Heritage is set to offer nearly 7,000 lots at its Jan. 3 to 8 U.S.
coin auctions, held during the Florida United Numismatists show that
runs January 4 to 7 in Tampa.
Two fascinating coins that showcase the technical skill of two early
U.S. Mints will highlight Heritage’s Jan. 4 Platinum Night auction.
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A 1795 Draped Bust, Off-Center Bust, Small Eagle silver dollar
graded Specimen 62 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. is a standout. It’s
unclear why the Mint changed from the Flowing Hair portrait to the
Draped Bust design in 1795, and a firm attribution of the designer of
the Draped Bust motif has proven elusive. The total mintage of 1795
Draped Bust dollars also remains unknown, but several are known with
prooflike surfaces. In absence of records showing the production of
Specimen strikes, the coin’s merits must speak for themselves.
The 2018 FUN auction example is distinguished by its full strike,
and both sides are fully mirrored. As Heritage writes, “A few light
striations appear over the central obverse, and tiny ticks limit the
technical grade. Still, this amazing specimen is nearly in a class of
its own, and was made with care, lacking any adjustment marks on the
obverse or reverse.” It is listed as the B-14, BB-51, variety in the
numbering system used by Q. David Bowers and Mark Borckardt in
Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States A Complete
Encyclopedia and the “Off-Center Bust” refers to the fact that
the Liberty portrait is left of its typical positioning. It is rarer
than Centered Bust varieties, especially in Mint State.
An exceptional standout from the earliest years of the New Orleans
Mint is a 1838-O Capped Bust, Reeded Edge half dollar graded Branch
Mint Proof 63 by Professional Coin Grading Service. Like the Specimen
62 1795 dollar, it too has mysterious origins, with Heritage calling
it “one of the rarest and most enigmatic issues in the U.S. federal series.”
The New Orleans Mint was authorized by Congress in 1835 and began
striking coins in 1838 with the production of Seated Liberty half
dimes. Mint Director Robert M. Patterson wrote to Superintendent David
Bradford on Jan. 17, 1839, urging that “no time should be lost in
getting ready for the coinage of half dollars.” The presses that were
well-suited to small denomination coins were ill-equipped to strike
the much larger half dollars.
A Feb. 25, 1839, letter written by Patterson acknowledges that the
New Orleans Mint received dies to strike 1838-O half dollars and
likely struck 10 1838-O Capped Bust half dollars in January 1839, with
another 10 struck for presentation purposes after the half dollar
press became operational in March 1839. Today nine examples are
traced, of which the example at FUN is among the finest known. It has
traditionally been pedigreed to the E.H.R. Green Collection, but more
likely was part of the William Cutler Atwater Collection, which was
offered by Fort Worth, Texas, dealer B. Max Mehl in 1946. It most
recently sold at a 2008 Heritage auction for $632,500.
Heritage writes, “Despite the fact that a few PR64 examples have
been certified, many numismatists believe the PR63 Atwater specimen is
the most beautiful 1838-O half dollar,” further noting, “Razor-sharp
definition is evident on all design elements, with exquisite detail on
Liberty’s hair and the eagle’s claws, and fully formed star centers.”
Such a strike is consistent with its status as a Branch Mint Proof
half dollar coin.