Challenging 1797 Half Dollar, Fine 15 PCGS1797 50C Fine 15 PCGS. O-101a, High R.4. The Draped Bust Small Eagle half dollar, with a miniscule mintage of 3,918 pieces and bearing the dates 1796 or 1797, is perhaps the most desirable and sought-after type U.S. type coin. Simply put, a type set of U.S. coinage cannot be considered complete without the inclusion of this piece of Americana. Estimates of surviving specimens range from fewer than 100 to about 300 coins; empirical research being conducted by this cataloger has accounted, to date, for about 220 or so examples.
Al Overton, in his Early Half Dollar Die Varieties, recognizes four varieties of the Draped Bust Small Eagle half. Coins dated 1796 display either 15 stars (O-101) or 16 stars (O-102). The two 1797-dated varieties (O-101 and O-102), each of which contains 15 stars, are differentiated by the alignment of the reverse laurel and palm-branch wreath relative to the peripheral lettering. The 1797 O-101 developed myriad reverse cracks (O-101a), and was eventually replaced by a new reverse (O-102).
The O-101a example that we offer in this lot exhibits the reverse cracks typical for the variety. A crack from the rim above the O of OF extends through the palm leaves and connects to the middle of the eagle's left (right facing) wing. Another faint crack runs from the left (facing) side of the eagle's neck to the first T of STATES and exits at the rim. Another light crack travels from the base of the first T through the base of the first S, and connects to a heavier crack that extends from the rim between the D of UNITED and the first S of STATES through the laurel leaves to the top of the eagle's right (left facing) wing. A barely noticeable crack extending from the tip of the lowest laurel leaf to the N of UNITED has not yet fully developed on this piece. The obverse die is perfect aside from an incipient, light crack through the second star to the hair curl.
The coin's surfaces are toned in two natural shades of gray with subtle pinkish undertones. Slightly lighter hues are seen on the motifs, which are highlighted against the darker fields. The design elements are nicely centered on the planchet and display relatively strong definition for the grade, particularly on the obverse. Indeed, many of Liberty's hair strands are delineated, and there is an overall sharpness to the facial features and the bust. The usual weakness is noted in the stars along the right (facing) border. It is our opinion that PCGS downgraded the coin because of an old, toned-over pinscratch that traverses the obverse from star 4 to star 13. Interestingly, this scratch does not jump out at one when the coin is viewed with the naked eye. As a matter of fact, it is almost imperceptible until the piece is examined with a magnifier. Close inspection reveals no other significant abrasions or Mint-made adjustment marks.
This coin deserves serious consideration from early Bust half dollar specialists and those who need to complete a type set of U.S. coinage. It will fit comfortably into any mid-grade collection, and is therefore expected to generate spirited bidding.(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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