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Gerald Tebben

Five Facts

Gerald Tebben

Gerald Tebben, a Coin World columnist for more than 30 years, also contributes to Coin World’s Coin Values and edits the Central States Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel. He collects coins that tell stories.

Coin World’s bloggers are not edited by Coin World’s editorial staff and blog posts reflect the views of the individual author.

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Archive for 'September 2017'

    When’s a half dollar not a half dollar?

    September 21, 2017 4:32 PM by

    One of the most elusive half dollars doesn’t say half dollar on it and never circulated as money.

    In 1964 as the price of silver rose above $1.29 an ounce the point at which a silver dollar is worth more as metal than as money the Mint began searching for alternatives.

    The Mint hired Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus, Ohio, to research substitutes for then-current 90 percent silver coinage. To test possible replacements 17 were considered the Mint prepared dies in dime, quarter dollar and half dollar size.

    In its Feb. 12, 1965, “Final Report on A Study of Alloys Suitable for Use as United States Coinage,” Battelle reported, “A number of possible candidate materials were selected and taken to the Philadelphia Mint in the form of rolled strip to determine how well they could be blanked and upset, and coined. ... For the actual coining process, special dies were prepared by the Mint designers and engravers, which would duplicate as nearly as possible both the obverse and reverse design features of a typical dime, quarter, and half-dollar.”

    The three Battelle pattern “denominations” show a bust of Martha Washington on the obverse and Mount Vernon on the reverse. All are dated 1759, the year George wed Martha.

    U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Edward R. Grove designed the obverse and signed it with his initials below Martha’s bust. U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Philip Fowler designed the reverse. His initials appear below the right side of Mount Vernon.

    The designs were reprised in 1982 and 1999 for the striking of “cent” and “dollar” patterns before the metals for those two denominations were changed.

    For the Battelle study, the Philadelphia Mint produced “dimes” in 15 metals, ranging from an alloy of 50 percent silver and 50 percent copper to the adopted layered composition of copper-nickel-clad copper. The “quarter dollar” was tested in 17 metals, and the “half dollar” in just four.

    The Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors’ website, uspatterns.com, reports the Smithsonian has two blue Lucite blocks, each containing a “dime,” “quarter dollar” and “half dollar.”

    The website notes two clad “dimes,” ten clad “quarter dollars,” one nickel “half dollar” and about half a dozen clad “half dollars” are known to exist.

    Despite their great rarity, the pieces tend to sell for a few thousand dollars on the rare occasion that they appear at auction. In 2014, one sold for $4,112.50 at a Heritage auction.

    The 69-day project that took two years

    September 8, 2017 4:09 PM by

    The Kennedy half dollar was a rush job that was two years in the making.

    From the time President John F. Kennedy was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963, to the Jan. 30, 1964, start of the coin’s production for circulation was just 69 days.

    Mint reports and U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts’s recollections tell the story.

    In an April 29, 1964, report to Mint Director Eva Adams, Roberts recalled, “Shortly after the tragedy of President Kennedy’s death, Nov. 22, 1963, Miss Eva Adams, the director of the mint, telephoned me here at the Philadelphia Mint and explained that serious consideration was being given to placing President Kennedy’s portrait on a new design U.S. silver coin.”

    The order came Nov. 27 – five days after the assassination – to begin work on the new half dollar.

    Much of the work had actually been done two years earlier. Roberts modified the Kennedy portrait he had prepared in 1961 for the Mint’s presidential series medal. Frank Gasparro’s presidential-seal reverse was repurposed, too, from the same medal.

    Roberts said the president had personally approved the medal’s portrait.

    In his report to Adams on April 29, Gasparro wrote, “At 9 a.m. on Dec. 13th we struck our first trial (pattern) pieces.” That same day he flew to Washington to deliver the coins to Adams who, in turn, sent them to Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon and President Johnson.

    On Dec. 17, Roberts showed a prototype of the coin to the president’s widow, who suggested “mussing” up Kennedy’s hair.

    Dies were completed Jan. 2, and Proof production began almost immediately. Roberts reported that the first circulation-strike coins were produced at Denver Jan. 30. Philadelphia ramped up production the following week. Ceremonial first strikes were made at 11 a.m. EST Feb. 11, simultaneously, at the Philadelphia and Denver mints.

    On March 6, 1964, the Mint shipped the first coins to Federal Reserve banks.

    The coin proved immensely popular. Banks across the country quickly exhausted their supply. Those lucky enough to get some found a ready market at home and abroad.

    Writing in the St. Petersburg Independent in 1967, coin columnist Earl Campbell recalled those days: “Next it was found that people in many foreign countries also wanted the coins as keepsakes,” he wrote. “There were stories of people financing trips to Hong Kong with a few rolls of Kennedy halves. American tourists exchanging the halves, one or two, for a night’s lodging in the best hotels in Europe, and a great underground network that was quietly sending the half dollars into the foreign market to meet the demand.”

    Next: When’s a half dollar not a half dollar?

    Half dollars: A mysterious rarity

    September 6, 2017 4:52 PM by

    With a mintage of just 12,000, the 1878-S half dollar should be scarce but not rare. Ten other dates have lower mintages.

    Yet, Uncirculated 1878-S half dollars are worth upwards of $100,000 each, while the 1879 coins, in a mintage of just 4,800, sell for just $1,000 in the same grade.

    The 1879-S half dollar was rare from the get-go. One reportedly appeared at auction as early as 1882. Augustus Heaton, in his landmark 1893 A Treatise on the Coinage of the United States Branch Mints, called the coin a “great rarity.”

    For reasons no one knows, fewer than 60 1878-S half dollars have survived. In comparison, the grading services had graded about 750 of the 1879 coins.

    Heritage Auctions notes in auction listings for the coin, “The introduction of the Morgan dollar in 1878 is part and parcel of the rarity of the 1878-S half dollars. As mandated by the Bland-Allison Act authorized on February 28, 1878, the Treasury Department was ordered to resume coinage of the silver dollar denomination.”

    The auction house speculated, “The quickest and easiest solution was to mint more silver dollars in preference over smaller denomination silver coins – far more dollars than were wanted or needed in commerce. Mintages of quarters and half dollars diminished to only token amounts.”

    In 1878, the San Francisco Mint struck nearly 10 million Morgan silver dollars.

    What happened to the remainder of the 12,000 1878-S half dollars has been the subject of speculation over the decades.

    Were the coins melted, with the silver redirected to silver dollar coinage? Were they, like so many 19th century U.S. silver coins, shipped overseas as so much bullion? And, if they were shipped overseas, were they melted, as is most likely, or do there exist, in some Oriental warehouse, bags of gleaming 1878-S half dollars?

    Next: The 69-day project that took two years

    Half dollars: The quarter million dollar dirt pile

    September 1, 2017 4:52 PM by

    New York contractor George Williams struck it rich in 2005 when he discovered the eighth known specimen of the ultra-rare 1817/4 half dollar in a pile of dirt.

    Heritage Auctions placed the coin in the 2006 Winter FUN sale. The catalog entry tells the story: “News of the discovery appeared in the October 24, 2005, edition of Coin World. Williams said he ordered a load of fill for some foundation work he was doing. He was raking the soil when he heard a ‘cling.’ His son Nial, 19, turned the hose on the object and revealed an early date half dollar.

    “The Coin World article goes on to say that when Williams returned home with the coin, his 14-year-old coin-collecting son, Cullinan, looked it up in A Guide Book of United States Coins (the ‘Red Book’). The boy then printed a copy of Sheridan Downey’s commentary on the 1817/4 half dollar in Collectors Universe’s CoinFacts.com [http://www.pcgscoinfacts.com/] web site that revealed more details about the rare overdate. The entire family then became increasingly excited about the find. The coin was certified by ANACS with XF Details and some corrosion.”

    The coin, considered to be the second finest of the 11 1817/4 half dollars now known, sold for a breathtaking $253,000 at the sale.

    History, though, has not been kind to the coin’s value. It sold for $109,250 in 2009, less than half its initial sale price. The value rebounded somewhat to $164,500 in 2009, the last time it was placed at auction.

    The coin was unknown to collectors until October 1930 when a brief item about it appeared in The Numismatist.

    The magazine reported, “E.T Wallis, of Los Angeles, Cal., writes that he has recently discovered a heretofore unknown variety of the 1817 half dollar, the last figure of the date being cut over a 4.... Mr. Wallis thinks the die may have been cracked when the 7 was cut over the 4 and the die may have been broken when the striking began.”

    Some collectors think the die was weakened when the 4 was mostly ground off, causing the overdate die to fail after only a few coins were struck. Others speculate the die just wasn’t properly hardened.

    Half of the known specimens have a jagged die crack running across the entire obverse from above Liberty’s cap to the edge below the 7 in the date, indicating die failure was imminent when the coins were struck.

    Next: A mysterious rarity