Extremely Rare 1839-O Capped Bust Half Dollar, PR621839-O 50C Capped Bust, Reeded Edge PR62 NGC. Substantially rarer than the 1838-O proof half dollars are the similarly designed 1839-O proof halves. About a dozen of the former are known, but only about five of the latter are known. While the 1838-O is a celebrated rarity in American numismatics, the 1839-O proof is only recognized by a small number of specialists.
The 1838-O and 1839-O proof halves show a remarkable number of similarities. Both were apparently struck in proof format at about the same time in early 1839. Both have the popular Obverse Mintmark style only produced in those two years, making them a two-year subtype. There is no record of proof coins being struck of either year, in keeping with typical Mint practice of the era. Of course, an obvious difference is that, while the 1838-O halves were only struck in proof to the extent of about 20 pieces, with 11 pieces known today, the 1839-O halves are even rarer in proof format, with only four or five pieces known. Despite their greater rarity, the proof 1839-O halves are relatively unknown to the numismatic community, perhaps because of a fairly large production of 1839-O business strikes.
Variety and Die State
The obverse has a boldly doubled mintmark that was repunched north of its original position. The mintmark is nearly centered over the space between the 8 and 3, slightly favoring the 3. A faint die crack connects stars 3 through 6, and another connects stars 9 through 12. A third crack connects all four digits of the date at their centers. All three of these die cracks are virtually invisible without a magnifier and a good light source.
The reverse has several similar fine and nearly invisible die cracks connecting most of the letters. Perhaps the easiest to view is the segment of a die crack through AMERICA that connects the left upright of the R to the crossbar of the E. The ER crack, along with several others, exactly matches die cracks observed on the reverse of known 1838-O half dollars.
Sharing a common reverse die in a nearly identical die state, the 1838-O and 1839-O proof half dollars were produced at about the same time, probably circa January 1839 in both cases. Some have suggested that the 1838-O half dollars were mere test coins, struck as press trials before the proof 1839-O coins were minted. In his Complete Encyclopedia, Breen cited a note in the National Archives that he had located in 1951, suggesting that a "few half dollars were coined to test a new press."
Walter Breen reported in his Proof Encyclopedia that the Straus coin he examined in 1951 had the dies aligned in medal turn orientation, and questioned the others, writing: "is this constant for these proofs?" A decade later in his Complete Encyclopedia, Breen reported that all five known proofs have medal turn alignment. More recent examination shows Breen's error in his 1988 reference. In the George Byers Catalog, Stack's notes that the Byers coin has normal alignment, and we observe that the present piece also has normal alignment.
Deeply toned in steel-blue that is intermingled with dark tan around the devices. The underlying fields are fully reflective, and all of the design elements are boldly defined. A few scattered surface marks and faint hairlines are evident on each side, accounting for the assigned numerical grade.
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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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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