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1797 Half Dollar, Fine Details, O-102
Rarest Variety of the 1796-1797 Type

1797 50C --Scratched--NCS. Fine Details. O-102, Low R.6. Draped Bust Small Eagle half dollars of 1796-1797 are one of the most significant, if not the most significant, coins desired by advanced type collectors. While not the lowest-mintage or the rarest type coin (those distinctions belong to the one-year design type 1796 No Stars and 1808 quarter eagles), the half dollars of 1796-1797 are the costliest of all type coins on a grade-for-grade basis. Even in the Fair 2 level of preservation they command a five-figure price. Moreover, perusal of auction catalogs from the earliest days of American numismatic sales to the present indicates that there is a readily available market even for impaired specimens.
The present example displays light grayish-tan patination with medium gray-rose toning over both sides and a slight tinge of lilac on the reverse. The disclaimer on the NCS insert refers to several shallow to medium-depth scratches on the lower reverse that are now toned over. Moderate adjustment marks trend from the upper left to lower right are visible in the middle of Liberty's hair.
Despite the NCS disclaimer, this coin possesses notable attributes that will draw serious attention among advanced numismatists. First, it exhibits relatively strong definition on the design elements, especially those on the obverse. Liberty's lower and middle hair details are sharp, as are the facial features, date, and LIBERTY. Only the right-border stars and dentilation show the typical strike weakness. Indeed, the obverse may lay claim to Very Fine Details. On the reverse, most of the dentils show, and the peripheral elements are strong save for softness on RICA of AMERICA and the lower part of the 2 in the fraction. The left half of the eagle is mostly smooth.
The second factor that contributes to this coin's desirability is that it is the rarest of the four 1796-1797 die marriages. Stephen Herrman, in the most recent "Pre-Turban Bust Half Dollar Census" (John Reich Journal, Volume 20/Issue 2, December 2009), assigns the 1797 O-102 half dollar variety a low R.6 rarity rating. This compares with an R.5 rating for the 1796 15 Stars (O-101) variety, high R.5 for the 1796 16 Stars (O-102), and high R.4 for the 1797 O-101 variety.
The reverse flaws aside, this is a respectable example of this rare and desirable date. As such, it will provide an important addition to an advanced collection of U.S. type coins.
Ex: New England Rare Coin Auctions (7/1976), lot 1009; Sterling Silliphant Collection (Heritage Auction Galleries, 7/1988), lot 679; Mid-American Rare Coin Auctions (1/1989), lot 462; The Yoder Family Collection (Heritage Auction Galleries, 5/2008), lot 495; Dick Osburn Rare Coins Fixed Price List (6/2008).
From The Diotte Collection.(Registry values: N7079) (NGC ID# 24EC, PCGS# 6060)

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Auction Dates
October, 2010
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 12
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The Draped Bust Half Dollars of 1796-1797 by Jon Amato

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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