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HomeUS CoinsCapped Bust Half Dollar, Reeded Edge (1836-1839) | CoinWeek

Capped Bust Half Dollar, Reeded Edge (1836-1839) | CoinWeek

1839-O Capped Bust Half Dollar. Image: Stack's Bowers.
1839-O Capped Bust Half Dollar. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

In August 1836, United States Mint Chief Engraver Christian Gobrecht completed work on the new Capped Bust Half Dollar obverse and reverse dies compatible with the Mint’s new steam-powered presses. To do so, Gobrecht modified engraver John Reich’s design to accommodate the close collar. The close collar–for all practical purposes, a third die–had been used for smaller silver and gold coins since 1829, but the half dollar was one of the first denominations produced by the new steam presses.

Gobrecht removed the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM from the coin’s reverse and slightly reduced the overall size of the design. The edge inscriptions were gone in favor of raised rims and a reeded edge. Using the old production methods, the Capped Bust Half Dollar measured about 32.5 mm in diameter. With the close collar, the coins consistently measured 30 mm as the planchet no longer spread out when struck. Mint Director Robert Patterson described the effect of the new process as giving a “mathematical equality to their diameters.”

Only 1,200 Capped Bust Half Dollars with the new reeded edge were struck in 1836, overlapping the final production year of the lettered edge version.

As the legislation authorizing the design change didn’t become law until January 1837, some consider the 1836-dated Reeded Edge halves patterns, but numismatists generally include the coin in the regular series.

In 1838, the Capped Bust Half Dollar saw another minor design change when the denomination was modified from 50 CENTS to HALF DOL. This shift in verbiage coincided with the release of the 1838 Liberty Seated Quarter, a Gobrecht design, which was the first coin type of its denomination to indicate its value as QUAR. DOL.

What Is the Capped Bust Half Dollar, Reeded Edge Worth?

Capped Bust Half Dollars with the Reeded Edge device were struck in large quantities at the Philadelphia Mint from 1837 through 1839, making the coin affordable for collectors in all circulated grades. A May 14, 2024, eBay sale of an Extra Fine example for $189 indicates what raw coins sell for. A PCGS XF40 was sold on the same platform on April 15, 2024, for $282.77. Certified coins in AU

For coins approaching Mint State, prices increase to between $500 and $1,000, depending on the date and the coin’s eye appeal. The 1837 and 1838 are roughly comparable in price, although the 1838 has significantly lower certified populations. Both dates sell for about $2,600 in MS63. Gems are scarce for the 1837 and rare for all other issues in the series. These routinely sell for $12,000 or more dollars for the more common issues. A Gem 1839-O will command prices approaching $100,000, given its rarity. A handful of coins have graded MS67; these seldom appear at auction and are usually pursued by affluent collectors.

A limited number of Proof Capped Bust Half Dollars with the Reeded Edge were struck. These coins are extremely rare and priced accordingly. A few display Cameo frost. The 1838-O Capped Bust Half Dollar Proof is, in the words of classic U.S. coin expert and CoinWeek contributor Greg Reynolds, a “Great Rarity.”

All Proofs are very expensive (especially the rare 1838-O issue), and Cameo Proofs have been certified for 1836 and 1838.

In-Depth Date Analysis by CoinWeek Notes

1838-O Capped Bust Half Dollar. The Neil-Stack-Queller-Pogue Specimen. Image: PCGS.
1838-O Capped Bust Half Dollar. The Neil-Stack-Queller-Pogue Specimen. Image: PCGS.

Extended Coverage on CoinWeek

Greg Reynolds attempts to dispel some controversy over the origins of the Eliasberg 1838-O Capped Bust Half Dollar Proof, once part of arguably the greatest collections of United States coins ever assembled.

Design

Obverse:

An elegant Liberty portrait covers most of the obverse, though with a slightly different profile from the preceding version. Facing to the left, Liberty wears a mobcap, described by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a woman’s fancy indoor cap made with a high full crown and often tied under the chin,” though this representation is not as robust as the cap of the first two years. The word LIBERTY is inscribed across the bottom of the cap, and cascades of curling hair drop down across the back and shoulder from under the cap. A flowing robe drapes across the bust, secured by a clasp on the shoulder. Thirteen six-pointed stars encircle inside a denticulated rim, six to the left and seven to the right. The date is at the bottom of the coin.

Reverse:

An imposing eagle is placed in the center of the reverse, head turned to the eagle’s right (viewer’s left), wings outstretched as if ready to fly, with a shield over the breast. Three arrows are held in the sinister claw (eagle’s left), and an olive branch in the dexter. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is placed around the top two-thirds of the coin inside a denticulated rim, with the denomination 50 CENTS at the bottom for 1836 and 1837 and HALF DOL. for 1838 and 1839. Most Reeded Edge halves were minted in Philadelphia, but in 1838, the first branch mint half dollar was minted in New Orleans as a Proof, and it was repeated in 1839 as a circulation strike. The O mintmark is on the obverse, below the portrait and above the date.

Edge:

The edge is reeded.

Varieties

Dick Graham's A Registry of Die Varieties of Reeded Edge Half Dollars, 1836-1839.
Dick Graham’s A Registry of Die Varieties of Reeded Edge Half Dollars, 1836-1839.

Because the new minting process imposed greater uniformity, Capped Bust Half Dollar, Reeded Edge varieties are more difficult to distinguish than varieties of earlier United States coins. Although out of print, Dick Graham’s A Registry of Die Varieties of Reeded Edge Half Dollars, 1836-1839 (2018) is the best resource for information about collectible varieties. This short type’s only Guide Book variety is the 1839 Small Letters reverse.

Coin Specifications

Capped Bust Half Dollar, Reeded Edge
Years Of Issue: 1836-39
Mintage (Business Strikes): High: 3,629,820 (1837); Low: 1,200 (1836)
Mintage (Proofs): High: 12 (1836, estimated); Low: 5 (1837-1839, estimated).
Alloy: .900 silver, .100% copper
Weight: 13.36 g
Diameter: 30.00 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Christian Gobrecht, from a previous John Reich design
REV Designer: Christian Gobrecht, from a previous John Reich design

 

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References

Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S. and Jeff Garrett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.
 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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