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Attractive 1796 15 Stars Half Dollar, NGC XF451796 50C 15 Stars XF45 NGC. O-101, R.5. The Draped Bust Small Eagle half dollar, bearing the dates 1796 and 1797, and with a reported mintage of just 3,918 pieces, is one of the keys to completing a type set of United States coinage. It is certainly among the highest valued of all American type coins. A review of most price guides, such as those in Coin World COINValues or COINage magazine, shows this two-year design type to have a higher value than all other type coins in grades up to MS60, where the one-year type 1796 No Stars quarter eagle has an equal or slightly higher value.
There are two distinct varieties of the 1796-dated issue: one with 15 stars on the obverse (Overton 101) and the other with 16 stars (Overton 102). The 15 star obverse die was apparently prepared before Tennessee's admission to the Union as the 16th state on June 1, 1796. Breen, in his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, believes that the 60 half dollars delivered by the Philadelphia Mint to the Bank of the United States on February 28, 1797 under Warrant No. 81, and some of the 874 pieces delivered to the Bank on March 21 of the same year per Warrant No. 84, were produced from the 1796-dated obverse die with 15 stars. We must caution readers, however, that these conclusions are not definitive, as Breen himself states that they are "...presented only as conjecture, as no other Archives data survive about these mintages."
It is interesting to speculate on the number of surviving 1796-1797 half dollars, as well as on their grade distribution. Published estimates of extant pieces range from somewhat less than 100 to about 300 specimens. While survivors are known in all states of preservation, it is the general opinion of most numismatists that the majority are in "low grades." This cataloger's ongoing survey of Draped Bust Small Eagle half dollar appearances at auction and in fixed price lists that are accompanied by a photo has accounted, to date, for nearly 220 separate examples, with the modal grade being VF. Three 1796 15 star coins have been identified in XF45, the grade of the piece we offer here. NGC and PCGS combined have assigned the grade of XF45 to six coins of this issue (11/04).
The present specimen is attractively toned with light gray patina that displays undertones of rose and violet, and accents of aqua-green at the margins. Liberty's lower hair curls are well defined, as are the interior feathers on the eagle's wings. Most of the hair near Liberty's forehead and temple, and the eagle's breast, neck, legs, and wing margins are weak. The design elements are nicely centered on the planchet, and the dentilation is strong on both sides, except for a zone of slight weakness at 11 o'clock on the obverse. There are no distracting marks on either side.
This example will be an excellent fit for inclusion into a high grade type set, and as such is worthy of a high bid. Population: 4 in 45, 6 finer (11/04).(#6057) (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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