Historic SP64 1861-O Seated Half Dollar
1861-O 50C SP64 NGC. Ex: James Stack Collection. The 2008
Guide Book has this to say concerning the recorded mintage
of 2,532,633 1861-O Seated Liberty half dollars:
Ex: James A. Stack
"The 1861-O quantity includes 330,000 struck under the United States government, 1,240,000 for the State of Louisiana after it seceded from the Union, and 962,633 after Louisiana joined the Confederate States of America. As all these 1861-O coins were struck from U.S. dies, it is impossible to distinguish one from another. They should not be confused with the very rare Confederate half dollar of 1861 which has a distinctive reverse."
To repeat, this coin is not the rare Confederate reverse half dollar. It is, however, a rare coin in its own right, and one that bears some striking similarities (pun intended) to that issue.
Breen reports in his Complete Encyclopedia that "no records survive about issue of the 1861-O proof half dollars; the most likely occasions for making these would have been inception of coinage for Louisiana and for the CSA.
What is known, however, is that in April 1861, Confederate Secretary of the Treasury Christopher Memminger issued orders that new designs for a Confederate half dollar be submitted to him for approval. Clearly, these 1861-O specimen half dollars owe their existence to the need to commemorate an event before the new Confederate dies were ready. (Or the reverse die, as it turned out; the Confederate half dollars reused a Union obverse die, identifiable by a die crack from rim to the bridge of the nose.) The Confederate mint closed at the end of April 1861. Examining the timeline, it is known that the first delivery of 333,000 half dollars was struck under U.S. authority. As such--since half dollars had been struck in New Orleans for decades--there would have been no need for a special commemoration of the Union striking. The specimen 1861-O halves thus clearly were intended as a commemoration of the March striking of 1,240,000 half dollars under authority of the State of Louisiana. After all, it appears that the intent, at least, was to produce custom-made dies for the Confederate strikings, once the dies were prepared and approved.
Walter Breen's Proof Encyclopedia gives a provenance of six proof or specimen examples, of which two may be duplicates, for a total of only four individual coins known. The Collectors Universe website estimates that only five proofs are known. Breen notes the presence of knife rims on the proofs, a feature that is evident here, even with the NGC encapsulation. This piece certainly does not appear to be merely a prooflike striking from new dies. There is a crispness and freshness to the details that implies multiple strikes, and the dies show extensive die polishing that has removed the frostiness in all areas except for a couple of the deepest, hidden recesses of the die: the entire interior of A3, the top interior of A1, and the internal areas around the olive leaves. As with other proofs/specimen examples, the planchet also appears to have been specially polished. There are a few tiny contact marks that account for the grade, but none that are distracting or meriting singular mention.
As of (3/08) this is the only specimen certified at either NGC or PCGS in any grade. Even among this assemblage of incredible certified rarities, the present half dollar is a special piece that merits serious deliberation among both Civil War enthusiasts and Seated half specialists.
Ex: James A. Stack Collection (Stack's, 3/1975), lot 494.(Registry values: N1793) (NGC ID# 24J8, PCGS# 6303)
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