lots," enthused Greg Rohan, President of HNAI, "we have many wonderful rarities, but none quite as impressive as two of the great classic American rarities: the 1838-0 Half Dollar, Capped Bust with Reeded Edge, and certified as PR64 by PCGS, and a 1794 Silver Dollar certified as MS61 by NGC. The 1838-O Half Dollar is comparable to such rarities as the 1894-S Dime and the 1870-S Silver Dollar. The exact number of surviving examples is not specifically known, but it is generally believe to be in the vicinity of a dozen different coins, approximately the same number as the '94-S Dime and the '70-S Dollar. This 1838-O Half Dollar is one of the finest extant; none have been graded higher by either PCGS or NGC."
"The New Orleans Mint had not been long in operation when this great rarity was struck," explained Heritage cataloger Mark Borckardt. "The Mint had been established by legislation dated March 3, 1835, along with branch mints in Charlotte and Dahlonega. The original Mint Act specified that the New Orleans branch was to strike "coinage of gold and silver," and to that end, for "purchasing sites, erecting suitable buildings, and completing the necessary combinations of machinery," $200,000 was appropriated. The legislation further stipulated that the Superintendent of the New Orleans Mint was to receive a salary of $2,500."
The New Orleans Mint was ready for operations by 1838, but there were considerable problems with press breakage, and it is generally accepted that only half dimes and dimes were struck during 1838 -- with some thought that even the half dimes took through 1839. Although half dollar dies were received in New Orleans during 1838, the 1838-O half dollars weren't actually minted until early 1839. Walter Breen suggested that the halves were coined in January, while R.W. Julian believed that they were not minted until March. In either case, there is 19th century evidence that the total production mintage was limited to approximately 20 coins: a handwritten note stating that Rufus Tyler, Coiner of the New Orleans branch mint, struck "not more than 20 pieces." It is known that the 1838-O obverse dies were defaced in June 1839, limiting the time of production to no later than that month.
"Considering the problems that the New Orleans coiners were having," continued Borckardt, "there is some logic to the suggestion that the coins were produced to test the set-up of the press for larger coins. Dies for 1839 Half Dollars had already been received, but it makes sense that Rufus Tyler used the earlier dated dies to test the new press, for fear of breaking the newer 1839 dies. Coinage of the 1839-O half dollars began in early April, thus accounting for Julian's belief that the 1838-O half dollars were coined in March.
This 1838-O Branch Mint proof is known as the Baldenhofer Specimen, and its illustrious pedigree includes: Col. E.H.R. Green; W.G. Baldenhofer (Stack's, 11/1955), lot 708; Robert Pelletreau (Stack's, 3/1959), lot 782; Jerome L. Cohen; Lester Merkin; Q. David Bowers; Charles Jay (Stack's, 10/1967), lot 181; Dr. E. Yale Clarke (Stack's, 10/1975), lot 253; Julian Leidman; NASCA (Bryan Collection, 11/1977), lot 708; Julian Leidman; Paramount (Auction '82), lot 1689; unknown. It has been certified by PCGS as PR64 BM, with the "BM" designation for "Branch Mint."
"This half dollar issue ranks among the most famous of all American coinage rarities," concluded Rohan. "Its inclusion in a collection enshrines the owner among the highest ranks of American numismatics."
Images, descriptions, and prices realized from all of Heritage's previous sales are available in the Permanent Auction Archives at the Heritage website.
To purchase a catalog for any Heritage Auction, please contact Nicole Jewell at Heritage Numismatic Auctions, Inc., 3500 Maple Avenue, 17th Floor, Dallas, TX 75219.
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