By Q. David Bowers – Stack’s Bowers….
Among all United States silver coin designs the rarest of the rare is that used only in 1796 and 1797. The obverse is the Draped Bust type with Liberty facing to the right. The reverse is the Small Eagle type with the national bird perched on a fluffy cloud. For these two years combined, only 3,918 were struck. Coined at a time when there was little interest in numismatics in America, most went into the channels of commerce and later were melted. Today, examples are rarities in any grade, even if well worn.
There were three varieties struck in these two years: 1796 with 15 obverse stars, 1796 with 16 obverse stars, and 1797 with 15 stars. The D. Brent Pogue Collection has beautiful Mint State examples of all three plus a duplicate Mint State of one! To be specific:
1796 15 Stars: Graded Specimen-63 by PCGS and the finest Specimen impression, thought to have been struck for presentation or another special purpose. This was once in the collection of Dr. Christian A. Allenburger, an incredible holding of early gem coins listed in one of B. Max Mehl’s most important catalogs, although it is little remembered today, except by scholars. Later it was in the unequalled cabinet of John Whitney Walter that we sold in 1999. Here is an excerpt from the narrative part of our listing:
“The finest known 15 stars half dollar. The Red Book plate coin. An important coin in every respect. The late Walter Breen noted that a few 15 stars half dollars were known with prooflike surfaces suggestive of specimen strikings. It is very likely that these were made especially in commemoration of the type change or for the presidential election of that year and were carefully preserved by those lucky enough to be given one.”
1796 15 Stars: Graded MS-62 by PCGS, a duplicate. And, what a wondrous coin it is. All by itself it would be a star in any auction!
1796 16 Stars: MS-66 (PCGS). At ultra-Gem, the solo finest ever seen by PCGS! This marvelous gem hails from our auction offering in 1999, where we described it as follows:
“Specimen-66. The finest known. There is no finer example of the extremely rare 16 stars half dollar known to us. The Red Book plate coin.
“This example surpasses the Eliasberg, Norweb, Reed Hawn, and every other piece we have ever seen. The quality of this coin is, in a word, superb. Lovely deep silver gray toning is seen on both sides, with rose, pale gold, iridescent blue highlights. Both sides show bright prooflike flash in the fields and even in the recessed areas, as the inside of the eagle’s left wing. One short lint mark on the reverse under the eagle’s neck is noticed, showing that the die had been polished prior to striking this coin.”
It would be impossible to improve on the preceding. Of all of the D. Brent Pogue Collection coins this is one of the most exciting. The term “once in a lifetime opportunity” seems to be very applicable here!
1797 15 Stars: MS-66 (PCGS). Unique in this grade!
Of the known 1797 half dollars, probably amounting to about 200 or so totally, only a handful can claim Mint State status. Accordingly, the Pogue Collection coin is of special importance. Mint State coins are very rare. This 1797 bears the ultimate PCGS grade. It is one of a kind. History will be made when it crosses the block.