Incredible 1892-O Half Dollar, Specimen 661892-O 50C SP66 NGC. When Walter Breen compiled his definitive study of proof coinage in 1977 (updated in 1989), he included chapters covering branch mint proofs struck in New Orleans, San Francisco, Carson City, and Denver. Among New Orleans pieces were the 1895-O and 1898-O half dollars, the only two dates of the Barber half dollar series that he identified as proofs. Breen wrote: "Many of the employees of branch mints went to them from Philadelphia where they would have learned the techniques for making proofs. Any branch mint could have struck proofs, though there is no evidence that Charlotte or Dahlonega actually did. Facilities for buffing dies, strip, or blanks certainly existed, or could be improvised, and the trick of replacing a coin onto the lower die within the collar was well known." Authentication as a true branch mint proof, according to Breen, was the same as for Philadelphia Mint proofs.
The New Orleans Mint operated from 1838 until 1861, when it was closed at the beginning of the Civil War. During that period, numerous proofs were coined, beginning with the famous 1838-O half dollar. After the Mint reopened in 1879, a smaller number of branch mint proofs were produced, mostly Morgan dollars.
Among Barber half dollars, a few amazing prooflike examples appeared in the Eliasberg Collection, including an 1892-O of nearly equal quality to the present piece and an 1897-O of undeniable beauty. The existence of two similar quality 1892-O half dollars actually seems to lend credence to the possibility of these pieces being intentional branch mint proofs. They were also the first Barber half dollars and the first half dollars struck in New Orleans since 1861. Discussing the Eliasberg coin, Dave Bowers wrote: "It is not difficult to envision a scenario in which on the first day of striking this new design at the New Orleans Mint some special pieces were made for presentation."
This example was clearly minted with great care. The planchet was undoubtedly polished to a highly mirrored finish, and the dies also show some evidence of polishing or special preparation. The nearly perfect strike shows weakness only at the junction of the right shield edge and the wing, and on the right (facing) claw and arrow feathers. Nearly identical weakness can be seen in the plate of the Eliasberg coin, further indicating that the two pieces were probably struck at the same time. The obverse die is perfect, while a few faint die cracks are barely visible on the reverse. Such die cracks may suggest that the coin was struck after initial examples from the die pair, although another possibility is that the die actually cracked before it was used to strike any coins. Slight evidence of a double strike, especially on a few reverse letters, lends further support to the branch mint proof hypothesis.
The obverse and reverse surfaces of this piece are clearly different than any other 1892-O half dollar that we have seen, again with the exception of the Eliasberg coin, and differ from any other Barber half dollar except the proofs. The coin is brilliant throughout, and the absence of color makes the finish of this piece accessible to all who view it. The fields are deep and shimmer with mirrorlike intensity, once again unlike the finish on any Barber half except a proof. The devices are frosted and, in fact, a Cameo designation would easily be justified.
Certified as a Specimen by NGC, there is ample evidence to suggest that this special half dollar was intentionally struck for a special purpose, probably as a branch mint proof.(Registry values: N4719) (NGC ID# 27UW, PCGS# 6462)
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The Draped Bust Half Dollars of 1796-1797 by Jon Amato is the culmination of more than 10 years of research into the Draped Bust Small Eagle half dollar series, one of the most coveted type coins in American numismatics and one about which remarkably little has been written.
This work will be the premier reference for 1796-1797 half dollars for years to come. Institutions having an extensive numismatic library or coin cabinet will find it a valuable complement to their holdings, and catalogers charged with writing up specimens for auction can now have an indispensable source of background and pedigree information. Likewise, coin dealers seeking to purchase one or more '96 or '97 half dollars for a client or for inventory, and collectors who own, have owned, or desire to own one will want this important reference work for their libraries.
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