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    Extremely Rare 1878-S Half Dollar, A Problem-Free XF40 Coin

    1878-S 50C XF40 NGC. As one studies 19th century American numismatics more and more, it becomes increasingly obvious how closely intertwined the silver lobby was with certain issues. Two examples that immediately come to mind are the creation of the essentially useless (not to mention confusing) twenty cent piece as an alleged outlet for Comstock silver, and the Sherman Silver Act of 1892 and the subsequent fall from favor of silver dollars as an outlet for these same lobbying interests, leading to the minuscule production of Morgan dollars in the mid-1890s. But underlying the swings in both directions of these special interest and political policy decisions was the Bland-Allison Act of 1878.
    When the Comstock Lode was discovered in the late 1850s by Henry T. P. Comstock, a.k.a. "Old Pancake," a veritable mountain of silver was mined and dropped onto world markets. As a result, the market price for silver as reckoned in gold dollars dropped significantly. The western mining interests had powerful friends in Congress, and by 1878 Rep. Richard P. "Silver Dick" Bland and Sen. William Boyd Allison came to the rescue of the mine owners by passing a bill that required the Treasury to purchase between $2 and $4 million of new domestic silver each month. This enormous amount of silver was then mandated to be turned into silver dollars, as silver dollars were heavier than two half dollars, four quarters, or ten dimes.
    Enactment of the Bland-Allison Act effectively required that the various mints cease any meaningful or useful production of the minor coinage that the commercial interests needed nationwide. Instead, in order to meet the mandated number of silver dollars required by the Bland-Allison Act, the various mints diverted most of their energies to striking silver dollars-coins that were not needed in the channels of commerce, and many of which sat in government vaults until the 1960s. It was in this chaotic and politically charged milieu that the 1878-S half dollars were (or rather were not) struck.
    All one has to do is review the mintage figures for 1878 to see how the mint's energies were diverted from necessary to politically motivated coinage. In that year, the San Francisco mint produced 140,000 quarters, 1/64th of the number it turned out the previous year. Only 12,000 half dollars were struck, whereas 5.3 million pieces had been minted in 1877. But a staggering 13.8 million silver dollars were stamped out, including both Trade and Morgan designs.
    The 1878-S is a key issue to a set of Seated Liberty half dollars, and it is one that is rarely seen on the market as most examples are locked up in major collections. Of the 12,000 pieces struck, only 60 or so are believed extant today in all grades. For most 19th century U.S. issues, the attrition rate was high, but a rough rule of thumb is around 1% of the mintage may still be known today in all grades. Given that the number of 60 pieces is accurate, that would indicate a percentage of survivors of only 0.005 %. This number also indicates that half dollars were indeed needed for commercial needs in the west in the late 1870s, and the few that were produced in 1878 were simply "worn out" from circulation.
    All 1878-S half dollars were produced from a single pair of dies. As one might imagine, counterfeits have been made and mintmarks added to "create" this important key. However, authentication is relatively easy. All genuine 1878-S halves show a die chip (or raised lump) high in the recessed area between the left edge of the reverse shield and the first set of vertical stripes. Since this lump is located in a recessed area, it is also visible on coins in very low grades.
    Of the surviving specimens, approximately a quarter, or some 16 pieces, are known in the AU58-MS64 grade range. The remaining examples are AU58 or lower, with the circulated population fairly evenly divided between Fine to AU, and Fair to VG. This particular coin has original, untampered surfaces that show a gray-lilac overlay of patina on each side with a significant presence of underlying golden coloration. The design elements show even wear over the highpoints, and there are numerous small abrasions scattered over both obverse and reverse but none are of individual significance or large enough to be used as a reliable pedigree identifier. The demand for 1878-S half dollars is so great that many are placed directly into collector's hands as soon as they are available. This is an opportunity to acquire this major rarity in problem-free XF condition at a major public auction. (#6360) (Registry values: N7079)

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 24KR, PCGS# 6360)

    Weight: 12.50 grams

    Metal: 90% Silver, 10% Copper


    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    August, 2004
    18th-21st Wednesday-Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 13
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 992

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    15% of the successful bid (minimum $6) per lot.

    The Draped Bust Half Dollars of 1796-1797 by Jon Amato

    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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