A fourth, previously undisclosed example of the 1842 Seated
Liberty, Small Date, Small Letters half dollar has been acquired by
Hershey, Pa., dealer Rich Uhrich.
The variety pairs a Small Letters reverse of the style used at the
Philadelphia Mint from 1839 to 1841 with an 1842 obverse of the Small
Date style. The 1842 obverse should have been paired with a Large
Letters reverse, a new style introduced at the beginning of 1842 as a
replacement for the Small Letters design.
Researchers for years had suspected that a Small Date, Small
Letters variety had been struck at the Philadelphia Mint. Some 1842-O
Small Date, Small Letters half dollars are known. A Philadelphia Mint
example was not verified until dealer Brian Greer, a noted variety
specialist, located a piece in 1998.
The new piece
Uhrich, of Rich Uhrich Rare U.S. Coins Inc., said May 23 he had
acquired his example, graded Good 6 and encapsulated by Professional
Coin Grading Service, for an undisclosed “five-figure” sum from an
Uhrich said the seller had contacted him less than a month before
about the availability of the rare variety. At the time he was
contacted, Uhrich said, the variety had already been certified by PCGS.
BJ Searls of PCGS confirmed that the coin was finalized in March.
For now, Uhrich said he plans on holding on to the coin.
Variety’s first discovery
The variety was coined during a transition from a reverse design
in use to a new reverse design.
The Small Letters reverse has small letters in the legend UNITED
STATES OF AMERICA and the denomination, represented as HALF DOL. The
letters are well-spaced and distant from the dentils.
A new reverse was introduced in 1842 with larger letters that more
completely filled the reverse fields. The large letters are closer to
each another and to the dentils.
Randy Wiley and Bill Bugert published their reference The Complete
Guide to Liberty Seated Half Dollars in 1993, and speculated about the
existence of the 1842 variety.
“It is entirely possible that a small date obverse could be paired
with a small letter Philadelphia Mint reverse (similar to that found
on all 1841 half dollars and some 1842 New Orleans Branch Mint
coins),” the book authors wrote. “This combination is presently
unknown and if found, would be extremely rare.”
Coin World reported Greer’s discovery in the April 6,
A detailed analysis of the variety appears in the July 1998 issue
of The Gobrecht Journal, published by the Liberty Seated Collectors
Club. “Up until the identification of the new 1842 half dollar with
small letters, it had been assumed that all 1842 half dollars struck
in Philadelphia had a large letters reverse,” according to the article.
Several different Small Date dies were used in 1842 before a
Medium Date style was introduced during the year. The date on the
obverse of the 1842 Small Date, Small Letters half dollar slopes
upward from left to right.
The reverse of the coin exhibits “several vertical lines in the
reverse shield extending up in the horizontal shield stripes, with one
of these lines in the last set of vertical stripes on the right
extending up to the top of the shield,” according to Gobrecht Journal
editor John McCloskey’s article.
Transactions and discoveries
The Greer discovery piece is currently in the collection of a
longtime collector. It is now in a PCGS holder and is graded Very Fine 20.
Bugert located the second example of the variety in a Nov. 30,
2005, Stack’s auction where the coin was cataloged only as “Small
Date” without the “Small Letters” attribution. The coin was offered as
“Brilliant Uncirculated,” not yet having been graded by a third-party service.
Bugert contacted Wiley about his find in the 2005 Stack’s sale, so
both could attend the auction.
According to the description for Lot 285, the coin had previously
been offered as Lot 1279 in Stack’s April 1988 auction, where it was
also cataloged “Small Date” and “Brilliant Uncirculated.”
In the 1988 auction, the coin sold for $2,530. In the 2005
auction, the coin sold to an unnamed dealer for his inventory for $57,500.
The piece is currently graded Mint State 64 by PCGS.
The third example had been in the collection of dealer Dick
Osburn, a Seated Liberty coin specialist.
Osburn’s example of the variety was offered by Stack’s Bowers
Galleries Aug. 18, 2011, as Lot 7009 in the Rarities Night auction in
conjunction with the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of
Money in Rosemont, Ill.
Cataloged as About Uncirculated Details, but certified by PCGS as
“Genuine — Code 95, Scratch/Rim Dent,” Osburn’s coin did not sell at
A representative of Dick Osburn Rare Coins confirmed May 24 that
Osburn had sold the coin to a collector. ■