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    1796 Draped Bust Half Dollar, VF35
    O-102, 16 Stars
    Choice Small Eagle Example

    1796 50C 16 Stars, O-102, T-2, R.6, Amato 221, VF35 PCGS. Tompkins Die State 5/3. The Flowing Hair design is perhaps better loved now than it was in 1794 and 1795, when it was ridiculed by politicians, writers, and influence seekers. In particular, Congress was skeptical about the new Mint and its operations. Criticized on all fronts, the Flowing Hair type met its demise after a brief, 2-year tenure --mercifully replaced by Chief Engraver Robert Scot's Draped Bust and Small Eagle motifs.

    The new design was implemented in late 1795 for silver dollars, followed by dimes in January 1796, half dimes in March 1796, and quarters in April 1796. The Draped Bust half dollar changeover did not occur until 1797, when both 1796-dated and 1797-dated Draped Bust halves were struck in small quantity.

    The fascinating 1796-1797 half dollars are discussed in detail by Steve Tompkins in his 2015 reference, Early United States Half Dollars, Volume 1, 1794-1807. One of the mysteries is the exact mintage of 1796 and 1797 half dollars, currently lumped together in the Guide Book as a total of 3,918 pieces for the two dates combined. That number is confirmed by Mint delivery records, with all of the deliveries occurring in 1797.

    Because the delivery warrants do not specify the dates on the coins delivered, only an educated estimate is possible for how many half dollars were dated 1796, and how many for 1797. Tompkins reasons the first two deliveries (February 28, 1797 @ 60 coins and March 21, 1797 @ 874 coins) were 1796-dated pieces based on an earlier die state of the reverse die, which was used for both 1796 varieties, and then reused for one 1797-dated variety. The remaining 1796 pieces can only be estimated based on survivorship, translating to about 1,000 pieces from the third delivery warrant (May 26, 1797 @ 2,984 pieces). Thus, the estimated total of 1796-dated half dollars is thought to be 1,934 pieces. The balance of the final delivery warrant - 1,984 coins - make up the 1797-dated portion of the Small Eagle mintage.

    In other words, the estimated mintages of 1796 vs. 1797-dated coins is essentially equal, which is considerably different than the Overton estimate of 934 coins dated 1796 and 2,984 pieces dated 1797. What is not answered is how many 15-Star 1796 coins (O-101, T-1) were struck vs. the 16-Star variety (O-102 and O-102a, T-2). From a detailed Census of each variety by the late Jon P. Amato, PhD (published in 2012) we can conclude that the 16-Star O-102 and is moderately rarer than the 15-Star O-101.

    The current 16-Star 1796 is a lightly toned, Choice VF example traced to its purchase in August 2000 from the RARCOA Archives. Struck from a late die state, this piece is identified by a tiny mark near star 5 and a trio of tiny marks in the lower-right obverse field. A tiny speck of deep toning exists on the midpoint of the eagle's torso near the left (facing) wing, and a few random, hair-thin adjustment marks on the reverse were not eliminated by strike or wear to help confirm the pedigree. A group of short pinscratches is noted between E and R in AMERICA. Sharp definition remains for the assigned grade, with areas of olive-gold and gray toning that are deepest along the obverse margin. We expect strong interest from multiple collector specialists when this lot is called. Population: 3 in 35, 7 finer (11/19).
    From The Watermark Collection. (NGC ID# 24EA, Variety PCGS# 39262, Base PCGS# 6058)

    Weight: 13.48 grams

    Metal: 89.24% Silver, 10.76% Copper

    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

    View all of [The Watermark Collection ]

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2020
    8th-12th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 34
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 617

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    20% of the successful bid (minimum $19) per lot.

    The Draped Bust Half Dollars of 1796-1797 by Jon Amato

    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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