A New Orleans collector never anticipated discovering an 1861-O Seated Liberty half dollar while searching rolls that he expected would contain only Kennedy half dollars, but he did find one.
What makes the find even more special is that the coin is the variety struck with the Seated Liberty obverse die used while the New Orleans Mint was under the control of the Confederate States of America.
The coin is attributed as WB-102 in The Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Half Dollars by Randy Wiley and Bill Bugert. The key diagnostic that attributes production to the Confederacy is the obverse die break from Liberty’s nose to the rim, slightly to the right of the seventh star.
“This popular variety uses the same head die in a late die state as the 4 genuine Confederate States of America (CSA) half dollars,” according to the Wiley-Bugert reference.
Coin World reported in 2006 that 14 different die marriages were used to make 1861-O Seated Liberty half dollars for the three governments. The findings were made partly through a large number of these coins that were recovered from the sunken SS Republic.
Wiley was commissioned by Odyssey Marine Explorations to review its 1861-O Seated Liberty half dollars,which the salvage firm gathered from the wreckage of the Republic.
The sidewheel steamer SS Republic sank in about 1,700 feet of water in the Atlantic Ocean in 1865, after battling a hurricane for two days. Odyssey located the wreck in the summer of 2003 about 100 miles off the coast of Georgia.
Making the find
The finder has been a coin collector off and on for more than 50 years. The collector told Coin World during a July 9 phone interview that he returned to the hobby with a vengeance in 2009, primarily searching through rolls of half dollars. The collector has been looking for examples containing silver that he could cash in to help finance his other collecting interests.
To fuel his roll collecting, the collector befriended the tellers at several local New Orleans banks where he purposely took out accounts just so he could acquire rolls at the banks. As a customer, he was informed by the tellers when rolls of half dollars were available at the bank.