1839 'Backward Head' Half Dollar Pattern
1839 P50C Half Dollar, Judd-97 Restrike, Pollock-107, High R.7,
PR64 NGC. The Backward Head design. The obverse is much like
that found on the regular-issue 1839 gold eagles, with a rounded
tip on the forward edge of the bust truncation and a pointed tip on
the rear edge -- but the entire head faces backward from that on
the eagle, right rather than left. Thirteen stars ring the rim,
with the date 1839 below. The reverse is from the regular-issue
Seated Liberty die, Large Letters, as used from 1842 through 1853.
Struck in silver with a reeded edge.
Judd-97 Restrike, Deeply Toned PR64
In the 1976 ANA sale the cataloger described this coin as, "Brilliant Proof. Deep blue obverse, pink and russet iridescent toning on the reverse. An extremely rare coin, high Rarity 8, with no recent records." The 1989 cataloger quoted the above while adding, "In our opinion today the Rarity 8 rating stands intact. The only other specimen offered in two decades was the example in Rarcoa's session of Auction '81, lot 327. No specimen was included in the Olsen, Garrett, Malcolm Jackson, Crouch, or even Woodin collections. The only earlier record we have was the Farouk Sale, lot 1733."
It appears from the census below that today we should rate the piece as High R.7 rather than R.8, as perhaps five or six pieces might exist. This still puts the variety in the stratosphere of the super-rare, with--a little numismatic perspective here, please -- far fewer known survivors than the 1933 double eagle or the 1804 silver dollar.
USPatterns.com says, "Stewart Witham noted 146 reeds [the edge reeding] on these, which according to a reed count listing from Bill Bugert of the Liberty Seated Collectors Club, means they were likely struck some time between 1854 & 1860 although this reed count was also used in 1869 and 1870."
The splendid original toning present in the 1976 description above is still much in evidence, perhaps a bit more mellowed but just as stunning. This near-Gem boasts a sharp strike, particularly on the reverse, that is equally appealing.
Ex: ANA (Stack's, 8/1976), lot 3598; Rarities Group; James A. Stack, Sr. Collection (Stack's, 11/1989), lot 716; Lemus/Queller Collection (Heritage, 2/2010), lot 1338. (NGC ID# 297C, PCGS# 11416)
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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