US Coins

Off-center 1814 half dollar only partially there

The earliest U.S. coins, those pieces struck from 1793 to about 1836, were struck within what is called an “open collar.” The collar is the third die, essentially a ring made of hardened steel that surrounds the planchet while it is being struck by the faces of the obverse and reverse dies.

An open collar was slightly larger in diameter than the intended coin and served both as a guide for placement of the planchet in the press and to lightly restrain outward metal flow of the coin during striking. Pieces struck inside an open collar would vary slightly in diameter, and the collar did not form the edge devices (the 1814 half dollar had an edge inscription, placed on the planchet before striking). Those attributes contrast with coins struck within what is called a close collar, which replaced the open collars in the mid-1830s. A close collar tightly restricted metal flow, ensuring a standard diameter, and at the same time formed the edge device.

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Both kinds of collars were intended to keep the planchet in position during striking and to ensure that a round or nearly so coin was struck. That is not what happened with an 1814 Capped Bust half dollar that sold in Heritage Auctions' recent sale of U.S. coins in Dallas.

The coin carries two major error types. It was struck about 5 percent off center, and it was struck at least three times.

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Because the coin was struck off center, first toward the 6:30 position and then two more times toward the 5:30 position, the bottom portion of the date is missing on the obverse; on the reverse, the tops of some of the letters in UNITED STATES OF AMERICA are also missing (the coin was struck in coin turn, with the date at the bottom of the obverse directly opposite the top of the reverse). The coin also features an unstruck crescent on both sides, formed where the planchet lay outside of plane of the two dies.

The evidence that the coin was struck more than once is best seen on the obverse, where a flattened and fainter crescent of dentils can be seen intersecting the top of Liberty’s head. These extra dentils (so named because the devices along the rim of the coin resemble teeth) are from the first strike. In addition, the upper obverse dentils are doubled from the second and third strikes, which, along with the 6:30 and 5:30 shifts of the three strikes, indicates the coin shifted position between each strike. Most of the other design details from those earlier strikes would have been obliterated by the final strike.

The combination of the two different errors types results in a visually striking appearance. That the coin was obviously abnormal, however, did not keep it from circulation. Professional Coin Grading Service graded the coin Extremely Fine 45, indicating that the half dollar did circulate for a time before being placed into a collection of coins.

The coin has the added distinction of being the Overton 103 die marriage, “with a vertical ‘bar’ between the scroll and left (facing) wing,” Heritage notes in the lot description.

The coin sold for $4,465 at the mid-April auction in Dallas.

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