1796 O-102 Half Dollar, 16 Stars Obverse, MS63
1796 50C 16 Stars MS63 NGC. CAC. O-102, R.5. Ex: "Col."
E.H.R. Green. The obverse of this specimen is plated in M.L.
Beistle's A Register of Half Dollar Die Varieties and
Sub-Varieties. This impressive half dollar is a virtual twin in
appearance and toning to the preceding 1796 15 star variety. Both
undoubtedly served time together in an album. Specialists remind us
that the 16 star variety of 1796 is the scarcer of the two. This
Select Mint State example displays reflective surfaces with silver
centers that cede to gorgeous golden-brown and iridescent toning
near the borders. The satiny surfaces are lustrous and the
exquisitely struck design elements are perfectly centered on the
planchet. The dentilation is bold on both sides, as are the strands
of Liberty's hair and the eagle's wing and tail feathers. Only its
breast and legs are not fully struck, a characteristic of virtually
all specimens. No adjustment marks are evident on either side. The
die crack from the milling between the date and star 1 that joins
the first four stars confirms the late state of the obverse die.
The reverse crack through the tops of ES in STATES shows clearly,
as does that from the rim at 1:30 that travels along the right side
of the O in OF then through the palm wreath to the tip of the
inner-middle leaf. These were the first and second cracks,
respectively, to develop on the reverse die when it was paired with
the 1796 15 Stars obverse. The well preserved surfaces reveal just
a few trivial marks consistent with the designated grade. We
mention a small, mint-made indent in the center of Liberty's cheek
solely for pedigree purposes.
Tied for Third Finest Known
Ex: 'Col.' E.H.R. Green
Obverse Plated in Beistle
The 1796 O-102 die marriage is the only one of the four Draped Bust, Small Eagle half dollars to show 16 stars on the obverse. It is uncertain why this obverse has 16 stars and the others all have 15 stars. Kentucky became the 15th state on June 1, 1792, and Tennessee became the 16th state four years later on June 1, 1796. Since all four Draped Bust, Small Eagle half dollar varieties were coined in 1797, they were all struck when the United States consisted of 16 individual states.
However, the time of coinage is less important than the time that the dies were actually engraved. We know that certain obverse dies were engraved in advance of their actual use, the engraver placing the first three digits of the date (179_) in the die at the time he first made them. Then, when the time came to actually use the dies, the date was completed by punching in the final digit. We can surmise that the 1796 15 Stars obverse and the 1797 obverse were both engraved prior to the June 1, 1796 admission of Tennessee to the Union.
The engraving of the 1796 16 stars obverse die, however, is less clear. Walter Breen, in his 1988 Encyclopedia, writes: "... the 16-star die must have been completed either anticipating or following the celebration of that time." In an effort to narrow the time period that this die may have been engraved, we searched the literature dealing with Tennessee's request for admission as a state.
According to Samuel C. Williams in his 1945 The Admission of Tennessee into the Union, the first suggestion in print of the desirability of a new state to replace the Territory South of the River Ohio appeared on the day the Territory's full general assembly met (August 25, 1794) when the editor of the Knoxville Gazette queried:
"Would it not be wise in the General Assembly to take measures that this Territory may, as speedily as possible, become a member State of the Federal Union? The people would then ... have a right to vote upon the important question of peace or war against that sanguinary nation - the Creek Indians."
As a first step toward statehood, William Blount, Territorial Governor, signed on November 18, 1795 the results of the census enumeration of the Territory's inhabitants. Subsequently, five members from each of the Territory's 11 counties met at Knoxville on January 11, 1796 to draft a Constitution, which passed unanimously on February 6, 1796. Blount then forwarded a copy of Tennessee's Constitution to U.S. Secretary of State Timothy Pickering on February 9 (J.G.M. Ramsey, The Annals of Tennessee to the end of the 18th Century, 1853). Ramsey further writes that President George Washington sent a message to Congress on April 8:
"As proof of the several requisites to entitle the Territory South of the River Ohio, to be admitted, as a State, into the Union, Governor Blount has transmitted a return of the enumeration of its inhabitants, and a printed copy of the Constitution ... which ... are herewith laid before Congress."
On April 12, the House Committee, through its chairman, Mr. Dearborn, reported "... that the State of Tennessee is hereby declared to be one of the 16 United States of America." While Federalist and Jeffersonian factions in Congress continued to debate whether or not Tennessee should be granted statehood (the Federalists wanted to postpone Tennessee's admission until after the presidential election in the following autumn), Williams (1945) writes that Aaron Burr, the Democrat-Republican Senator from New York:
"... brought forth ... from conference a majority report in favor of the House bill (which passed by a vote of 48 yeas to 30 nays). The Senate was compelled to recede and pass that bill on May 31, and it was promptly placed before President Washington who approved it on June 1."
Based on the foregoing discussion, we might conjecture (and we hasten to mention it is only conjectural) that the 1796 16 Stars obverse die was engraved prior to Tennessee's June I, 1796 admission to the Union. This notion is derived from what appears to be an early interest in achieving Statehood (the August 1794 Knoxville Gazette editorial), and the series of events that followed (such as the 1795 Territorial census and the January 1796 Constitutional Convention).
Assuming the 1796 and 1797 obverse half dollar dies were engraved prior to June 1, 1796 still begs the question why the first delivery of half dollar coinage did not occur until February 28, 1797 under Warrant Number 81. Mint records might provide a clue to answering this question, as they indicate the Mint was apparently busy meeting the request of bullion depositors for other precious-metal coinage. During the first five months of 1796 the following were coined: 22,135 dimes, 16,671 silver dollars, 6,840 half dimes, 4,330 quarter dollars, and 3,699 gold eagles. Additionally, it is possible that the large number of Flowing Hair half dollars minted in 1794-1795 (323,144) may have temporarily sated the demand for this denomination.
The Amato study lists 61 different examples of the 1796 16 Stars half dollars, only three of which are described as Mint State. The Eric P. Newman Select Mint State specimen brings the total to 62 known survivors. It is equal to the Eliasberg coin and falls just short of two others. We believe it to be tied for third finest in the census.
Ex: "Colonel" E.H.R. Green; Green Estate; Partnership of Eric P. Newman / B.G. Johnson d.b.a. St. Louis Stamp & Coin Co.; Eric P. Newman @ $700.00; Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society.(Registry values: N14284) (NGC ID# 24EA, PCGS# 6058)
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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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