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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Baltimore rare coins expo sells a 1796 'instant numismatic rarity'

Of 'superior' quality, this two-of-a-kind early US Half Dollar coin realised $299,000 at auction

We couldn't resist taking another look at the highlights in Bowers and Merena's Whitman Coin & Collectibles Baltimore sales expo in Baltimore, US, on November 4-5.

Selling alongside the 'finest' two-of-a-kind 1851 Lettered Edge Humbert $50 - which is also certainly worth a look - was an historic Half Dollar from 1796.

In late 1796, the US Mint adopted Robert Scot's iconic Draped Bust design of Liberty, replacing the Flowing Hair depiction of the goddess which was discontinued after two years in 1795.

Scot's design had already been used in the produced of 1795-dated Sliver Dollars. In the end, 3,918 Draped Bust half dollars were produced.

Of those, the first 934 examples were struck from one of two 1796-dated obverse dies. The coin proved exceedingly popular with contemporary bullion depositors... Yet no more copies of the coin were ordered until 1801.


1796 Draped Bust Half Dollar, O-101, sold for $299,000


By this time, the Large Eagle variant of the Draped Bust was in common usage (on whose reverse the previous 'scrawny' Eagle had been replaced by an interpretation with majestic outstretched wings bearing a shield).

The original 'scrawny Eagle' version, like the example pictured here, therefore became an instant numismatic rarity.

Two versions of the 1796-dated version were produced, O-101 and O-102. This coin is easily identifiable as the former, bearing only 15 stars on its obverse border. Today, there are only 100 known copies of the O-101 extant.

And the rarity of this piece doesn't end there - out of the 100 or so O-101s, just 569 pieces were produced in this coin's mintage. What's more, experts believe that this is just one of two known examples whose quality is graded at MS-63 (or 'choice uncirculated').

Billed as "fully Prooflike in finish" with a strike that is "so superior for a product of the early United States Mint", this well preserved piece of numismatic history realised a final price of $299,000 in Baltimore.