R.6 Draped Bust, Small Eagle Half Dollar, 1797 O-102 VF251797 50C VF25 PCGS. O-102, Low R.6. After producing nearly 300,000 half dollars in 1795, the Mint curtailed its manufacture of half dollars in the following two years to a skimpy 3,918 pieces (all delivered in 1797, with their mintages lumped together in one figure), while simultaneously introducing an entirely new design for both the obverse and the reverse. Collectors may be either gladdened or saddened (or impoverished) by this, but the effect of the Mint's actions was to almost instantaneously create the rarest, most desirable, and least obtainable of all U.S. silver coin types: The rarest U.S. silver coins were born. The obverse featured a Liberty figure that was much more attractive and natural-looking than on the 1795 issues, with her flowing hair in curls, tied up at the back with ribbons, and modest drapery over her shoulders and bustline. The reverse die was less successful: While the eagle looks a bit less scrawny and buzzardlike than on the 1795 pieces, it is still far from the majestic avian later pictured on many U.S. issues.
The 1796 half dollars come in two varieties, differing in the number of obverse stars--15 or 16--changed when Tennessee was admitted to the Union, and designated respectively as O-101 and O-102. The 1797 half dollars, all with 15 stars, initially reused a reverse die from 1796 that was replaced when it began to fail. The two 1797 reverse dies are distinguished by the placement of leaves relative to the peripheral letters. On the 1797 O-101 reverse (the one carried over from 1796), a laurel leaf tip ends at the left serif of the base of the second T in STATES, and a palm leaf tip ends midway between the O and F of OF. On the replacement-die 1797 O-102 variety, the laurel leaf ends beneath the base of the T, while the palm leaf tip extends only to the left serif of the base of the F.
Collectors long believed that the16-star 1796 O-102 was the rarest of the four varieties, but in 2004 the Bust Half Nut Club reduced that variety from an R.6 to a high R.5, while elevating the 1797 O-102 from R.5 to low R.6. Those ratings are consistent with independent findings published by Heritage cataloger Jon Amato in the February 2005 issue of the John Reich Journal. That same study accounted for a total of 216 coins of this two-year subtype.
The present example shows more strike weakness on the right-side obverse and corresponding right-side reverse details than elsewhere, so that the obverse dentilation is complete except from about 1 to 4 o'clock, while on the reverse ERICA is a bit faint. Some old pinscratches are noted through that same region. The color is an attractive light silver-gray on both sides, with glints of copper on the obverse and ice-blue on the reverse. A couple of other light scrapes can be seen on each side under a loupe, none of them distracting. This strictly original, problem-free midgrade example is destined to be a prize for some new collector. This is an important opportunity that will not soon repeat, to obtain the rarest variety of the rarest U.S. silver type coin.
From The Chief Paduke Collection.(Registry values: N7079) (NGC ID# 24EC, PCGS# 6060)
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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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