Rare PR63 1836 Reeded Edge Bust Half
1836 50C Reeded Edge PR63 NGC. Steam power at the U.S. Mint
ushered in the era of mass production and signaled the end of the
Capped Bust, Lettered Edge half dollar series. Steam power not only
changed the production of U.S. (and world) coinage; more
importantly, it fueled (and enabled a proper medium of exchange for
workers in) the great Industrial Revolution, beginning in Great
Britain but spreading soon to the United States and Continental
First U.S. Steam-Powered Coinage
Fewer Than 20 Survive Today
The lives and careers of Matthew Boulton and James Watt --who did not invent the steam engine, but refined its capabilities -- of the Soho Manufactory, near Birmingham, England, are documented in a fascinating volume by Richard G. Doty, The Soho Mint and the Industrialization of Money (1998). Doty points out that by the late 1780s, most of the "small money" in circulation was counterfeit, jeopardizing the future of the Industrial Revolution and the ability of factory workers to be paid. From the liner notes:
"Matthew Boulton and his associates at Soho Manufactory met and defeated this threat by creating a battery of steam-powered machines which could mass-produce unforgeable copper coinage. The earnings of the labouring poor were safeguarded; the world's first industrial coinage was born."
Doty goes on to say that the Soho Mint eventually began exporting replicas of itself to the far corners of the world, enabling the rest of the world to strike coins using the new steam power. The U.S. Mint was scheduled to strike its first tokens -- not coins -- on Feb. 22, 1836, but the demonstration was cancelled, and Mint Second Engraver Christian Gobrecht overdated the prepared dies from Feb. 22 to Mar. 23.
The 1836 Capped Bust, Reeded Edge halves were the first U.S. circulating coinage struck using steam power. On Nov. 8, 1836, Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson sent 10 "specimens" (likely proofs) of the new steam-produced half dollars to Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury. He wrote that "the old [half dollar] coins were struck in what we term an open collar; this is struck in a close collar, which make the edges of pieces thicker, and gives a mathematical equality to their diameters."
Lettered edges became a relic of the past, as the close collar would crush any edge lettering, as on certain 1833-35 Bust halves known with "crushed lettered edges."
Judging by the certified populations today, it is likely that a few more "specimens" or proofs may have been struck later, but it appears that fewer than 20 proofs survive in all grades. This Select proof displays deeply reflective fields with the centers full on each side, but the peripheries are weak, as is the top of the eagle's right (facing) wing. Streaky gray, blue, and rose toning fails to dampen the reflective proof flash. Census: 4 in 63, 6 finer (11/11).(Registry values: N7079) (NGC ID# 27SM, PCGS# 6223)
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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.
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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