Collectors of the Capped Bust half dollars by die marriage are all familiar with the Overton book (Early Half Dollar Varieties: 1794-1836 by Al C. Overton and Donald Parsley, fourth edition) that is used to identify the dies used to strike the coins. But do they realize the history of the book itself?
The collectors of half dollars by die marriage were first exposed to the idea by the Haseltine Type Table in 1881.
The work on identifying the die marriages was actually done by J. Colvin Randall and the results were published by J.W. Haseltine under his name in his auction in 1881 where 225 marriages were represented. This was followed by a more complete work by M.L. Beistle (A Register of Half Dollar Varieties and Sub-Varieties) in 1929. Beistle increased the known marriages by 163 by listing a total of 388.
Neither work was “user friendly,” as often a description referred to a previous marriage, such as: “star one further from the bust than previous.” Without a reference coin in one’s collection this identification point is useless.
Al Overton’s first foray into the publication of a half dollar die identification manual is his 1964 pamphlet that was a supplement to the 1929 Beistle work. Here, Al identified 125 new Capped Bust half die marriages including the 1817/14. Overton followed Beistle in continuing the “tradition” of using references to other die marriages to describe attribution points. He also made the mistake of listing die states as new marriages, a problem of the his predecessors that would continue into the near future.
Overton’s first full-length book on the die marriages of the Bust half dollars was published in 1967. This book ushered in the collecting of the half dollars by die marriage that we know today. The greatest contribution of this edition was to develop a methodology to determine the die marriage of a half dollar without the use of a reference collection.
The charting of the stars on the obverse of the coin was the most important step introduced in this edition. Overton still made the mistake of listing die states and edge blunders as separate die marriages.
The second edition of Overton was published in 1970; it corrected many of the errors in the 1967 work.
Al simplified the identification of the die marriages and combined the die states into singular marriages. He included many more plates, but still did not illustrate all of the known die marriages.
This work allowed the collector, for the first time, to positively identify his coins by die marriage without the benefit of a reference collection or extensive knowledge of the series.
In 1981, and again in 1987, the Bust Half Nut Club published pamphlets describing the new die marriages discovered since the publication of Overton’s second edition.
Each of the new die marriages was plated, allowing the collector easy comparison to a known example.
In 1990, Don Parsley, Overton’s son-in-law, published the third edition of the book, which illustrated all of the known die marriages, except the Crushed Lettered Edge coins of 1833-1835. This edition seems to be the favorite of collectors due to the clarity of the plates and quality of the paper.
After the third edition was sold out, Don Parsley released the fourth edition in 2006. This is the current edition of the series.
As mentioned earlier, many collectors prefer the third edition, as the fourth is larger and Don has used rarity ratings on some marriages that do not correspond to the current ratings used by the Bust Half Nut Club.
Brad Karoleff is a vice president of the John Reich Collectors Society and editor of the club’s journal. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.