My interest in numismatic research began in the early 1980s when I
was assembling a type set of U.S. coins.
It was evident in my survey of the numismatic literature that
considerably more information was available on some coin types (such
as the early large cents) than on others. My research into my favorite
design type, the Draped Bust, Small Eagle half dollars of 1796 to
1797, revealed little written information. In early 2001, I therefore
decided to write a book on this low-mintage (3,918 pieces) two-year
type coin, the key to completing a U.S. type collection (except for
perhaps the 1796 Capped Bust No Stars and 1808 Capped Draped Bust gold
The resultant publication, The Draped Bust Half Dollars of
1796-1797: Numismatic Background and Census, was edited by
James Halperin and Mark Van Winkle, and published by Ivy Press.
The major goal of the study was to compile a census, if only
preliminary, of the known examples of 1796 to 1797 half dollars. A
secondary goal was to examine the economic and historical contexts
within which these coins were designed and minted, and circulated in
the channels of commerce.
Locating auction catalogs that included imaged appearances of 1796
to 1797 half dollars was the first challenge. The American Numismatic
Society library was the starting point for this endeavor. With
librarian Frank Campbell’s help, I was able to survey most catalogs of
American numismatic sales in the ANS Collection, noting those that
contained images of 1796 to 1797 half dollars. I then began purchasing
catalogs with the appropriate images from numismatic literature
dealers. Karl Moulton, Bryce Brown, David Sklow, George Kolbe, David
Fanning, Charles Davis and Fred Lake all helped me create (and
continue to create) my extensive library of such auction catalogs.
Once a critical mass of catalogs was assembled, I began the long,
laborious and often tedious process of comparing images of 1796 to
1797 half dollar appearances (by Overton variety, if possible) in an
effort to identify distinct specimens. Catalog images were
supplemented by those from fixed-price lists, which I obtained from
monitoring dealer ads in numismatic publications and on their
websites. The analysis of 1796 to 1797 half dollar images from these
sources resulted in 270 apparently separate specimens documented in
The resultant publication is but one step in an effort to
determine the number of known 1796 to 1797 Draped Bust, Small Eagle
half dollars. In other words, I view this as an ongoing, lifelong
project, for which Heritage Auctions set up a Web page (www.HA.com/JonAmato). “New
discovery” specimens obtained from private collectors, auction sales
or dealers will be periodically posted on the page, as will auction
prices realized, dealer fixed prices, revised pedigrees and any other
appropriate information on 1796 to 1797 half dollars.
Jon Amato retired as a cataloger from Heritage Auctions in 2010,
but still catalogs part time for the company.