Today, CoinWeek Editor Charles Morgan takes a look at the 1803-dated Overton-103 Draped Bust half dollar. We have a circulated example to share with you and we have obscured the grade so that you can grade it yourself. Let us know what grade you think NGC gave it in the comments on our YouTube channel.
Experienced collectors of United States coins will recognize the design of the coin as the Draped Bust type.
According to numismatic lore, the coin’s obverse design is based on an illustration provided to the United States Mint by famous painter Gilbert Stuart, although no documentation survives to back up the claim.
If true, designing one of the most iconic numismatic profiles in American history would be another highlight in the Rhode Island painter’s celebrated portfolio.
Regardless, Mint Chief Engraver Robert Scot skillfully executed the design.
The Draped Bust half dollar was struck from 1796-1807, but not continuously. There were no examples produced with the dates 1798, 1799, or 1800 – nor were there any examples struck on dies dated 1804.
We say “dated” because there is an important distinction to be made. The Mint in its infancy made do with what it had, producing coinage with crude machinery and flaccid public support. They did so under oppressive conditions, taking intermittent pauses between outbreaks of yellow fever. And while the Mint’s copper coinage was largely carried out using blanks it had purchased from England, the Mint’s precious metal coinage in silver and gold was largely dependent on the needs of depositors. At the time, much of the Mint’s output of silver and gold coins were being exported to pay foreign debts or to support the import trade.
The United States Mint issued a small number of silver 1804-dated dimes and quarters and that was it for the silver denominations. Of course, you’re probably familiar with the famous 1804 dollar, the King of American Coins. That issue was struck decades later and has a whole story unto itself. But the Mint did strike silver half dollars in 1804 and this 1803-dated half dollar was one of them.
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