1831 Gem Proof O-103 Half Dollar
1831 50C PR65 PCGS. O-103, R.1 as a business strike, R.8 as a
proof. When Walter Breen published his revised Proof
Encyclopedia in 1988 he listed only the O-103 die variety for
three examples of the proof 1831 half dollar, including the
Hawn-Robison brilliant proof, number 4 below (and in reality an
O-108), and the Paramount example, number 2 below, but omitting the
Allenburger-Mehl-Pittman example, number 3.
Sole Finest at PCGS
Third Proof of This Variety
The present Gem proof O-103 graded by PCGS simply leaves no doubt as to its proof status. In fact, it greatly resembles in its overall fabric the Pittman coin, but it is not. We would be unsurprised, however, if the time machine revealed that the present coin and the Pittman coin were struck at the same time, probably the same day. For that reason, we quote David Akers' description at some length in the roster that follows. Die polishing marks appear on the bust and neck of Liberty, some exactly matching the Pittman piece, for example under the lowest curl above the clasp. But the "few light parallel lines" on Liberty's cheek that the Pittman coin shows are absent here, and there are three curious little scoop-shaped marks on the bust that appear on the Pittman coin -- in slightly different places.
The patina is also considerably different. This Gem PCGS coin is a beautiful commingling of iridescent colors including gold, mint, saffron, and pinkish-blue. The fields are highly reflective and quite well-mirrored, and the coin is perfectly centered with even dentilation all the way around. The strike is remarkably sharp on all star centrils, the hair, and all areas of the reverse, save for the lowest portion on the stem, claws, and denomination. Even though we can find no earlier evidence of the provenance of this coin, it must now be considered a tied-for-finest-known proof O-103 half dollar, and the sole finest at PCGS (3/13).
Roster of 1831 Proof Half Dollars
1. PR65 PCGS. O-103. The present specimen.
2. PR64 PCGS. O-103. Auction '79 (Paramount), lot 155; Sixten Erling, Paramount International Coin Corp.'s Rare Coin List No. 12; private Illinois collector; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 8/1999), lot 196. "Fully brilliant with just a hint of peripheral toning."
3. PR65 NGC. O-103. Samuel H. Chapman, as part of a complete proof set, one of only two complete sets known to him; Dr. C.A. Allenburger; Allenburger Collection; B. Max Mehl (3/1948), lot 871, sold to John Jay Pittman for $58.50; Pittman Collection (Akers, 5/1998), lot 1495, $46,200; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2006), lot 3188, $69,000; Greensboro Collection II/FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2013), lot 5636, $70,500. David Akers wrote in the Pittman Collection, "It has an unbelievable strike and is perfectly centered with broad even denticles all the way around. The stars are bold and have all of their radial lines. The fields are deeply mirrorlike and have tremendous brilliance with very attractive light reddish-gold peripheral toning highlighted with a touch of violet and blue. There are many die polishing lines on the neck and drapery."
4. Brilliant Proof. O-108. Noted by Walter Breen's Proof Encyclopedia but he apparently thought it was an O-103. Reed Hawn (Stack's, 8/1973), lot 98; Robison Collection (Stack's, 2/1982), lot 1591;.Auction '84 (Stack's, 7/1984), lot 1143; Stack's (12/1998), lot 2244.
Several other claimed proof appearances have occurred in the distant past, all dating between McCoy (W. Elliot Woodward, 5/1864), lot 454, and George Earle (1912), lot 2942. None of those distant appearances are conclusive one way or the other. (NGC ID# 27SH, PCGS# 6210)
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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.
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