By James McCartney, Numismatist & Cataloger – Stack’s Bowers ……
The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848 sent shockwaves through the American economy that reverberated for decades. While the gold to silver ratio of both the domestic and international markets had greatly affected the operations of the United States Mint since its establishment in 1792, the Gold Rush once again upset this delicate balance. With the influx of gold into circulation, the price of silver rose to a point that, by 1851, the silver coins produced by the Mint were worth more as bullion than face value money, which encouraged hoarding, exporting and melting for profit. This surge in pricing also consumed the Mint’s seigniorage for the production of these coins, forcing them to reduce output significantly across all silver denominations.
It wasn’t until the reduction in planchet weight accompanied by the Arrows design type in 1853 that this hemorrhaging was alleviated and the Mint began striking coins liberally once again.
The 1851 issue of Liberty Seated half dollars struck in New Orleans exemplifies the extent to which these circumstances hobbled the productivity of the Mint. The two preceding years saw bountiful mintages of 2.3 million (1849) and 2.4 million (1850). Seemingly in anticipation of another active striking period, 20 pairs of dies were shipped to the New Orleans Mint to be used for the 1851 issue; just four of these pairs, however, were employed, in five distinct combinations. By the time the presses had retired for the year, just 402,000 1851-O Liberty Seated half dollars had been struck.
The 1851-O becomes a considerable condition rarity in Uncirculated preservation. A loose concentration of examples can be found in Choice Mint State, though true Gems like the present piece are exceedingly rare. With perhaps a dozen pieces at or above MS-65, this offering is truly significant for Liberty Seated and New Orleans Mint enthusiasts.
Iridescent indigo accents the underlying champagne brilliance across this gorgeous New Orleans Gem. The devices are impeccably rendered, as is typical for the issue, with intricate central elements displaying uniform, satiny luster. A microscopic thatching of die polish lines is apparent in most areas, imparting a decidedly prooflike aesthetic to the reverse fields. Representing the later state of this die pairing, hairline cracks radiate inward from borders at 10 o’clock and two o’clock, with a third crack noted that spans star 13 through Liberty’s instep. A single crack snakes down from the border at 12 o’clock on the reverse, barely meeting the eagle’s head just about the eye. Evidence of die clashing can be seen within the right side of the shield. Both the high points and the vulnerable regions are smooth and unmarred by blemishes of any merit.
This stunning example of this low mintage issue offers superlative quality.
This elusive Gem will be offered in lot 11160 of our June 2017 Official Auction of the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Baltimore Expo, featuring the Blue Moon and Robert Warner Wolfe Collections and other important properties. The sale is available for viewing and bidding in its entirety at www.StacksBowers.com. Contact us today at 1-800-458-4646 or email info@StacksBowers.com to secure your copy of the catalog or consign to our upcoming August 2017 ANA Auction in Denver, Colorado.