Marvelous 1797 Draped Bust, Small Eagle Half
1797 50C XF45 PCGS. CAC. O-101a, High R.4. The appearance of
a 1796 or a 1797 half dollar at public auction is always cause for
excitement. This two-year type issue, displaying the draped bust of
Liberty on the obverse and a small eagle on the reverse, saw a
minuscule mintage of 3,918 pieces. This is in stark contrast to the
coinage of 323,144 half dollars of the 1794-1795 Flowing Hair
design type, and to the 1.6+ million pieces minted of the 1801-1807
Draped Bust Heraldic Eagle type.
O-101a, High R.4, XF45
Perhaps the Most Difficult U.S. Type Issue
Coupled with the paltry mintage of 1796-1797 half dollars is their low survival rate. Researcher Jon Amato has, to date, accounted for about 300 Draped Bust Small Eagle half dollars. This finding resulted from a survey of auction catalogs dating back to the 1870s that contained photos of 1796-1797 half dollars, as well as a review of fixed price lists that possessed images of these coins. Specimens in institutional collections, such as the American Numismatic Society and Princeton University, were also examined, either via photos or in person.
The 1796- and 1797-dated half dollars were produced from three obverse and two reverse dies. The first reverse was paired with the 1796 15 stars and 16 stars and with the initial 1797 striking (O-101), where it finally shattered (O-101a). A new second reverse, differing only in a minor way, was then paired with the 1797 obverse (O-102).
The present Choice XF specimen is Overton-101a, displaying prominent die cracks: from the rim to the right side of O in OF through the palm leaves to the lower-middle part of the eagle's right (facing) wing; from the rim between D in UNITED and the first S in STATES through the middle set of olive leaves and the upper left (facing) wing to the lower neck; and from the latter crack through the bases of ST, where it makes a sharp right turn to travel through a leaf to the eagle's upper neck. Several other less prominent reverse cracks are visible, as is the heavy diagnostic obverse crack that extends from the rim through star 2 to Liberty's curl.
Delicate bluish-gray, yellow-gold, and mauve toning deepens somewhat in the fields, highlighting the design features. Sharp detail is apparent on most of Liberty's hair and the eagle's wing and tail feathers. The dentilation is quite strong on both obverse and reverse. A few minute marks are scattered about, but the surfaces are remarkably clean for a relatively large and heavy coin more than 200 years old that saw some circulation. An unobtrusive milling mark on the upper part of Liberty's left (facing) breast may help pedigree the coin. Each side is completely devoid of adjustment marks.
This is an extremely pleasing example of perhaps the most difficult U.S. type coin. Pressure from both type and early half dollar collectors has resulted in strong prices for these pieces of Americana in any condition. Such has been the case since the beginning of coin collecting in America in the 1850s. The winning bidder of this marvelous coin will be highly pleased.
Ex: Premium Numismatics Fixed Price List (10/2006); Charlotte Signature (Heritage, 5/2007), lot 742, which brought $143,750.
From The Joseph C. Thomas Collection, Part Two.(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 24EC, PCGS# 6060)
View all of [The Joseph C. Thomas Collection, Part Two ]
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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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