Wonderful 1796 15 Stars Half Dollar
1796 50C 15 Stars AU58 PCGS. O-101, R.5. The Draped Bust
Small Eagle half dollar, bearing the date 1796 or 1797, is rare in
any level of preservation. This is not unexpected, as the mintage
for this two-year type coin was a relatively sparse 3,918
AU58, O-101, R.5
Its rarity was well known at an early date in American numismatic history. For example, in a little known, four-page July 1858 publication by Joseph J. Mickley titled Dates of United States Coins and Their Degrees of Rarity, the author says the 1796 half dollar is "Rare" and the 1797 "Very Rare" (Mickley employed a three-point scale to denote the degree of rarity of all U.S. gold, silver, and copper coins between 1793 and 1858--Common, Rare, and Very Rare). And in one of the first books on numismatics written in America, American Numismatical Manual by Dr. Montroville W. Dickeson (1859), the author says of the 1796 issue: "They are rare" (Dickeson was apparently unaware of the 1797 half dollar, for he makes no mention of it).
Empirically derived evidence of the awareness of the 1796-1797 half dollar's rarity in the earlier stages of American numismatics is gleaned from auction prices realized in sales conducted during the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s. The 1796-1797 half, along with various early cents, the 1802 half dime, the 1823 quarter, the 1794 dollar, and a few other issues, consistently ranks among the highest prices realized for regular-issue U.S. coins in early auction sales.
About Uncirculated 1796 15 Stars half dollars in general, and high-end AU coins in particular, such as the AU58 PCGS offered here, are far and few between. Indeed, NGC and PCGS have, to date, certified seven 1796 15 Star halves in AU grades, only two of which rate AU58.
Light to medium steel-gray toning, imbued with occasional blushes of sky-blue, graces both sides of this near-Mint example, with brighter undertones evident as the coin is rotated under a light source. Close inspection with a loupe reveals some faint die polish lines, particularly on the obverse. A well-executed strike imparts sharp definition to the design elements, especially Liberty's hair, ribbon, and drapery, and to most of the star centrils. Strong detail is evident on the eagle's wing and tail feathers, while those on the breast and legs exhibit the usual weakness. The motifs are well-centered, and all of the dentilation shows. A few light adjustment marks on the eagle's lower torso and legs and the clouds are not at all detracting. We mention some scattered marks that are consistent with light circulation. Two to the right of star 2, and a few more on the forehead and in the field to its right, serve to identify the coin.
The die crack from the rim at 5 o'clock branches to the left and to the right through the drapery. This crack, which is visible on most known 1796 15 Stars half dollar specimens, is finer than seen on most examples. Moreover, while the right-branch crack shows a faint extension to star 15, it does not travel through stars 14 and 13 to the edge, as seen on most coins of this issue. A faint crack also runs from the upper upright of the second T in STATES through the tops of ES, and then nearly to the O in OF.
This is a wonderful Draped Bust Small Eagle half dollar example that will delight the new owner.
Ex: The Douglas L. Noblet Collection (Bowers and Merena Rarities Sale, 1/1999), lot 4; The Richard Genaitis Collection (Heritage 2001 Atlanta ANA, 8/2001), lot 6090. (NGC ID# 24E9, PCGS# 6057)
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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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