By James McCartney – Senior Numismatist, Stack’s Bowers ……
The early United States Mint practice of inserting silver plugs into half dollars and dollars to regulate their weights is perhaps one of the most romanticized techniques used to produce America’s first coinage. It recalls an era of handcrafted workmanship and motivates today’s collectors to examine their Flowing Hair coinage in the hopes of uncovering one of these surprises.
We are delighted to offer an important silver-plugged 1795 O-130 half dollar in our March 2020 Official Auction of the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Spring Expo in Baltimore. Recently certified for the first time at Good-6 (PCGS), it has been held in a private collection for two decades and is now appearing on the market for the first time in a generation.
This piece owes its existence to the difficulties faced by the early United States Mint in producing high quality planchets at the correct weight and fineness. In 1795, half dollars and other silver coins were made only at the specific denomination requests of depositors. Metal was refined, strips rolled out, and planchets made at the Mint, often slightly overweight so that they could be trimmed by filing. If they had attempted to achieve a precise weight, a generous portion would have been underweight and would have had to have been corrected. As it was, some were indeed underweight, as here. Mint employees used the silver plugging technique as a means of bringing underweight planchets up to standard. This process was not without precedent, having been used in other world mints at that time.
This experiment was first noted on 1795 Flowing Hair silver dollars, publicized after research conducted by Kenneth W. Bressett, Q. David Bowers and Roger W. Burdette. After continued study by specialists, that denomination appears to have been the primary target of the practice, as the vast majority of silver plug U.S. Mint coins are silver dollars. Most of these are 1795 Flowing Hair dollars, although the unique 1794 silver dollar with a silver plug (the celebrated Carter-Cardinal-Morelan specimen) points to an earlier attempt.
The silver plug technique was used far less often with half dollars. Surviving examples of this denomination are exceedingly rare and eagerly sought. In fact, we are aware of only four silver plug half dollars that are positively confirmed to exist, all of which are dated 1795.
The present example is the first silver plug half dollar that we have offered since our 2015 Baltimore Auction, where we sold an example from the 1795 O-128 dies for $49,937. Incredibly, an example of this type was missing from our November 2019 sale of the nearly-complete E. Horatio Morgan Collection of Half Dollar Varieties. The piece presented in our upcoming March auction was last offered in Sheridan Downey’s Mail Bid Sale #24 of November 1999 and has resided in a private collection for the past two decades.
It is incredibly handsome with overall slate-gray surfaces and swaths of darker olive-brown patina around the devices. Flashes of sapphire-blue glow around UNITED, further contributing to the exceptional eye appeal. The silver plug is distinct at the center of each side, appearing like a full moon against the evening sky on the obverse. It appears as a darker olive-brown sphere on the reverse, starkly contrasting with the lighter surround metal. The coin is evenly worn with smooth surfaces and has nearly all elements discernible. Liberty’s portrait remains particularly bold, while the eagle’s head has been worn into obscurity. A few hairline scratches are noted at 10 o’clock on the obverse. It is difficult to imagine a more appealing silver plug Flowing Hair half dollar at the Good-6 grade level. This is an important opportunity for advanced collectors, and we anticipate fierce bidder competition and a very strong price when this lot crosses the block.
This rare silver-plugged 1795 half dollar will be featured in our March 2020 Baltimore Auction, which is highlighted by the D. Brent Pogue Collection, Parts VI and VII, the ESM Collection of Half Cents, and further rarities from the E. Horatio Morgan Collection. To consign your collection alongside these treasures or secure a copy of this exciting catalog speak with a numismatic representative today at 800-566-2580 or email [email protected]. Also, download our mobile app to view and participate in our auctions via your Android or Apple device.