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Choice Proof 1839-O Half Dollar
1839-O 50C PR64 NGC. CAC. The similarly designed 1839-O
Reeded Edge proof halves are substantially rarer than their famous
1838-O proof half dollar counterparts. Perhaps nine specimens of
the 1838-O proofs are known, versus four examples of the 1839-O.
Curiously, the 1838-O is a celebrated rarity in American
numismatics, while the 1839-O proof is only recognized by a small
number of specialists. The present coin was the first proof 1839-O
half dollar that we ever offered in any of our auctions when it
appeared in lot 1690 of the Baltimore Signature (Heritage, 7/2008).
We have offered three more distinct specimens since that time, and
believe these four coins represent the entire surviving population
of this issue.
Only Four Confirmed Examples Known
The 1838-O and 1839-O proof halves show a remarkable number of similarities. Both were struck in proof format. Both have the popular Obverse Mintmark style only produced in those two years, making them a two-year subtype. There is no official record of proof coins struck for either year, in keeping with typical Mint practice of the era. Of course, an obvious difference is that, while the 1838-O proof halves were only struck to the extent of about 20 pieces, in both Original and Restrike mintages, with nine known today, the 1839-O halves are even rarer in proof format, with only four pieces known. Despite their greater rarity, the proof 1839-O halves are relatively unknown to the numismatic community, perhaps because of a fairly large production of 1839-O business strikes.
Variety and Die State
The obverse has a doubled mintmark that was repunched north of its original position. The mintmark is nearly centered over the space between the 8 and 3, slightly favoring the 3. There are no visible die cracks on the obverse, unlike at least two other proofs that are known with faint cracks connecting some stars and the date. A tiny engraving or polishing line connects the upper point of star 13 to the lowest hair curl. Other faint die lines are evident in the right obverse field. All of these die lines are observed on the known proofs.
The reverse has several similar fine, nearly invisible die cracks connecting most of the letters. Perhaps the easiest to view is the segment of a die crack through AMERICA that connects the left upright of the R to the crossbar of the E. The ER crack, along with several others, exactly matches die cracks observed on the reverse of known 1838-O half dollars.
As stated in The Surprising History of the 1838-O Half Dollar, we believe the 1838-O was struck on two occasions, with Originals struck as patterns in Philadelphia in 1838 and Restrikes produced to test a new coin press in New Orleans in January 1839. Sharing a common reverse die in nearly identical die states, the 1838-O Restrikes and 1839-O proof half dollars were produced at about the same time, probably circa January 1839 in both cases.
The die state of the obverse is earlier than any other observed 1839-O half dollars, and the reverse is essentially the same state as the known 1838-O half dollars, suggesting that this specimen may have been the very first 1839-O half dollar ever coined.
Walter Breen reported in his Proof Encyclopedia that the Straus coin he examined in 1951 had the dies aligned in medal turn orientation, and questioned the others, writing: "is this constant for these proofs?" A decade later in his Complete Encyclopedia, Breen reported that all known proofs have medal turn alignment. More recent examination shows Breen's error in his 1988 reference. In the George Byers catalog , Stack's notes that the Byers coin has normal alignment, and we observe that the present piece, and the other three coins that have appeared in our auctions, also have normal alignment.
The strike is incredibly sharp, as it should be for a proof. There is no evidence of weakness on either side. The fields are fully mirrored beneath outstanding gold, green, blue, and iridescent toning on both sides. The surfaces have a few tiny marks that are expected for the grade, but the overall aesthetic appeal is actually much finer than expected for the Choice designation. Census: 1 in 64, 1 finer (9/12).
Census of Proof 1839-O Half Dollars
This census contains the four distinct proof 1839-O half dollars known, as well as three earlier, untraced sightings that may or may not correspond to those below.
1. PR65 NGC. Ellis Robison Collection (Stack's, 2/1982), lot 1607; Queller Family Collection (Stack's, 10/2002), lot 448; Pre-Long Beach Sale (Ira and Larry Goldberg, 2/2008), lot 2177; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 2/2012), lot 3633, realized $299,000.
2. PR64 NGC. Salisbury/Woods Collections (Bowers and Merena, 9/1994), lot 1214; Baltimore ANA Signature (Heritage, 7/2008), lot 1690, the present coin.
3. PR63 NGC. Krouner Collection (Lester Merkin, 2/1971), lot 736; Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 9/1992), lot 358; George Byers Collection (Stack's, 10/2006), lot 1098; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 9/2008), lot 2164; Los Angeles Signature (Heritage, 7/2009), lot 1119; Baltimore Rarities Night (Stack's Bowers, 3/2012), lot 4102. The Breen Proof Encyclopedia Plate Coin.
4. PR62 NGC. Pre-Long Beach Sale (Goldberg, 5/2006), lot 2922; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 9/2008), lot 2163.
A. Proof. F.C.C. Boyd; World's Greatest Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 5/1945), lot 411; Christian Allenburger (B. Max Mehl, 3/1948), lot 1936; R.E. Cox (Stack's, 4/1962), lot 1875. Walter Breen believed these descriptions were all of the same coin, but the first two appearances were not plated, and the catalogers of the Cox specimen report that the consignor was told it was the Allenburger coin, but they could not verify that claim. The plate of the Cox coin shows an unsightly planchet void near the eagle's head. Considering the painstaking process employed in striking proofs of this era, it seems unlikely that the coiners would select a damaged planchet to strike a proof coin. The Cox specimen may be a prooflike business strike.
B. Proof. An unverified example that Breen reported in the Philip G. Straus Collection, circa 1951. The coin remains unseen since that time and is likely one of the four above.
C. Proof. A piece in the Kagin Reference Collection, observed by Q. David Bowers in the 1950s. Probably an earlier appearance of one of the coins above.
From The Greensboro Collection, Part II. (PCGS# 6253)
View all of [The Greensboro Collection, Part II ]
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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.
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