Extremely Rare, Desirable 1877 Half Dollar Pattern
1877 50C Half Dollar, Judd-1539A, Pollock-1707, R.8, PR65
Barber's Design, Finest of Three Known
Design. The obverse centers around a bust of Liberty facing left. Liberty wears a Phrygian cap and laurel wreath, with the word LIBERTY inscribed on the cap band. The bust is surrounded by 13 stars arranged seven to the left and six to the right. IN GOD WE TRUST is inscribed above with the date below. The reverse features an eagle standing on a tablet inscribed E PLURIBUS UNUM, and clutching an olive branch and three arrows. The eagle's left talon supports a shield. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is at the border above, with the denomination HALF DOLLAR below. Struck in silver with a reeded edge.
Commentary. The year 1877 saw an unprecedented number of patterns produced at the Mint, most notably the series of beautiful half dollar designs. Noted researcher Saul Teichman believes that the 1877 half dollar patterns should not be viewed as individual, unrelated coins created haphazardly, one-by-one by engravers Barber, Morgan, and Paquet. A deeper understanding of these coins can be attained when they are considered in the context of a coordinated design program, and an artistic struggle between Chief Engraver William Barber and his gifted assistant, George Morgan.
Morgan was new to the Mint in 1877, having been hired as assistant engraver the year before. Mint Director Linderman had imported him all the way from England to augment the artistic talent of the Mint staff. Clearly, Linderman recognized Barber's limitations as an artist and sought to improve the design process by bringing in a man of real ability. Of course, Barber recognized him as a threat and became jealous of his artistic reputation.
In Congress, events were under way that would lead to passage of the Bland-Allison Act and the return of the silver dollar in 1878. In anticipation of the need for new coinage designs, the engravers at the Mint created the celebrated series of half dollar patterns we know today. Competition between the engravers was intense, with each man putting forth his best efforts to produce a winning design. Many experimental motifs were created, with nine different obverse dies used in combination with 12 reverse dies. The various mulings produced beautiful, intricate coins, state-of-the-art for 1878. Teichman notes that Morgan concentrated his efforts on a single theme for his Liberty obverse, while Barber created many different motifs in a search for a design that would please the Mint officials.
No issue is more clearly the result of this competition than is Judd-1539A. The similarities between Barber's concept and Morgan's famous Liberty Head design are too great to be accidental. Perhaps the two designers were tasked specifically to produce a design using the same Phrygian Cap motif--or Barber may have decided to go head-to-head with Morgan and try to outclass him on his home ground. Unfortunately for him, while Judd-1539A is certainly an attractive design, Morgan's classic creation is clearly superior. Morgan's Liberty Head concept was chosen for the silver dollar in 1878, and it is one of the most popular designs of all time.
USPatterns.com can trace only three examples of Judd-1539A today. The present coin is the finest of the three, and has only been offered at auction three times since 1886. The importance of this offering cannot be overstated.
Physical Description. The present coin possesses the intangible quality known as eye appeal in abundance. The deeply reflective fields are covered with vivid shades of olive, lilac, and gold. The strike is marvelous, with crisp detail in the hair and star centrils. The intricate beauty of Barber's design is fully realized on this extremely rare pattern. This piece is the finest of the three known examples.
Provenance. Ex: Maris Collection (New York Coin and Stamp, 6/1886), lot 206; T. Harrison Garrett; Garrett Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 11/1979), lot 392; Randolph S. Rothschild Collection (Stack's, 10/2003), lot 1091.
From The Lemus Collection, Queller Family Collection Part Two. (NGC ID# 2AEN, PCGS# 61881)
View all of [The Lemus Collection, Queller Family Collection Part Two ]
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