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Press Release - July 7, 2004

Extremely Rare 1878-S Half to Sell In Heritage ANA Signature Auction

Dallas, Texas: Heritage Numismatic Auctions will be offering an extremely rare 1878-S Half Dollar in its official ANA Signature Auction taking place in Pittsburgh, August 18-21. This problem-free coin, which has been off the market for more than a decade, has been graded XF40 by NGC. The ANA auction will also feature a second example, graded Good-6 and uncertified.

The 1878-S is a key issue in the Seated Liberty Half Dollars, and is a coin rarely seen on the market as most examples are locked up in major collections. Of the 12,000 pieces struck, only 60 or so are believed extant today in all grades. "The survival rate for many 19th century issues averages around 1% of the mintage," noted Heritage President Greg Rohan, "but the 60 surviving 1878-S halves translate into only 0.005 % survivorship. Even worse for modern collectors, most of the few halves that were produced in 1878 were simply "worn out" from circulation."

"Numismatists studying 19th century silver politics," continued Rohan, "are fascinated by the swings in these special interest and political policy decisions, such as the Bland-Allison Act of 1878. When the Comstock Lode was discovered in the late 1850s by Henry T. P. Comstock, a.k.a. 'Old Pancake,' a mountain of silver was mined; as it entered world markets, the price for silver (as reckoned in gold dollars) dropped significantly. Western mining interests had powerful friends in Congress, and Rep. Richard P. 'Silver Dick' Bland and Sen. William Boyd Allison came to the rescue of the mine owners by passing a bill that required the Treasury to purchase between $2 and $4 million of new domestic silver each month. This silver was mandated to be minted into silver dollars -- simply because silver dollars were heavier than two half dollars, four quarters, or ten dimes."

"Enactment of the Bland-Allison Act," continued Mark Van Winkle, Heritage's Chief Cataloger, "meant that the various mints ceased meaningful production of minor silver coinage - coinage needed for commerce! In order to meet the mandated number of silver dollars required by the Bland-Allison Act, the mints diverted most of their resources to striking silver dollars. Since this denomination wasn't truly needed for commerce, many bags of silver dollars sat in government vaults for much of the next century."

Mintage figures for the 1878-S Half Dollars reflect this chaotic and politically charged milieu, as the mint's energies were diverted from necessary to politically motivated coinage. That year, the San Francisco mint produced 140,000 quarters, 1/64th of the number it turned out the previous year. Only 12,000 half dollars were struck, whereas 5.3 million pieces had been minted in 1877. But a staggering 13.8 million silver Morgan and trade dollars were stamped out.

"This particular coin," concluded Van Winkle, "has original, untampered surfaces that show a gray-lilac overlay of patina on each side with a significant presence of underlying golden coloration. The design elements show even wear over the highpoints. This is an opportunity to acquire this major rarity in problem-free XF condition, at a major public auction."

Featured collections in Heritage's August Pittsburgh ANA Signature Sale include the Karl Scheible Collection of first year of issue coins, Part Three of the Paulsboro Collection, Part Two of the Harold W. Anderson Collection, Part Two of The Del Rio Collection; The Frank O. Fredericks Collection, Part Five; The Greenwich Collection, Part Two; The Dr. Frank Lanza Collection; The JFS Collection, Part Two; and The John Michael Stuart Collection.

Images, descriptions, and prices realized from past auctions are available in the Permanent Auction Archives.

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