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    Description

    1797 Draped Bust, Small Eagle Half Dollar, MS61
    Sole Finest of the O-102 (T-2) Die Pair
    The Only Uncirculated Example Known

    1797 50C O-102, T-2, Low R.6, MS61 NGC. Amato-500. Despite its status as the workhorse silver denomination in 1794 and 1795, when more than 300,000 Flowing Hair half dollars were struck, the Mint was determined to replace the half dollar design with a more sophisticated and lifelike visage of Liberty, coinciding with design changes for other denominations. Robert Scot's long-lived Draped Bust obverse and the less popular "Small Eagle" reverse were the result. Half dollar dies were made in 1796, yet no half dollars were struck until 1797, when only limited mintages were struck dated 1796 and 1797.

    The denomination was overshadowed by silver dollars. Banks preferred the dollar denomination. Bullion depositors often wanted dollars for their silver, not lesser denominations. Nor were half dollars the preferred coins for export. Later in 1797, the yellow fever epidemic forced the Mint to close from August to late November, and no more half dollars were struck until 1801.

    Ownership of a 1796-1797 Draped Bust, Small Eagle half dollar represents a substantial prize -- regardless of grade -- for even the most advanced collectors. The enigmatic type remains a subject of ongoing debate by virtue of its oddly small two-year mintage (just 3,918 pieces for the two dates combined). The issue has at various times been called a pattern based on the curious fractional denomination "½" that appears below the bow. Steve Tompkins discusses these things in detail within his 2015 reference, Early United States Half Dollars, and concludes that the type is a regular issue (not a pattern), and confirms the entire mintage was struck in 1797. He extrapolates the mintages from Mint delivery warrants to be approximately 1,934 pieces for 1796-dated half dollars, and 1,984 pieces for the 1797-dated coins.

    One obverse die and two reverse dies were used to strike the 1797-dated varieties. Overton variety collectors are thoroughly familiar with the significant difference in availability between the rare 1797 O-102 and the more-available 1797 O-101 variety -- especially in high grades. While about a half dozen Mint State O-101 and O-101a examples exist, only a single Uncirculated 1797 O-102 coin survives. That coin is offered here. Perhaps no more than 40 to 50 O-102 pieces survive in all grades combined.

    A common obverse die struck both 1797 varieties, progressively deteriorating despite the small mintage. Five die stages are noted for the O-101 obverse, culminating in die chipping along the left rim between two major obverse cracks. Nevertheless, the die remained in service to strike O-102, with a heavy die break through star 2 into the hair and an undulating die crack from the rim to stars 4, 5, and 6 that curves through Liberty's head to star 14. In contrast, the reverse die was new for Overton-102, and it remained perfect throughout its brief run.

    This coin is universally recognized as the top Condition Census Overton-102, so-ranked in Jon P. Amato's The Draped Bust Half Dollars of 1796-1797, the Tompkins reference, and in the Spring 2021 revision of Steve Herrman's auction census. It made its first documented appearance in 1999, in a Superior auction where it was described:

    "An extremely rare coin in Mint State, this 1797 Half Dollar is graced with full curls on Liberty, and even some breast feathers on the eagle (which are usually weakly struck). This coin is an American classic, long known to be one of the most difficult type coins to locate in any grade, this Mint State example will stand as one of the legendary offerings in numismatics. Not only is this coin virtually unavailable in Mint State, but this is the rare Overton-102 variety, which is usually found in grades of Very Good or lower. This is almost certainly the finest known of the variety, and likely well up in the Condition Census for the date."



    Brilliant prooflike surfaces exist beneath silver-gray and intermittent blue and pale-gold toning. The central strike is extremely sharp for the type, with full definition at Liberty's hair and faint feather detail at the eagle's breast and leg. The clouds beneath the eagle's feet are well defined. As usual, the right-side stars are weakly struck, their weakness amplified to some extent by Mint-made adjustment marks that visit the adjacent right field and other areas near the rim. Die polish lines mingle with light hairlines, visible under magnification. Overall sharpness is unmatched by any other 1797 O-102 half dollar.

    Only a few collectors have managed to assemble a full complement of 1796-1797 Draped Bust, Small Eagle half dollars, which consists of the 1796 O-101 15 Stars and O-102 16 Stars variants, plus the 1797 O-101 or O-101a, and the O-102. Typically, the 1797 O-102 is the stopper to this challenging subset. In high grades, the present coin is a necessity for those pursuing the ultimate Small Eagle half dollar set, and will surely be the capstone or any early half dollar or top-drawer type collection.
    Ex: Pre-Long Beach Sale (Superior, 6/1999), lot 2173; Baltimore ANA (Bowers and Merena, 7/2003), lot 1383; David Lawrence Rare Coins Fixed Price List (11-12/2003); Allison Park Collection (American Numismatic Rarities, 8/2004), lot 420; Larry H. Miller Collection (Stack's Bowers, 12/2020), lot 1076.

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 24EC, Variety PCGS# 39266, Base PCGS# 6060)

    Weight: 13.48 grams

    Metal: 89.24% Silver, 10.76% Copper


    View Certification Details from NGC

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    July, 2021
    13th-15th Tuesday-Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 26
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,055

    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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