Unique and Unusual Numismatic Items – 1870 Seated Half Dollar Obverse Cancelled Die

Editors Note: Heritage’s upcoming ANA Signature Sale # 1223 contains an items the caught our eye as we were previewing the sale. It is not the most expensive highlight of the sale, or even an item that will get much or any press coverage, but it does fall into the “Unique and Unusual” category of numismatic items; those little tidbits of information that make the hobby fun and don’t cost the reader anything to enjoy.

Lot 4065 –  1870 Half Dollar Cancelled Obverse Die. The last time we handled a cancelled die from the Seated Liberty series was more than 10 years ago (an 1870-CC Seated dollar reverse die), and any appearance of a 19th century cancelled die is a rare numismatic event. Our research indicates fewer than a dozen such dies from the 1800s have appeared at auction over the years. To our knowledge, this is the only cancelled half dollar die from the watershed year of 1870 that is available to collectors regardless of Mint origin — Philadelphia, San Francisco, or Carson City.

1870 Half Dollar Cancelled Obverse Die..A burning question exists. Which Mint does the die belong to? The San Francisco Mint was ruled out as the source of the die because just two half dollar obverses are documented for the year, neither matching this die. A more likely source of the die would be the Carson City Mint – although any surviving half dollar die from 1870 would be extremely rare. Just three obverse dies are confirmed for the CC-Mint in that low-mintage year.

More fuel for the fire…a large hoard of cancelled dies was unearthed on the grounds of the Carson City Mint in 1999. As many as 500 obverse and reverse dies were discovered by contractor Dennis Cassinelli and a team of archaeologists from the Nevada State Museum. The dies were dated throughout the 1870s and included all denominations minted in Carson City from dimes to double eagles. Of these, the 1870-dated dies are among the most compelling, since it was the first year of production for the fabled Carson City facility.

About two years ago, noted Seated coinage experts Bill Bugert and John Dannreuther had the opportunity to examine this exact die. The die displays physical characteristics of the Carson City hoard. Considerable die rust (suggestive of possible burial), an X-shaped pair of cancellation strikes imparted by a chisel or similar tool, and a date position with full drapery similar to an obverse die known to have struck 1870-CC half dollars — all of these characteristics are present and intriguing.

Other factors, however, lead Bugert and Dannreuther to conclude that this is an unused Philadelphia die. Lack of noticeable die clash in the drapery beneath Liberty’s elbow suggests it cannot be the Carson City obverse closely matched by the date position. The possibility remains that the die is an unused “CC” obverse, since die shipment records are incomplete for Carson City in 1869 and 1870. However, there are no markings on the base or the cylinder of the die to indicate it was intended for the Carson City Mint (several of the recovered dies had either a C or CC stamped on the side).

If this indeed is an unused Philadelphia Mint die, it may represent an even greater rarity, since there have been no large hoards of cancelled Philadelphia dies from the 1870s. The die is a remarkable numismatic artifact that presents a rare opportunity for the specialist to add a seldom-offered Mint relic as the capstone for a fine Seated Liberty collection.

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