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    Description

    Phenomenal PR65 Gilt Copper Half Union
    Fifty Dollar Gold Pattern, Judd-1547
    Large Head, Perhaps Seven to Nine Known

    1877 $50 Fifty Dollar, Judd-1547, Pollock-1720, Low R.7, PR65 Gilt NGC.
    Design.
    The William Barber Large Liberty Head design. Liberty faces left, with coronet bearing her name, its top border ornamented with beads. Her hair is thick and wavy, and a B in the field just below the truncation (unusually, not on the neck) stands for the Barber. Thirteen stars ring the border, with date 1877 below. The Large Head shows the tip of the coronet between stars 5 and 6 while the Small Head has the tip below star 6, and the date is considerably closer to the bust truncation on the Large Head. The two lowest curls on Liberty are pointed, rather than rounded as on the Small Head. The reverse is in the same style as the contemporaneous double eagle, but detailed differently, the most obvious being two extra small decorative elements at the rim on each side, between UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the denomination FIFTY DOLLARS. Struck in copper, gilt, with a reeded edge.

    Commentary.
    At Low R.7, the Judd-1547/1549 half union copper patterns and their unique gold cousins (Judd-1546/1548) are the largest denominations in the U.S. pattern series. The denomination was apparently considered only briefly (or not at all, as the large gold coins would have been particularly susceptible to shaving and filing) before being abandoned. According to the Bass Museum Sylloge, "Evidently they were struck by late August 1877, as impressions from the dies were sent to [Mint Director Henry] H.R. Linderman on August 30 of that year." It is noteworthy that Linderman was an avid coin collector himself; Don Taxay has written that he believed Linderman ordered the coins for his own use.

    No discussion of these phenomenal fifty dollar half union pattern coins can be complete without an introduction to William H. Woodin, one of the foremost figures in the history of U.S. pattern collecting, and indeed in U.S. numismatics in general.

    William H. Woodin, Pattern Collector
    Par Excellence
    William H. Woodin (1868-1934) is one of the most illustrious names in coin collecting, and his is a name that some members of the noncollecting public will recognize as well: Long after he had achieved notice in numismatic circles--in 1933, although already in ill heath--he served for a few months under President Franklin D. Roosevelt as his first Secretary of the Treasury. In that capacity, Woodin presided over the "Bank Holiday" of 1933, which closed the doors to the nation's banks until examiners could determine their financial status. This action, the forerunner of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, helped restore confidence in the banking system, avoiding an economic catastrophe of worse proportions. More infamously for collectors, Woodin--although an avid coin collector himself--also oversaw the Gold Recall of 1933, when the U.S. government withdrew from the gold standard and outlawed the private ownership of gold by U.S. residents (except by dentists and jewelers). Collectors nonetheless owe Woodin a debt of gratitude, for he ensured that an exemption was in place for "rare or unusual" gold coins.

    However, our focus here is on Woodin's earlier activities in the field of pattern collecting. Q. David Bowers has written extensively about Woodin in his useful Bass Museum Sylloge:

    "Highlights of his involvement include the 1908 purchase from Stephen K. Nagy and John W. Haseltine of a pair of 1877 $50 'half union' patterns that had been quietly deaccessioned from the Mint cabinet A furor ensued, and through Edgar H. Adams and the original sellers, the pieces were traded back to the Mint in return for 'several crates' of long-stored patterns. After selecting one or more of each interesting different variety for his own collection, a second run of varieties was placed with Waldo C. Newcomer of Baltimore for a reported $150,000, and a third run went to H.O. Granberg of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for $100,000--each of these two transactions being incredible in amount--equaling or exceeding the $100,000 transaction later registered in 1923 for the purchase of the earlier-mentioned James W. Ellsworth Collection with its pair of 1804 dollars and about 2,000 other coins. Still more were sold by his associate, Edgar H. Adams, on February 10, 1911, via the Catalogue of the Auction Sale of Rare Pattern Coins Comprising many pattern duplicates, in different metals, and of many denominations, belonging to Mr. William H. Woodin of New York City. Large numbers of duplicate patterns remained and were sold to F.C.C. Boyd.

    "In 1913 Woodin wrote United States Pattern, Trial, and Experimental Pieces, published by the American Numismatic Society. His friend and numismatic scout Edgar H. Adams provided research information and took the photographs. ..."

    The furor concerning Woodin's possession of the half union patterns in gold arose after Woodin exhibited the pieces at the New York Numismatic Club in 1909. Regardless of the route the pieces took and those involved, they were certainly obtained as a result of complicity and cronyism on the part of various individuals inside and outside the Mint.

    The two unique gold half unions are national treasures, now safely back in the National Numismatic Collection of the Smithsonian Institution. But the copper half unions (many of which are gilt) occasionally come onto the market, albeit sporadically, and never fail to inspire the most intense bidding competition whenever they appear. While the Judd pattern reference, ninth edition, lists the pieces as Low R.7 (10-12 pieces known), we suspect but cannot prove that they may be R.7, with seven to nine pieces surviving.

    Physical Description.
    A simply spectacular example of what might very well be called the most impressive pattern coin available today, with all of the gilding intact over the surfaces on both sides and a bold strike that appears unimpeded by the large surface area. The possible remains of an old fingerprint appear between the date and star 13--any bets as to whose it might be?--but it is mentioned as a pedigree marker only, and is not at all bothersome considering the incredible desirability, aesthetic appeal, and rarity that this phenomenal coin combines in one neat package. NGC Census: one PR67 Star Red and Brown, two PR65 gilt including the present piece, two PR63 gilt. PCGS Population: one PR63 gilt, one PR62 Red and Brown, one PR62 Brown, one PR50 Brown. A total of nine certified pieces, less possible duplicates (10/08). Two of those are ensconced, presumably permanently, in the Connecticut State Library and the Smithsonian.

    Provenance.
    Ex: Auction '87 (Stack's, 7/1987), lot 850.
    From The Lemus Collection, Queller Family Collection Part Two.

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 2AEW, PCGS# 61891)


    View all of [The Lemus Collection, Queller Family Collection Part Two ]

    View Certification Details from NGC

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2009
    7th-11th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 23
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 19,324

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