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Obverse of 1817 Half Dollar - Overton 102     Reverse of 1817 Half Dollar - Overton 102


Rarity: Extremely Rare

Thanks to Bust Half Dollar expert Sheridan Downey for the following information:

In January 1816, John Reich was in his ninth year of service as Assistant Engraver for the United States Mint.  Reich, from the time of his employment in September 1807, was regarded as one of the most skilled engravers in the country, having learned his trade in Germany before immigrating to the United States (as an indentured servant) in 1800.  His talent certainly exceeded that of the Chief Engraver, Robert Scot.  (Scot designed the earlier Flowing Hair and Draped Bust half-dollars.)  Reich's first task, in 1807, was to redesign and prepare master dies and hubs for gold and silver coinage.  The now familiar Capped Bust design is his enduring contribution to American numismatics.  On the 10th of January 1816 the Mint delivered a token mintage of 47,150 half dollars for the year 1815.  The entire mintage was coined from a single set of dies; the obverse die was prepared and date-punched in 1812, but had gone unused.  In 1815 it was recovered, reworked and a '5' was punched over the partially effaced '2.'  The overdating of unused dies was a common occurrence in the early years of the mint.  In seven of the eleven years preceding 1816 the mint produced 'overdated' half-dollars.  Hours after the delivery of the 1815/2 half dollars a fire in the Mint ruined its rolling mills.  The rolling mills, of course, were needed to convert gold and silver bullion into strips from which planchets were prepared.  Without planchets, no gold or silver coins could be struck in 1816.

One might suppose that Reich had plenty of time in 1816 to prepare working dies for 1817.  Apparently not.  The first two obverse dies used in 1817 were overdates.  The 1817/3 came first, then the 1817/4.  The two 1817 overdates share a common edge with the earlier 1814 O.103 and O.106, the 1815/2 and with the later struck 1817 O.110.  (Remember, Overton's attribution numbers do not correspond with emission order.)  Reich resigned in March 1817.  His eyesight was failing and he was unhappy with the absence of a single pay raise during his 10-year employment.  Scot immediately set to work 'fine tuning' the hub from which working dies were prepared.  We readily notice his addition of curls to Liberty's coif, yielding a more elaborate and delicate hairstyle.  Reich, we now know, prepared only one obverse die in 1817 - and it was not used until 1818.  From the advent of the Capped Bust design in 1807 until he left the Mint in early 1817 Reich placed a covert 'signature' on the obverse dies prepared during his tenure: a small notch on the outside point of star 13.  Of the 10 obverse dies used in 1817 only the 1817/3 and 1817/4 have this notch.  (These dies, of course, had been prepared in 1813 and 1814.)  The single obverse die used to coin the 1818/7 O.101 and O.103 also has the notch, along with large 8's and the early style hair curls."

Images courtesy of Sheridan Downey

Known examples (7 known):
1. PCGS AU-50.  The E.T. Wallis/Louis Eliasberg Specimen.  Attractive peripheral toning.  First described by E.T. Wallis, owner of the California Stamp Company, in the October 1930 edition of The Numismatist.  In 1952, Al Overton "rediscovered" the piece in the Pratt Collection, selling it the next year to Louis Eliasberg for $1,500.00.  Sold in the April 1997 Eliasberg Sale (Bowers & Merena, Inc.), lot 1735, to Donald Kagin and Andrew Lustig for $209,000.  Resold circa June 1997 to Dr. Juan XII Suros for a reported $250,000+.  Sold by Superior Galleries in the Juan XII Suros Sale to Jay Parrino & Don Kagin for approximately $184,000.00

2. Fine 15 or better.  The Ed Johnson/Stewart Witham Specimen.  Acquired by Ohio coin dealer Ed Johnson in the early 1940's as a "punctuated date."  Sold May 18, 1966 to the prominent numismatist and half dollar collector Stewart P. Witham.  Witham sold his collection in 1983.  The whereabouts of the coin are now unknown.  Witham was the cofounder of the Bust Half Nut Club, holding holding BHNC membership No. 1. 

3. Choice Very Fine.  The Charlton E. Meyer, Jr. Specimen.  The second finest known and pictured on the cover of the 1990 edition of Overton's Early Half Dollar Die Varieties, 1794-1836.  Al Overton located the coin in 1962.  Sold that year to Empire Coin Co. Empire, Empire placed the coin in the cabinet of Hazen B. Hinman.  It reappeared in Paramount's Century Sale, May 1965 (bought in?), then in Bowers & Ruddy's Rare Coin Review, 1973-1975.  Sold to Gloria Meyer for her husband's collection in 1975.  Meyer owns the only complete collection of regular issue Capped Bust Half Dollars, by date and die variety.

4. Good 6, repaired.  The Al C. Overton Specimen.  Located in 1963 or 1964 by Ed Shapiro; to Dan Messer, 1964 or 1965; then to John Cobb of Mountain View, CA in 1965.  Cobb sold his collection to Steve Markoff in 1969.  Overton immediately bought the coin, placing it in his collection after commissioning the repair of the gouge on the reverse.  To Donald and Bonnie Parsley upon Overton's death in 1972; to Sheridan Downey, as part of the "Overton Collection," in April 1993; to the purchaser of the Overton Collection in July 1993.

5. Very Fine-20.  The Floyd & Betty Farley Specimen.  Discovered in 1967 or 1968 and authenticated by Stewart Witham and Donald Taxay.  Sold March 1968 to its current owner, Floyd Farley.  

6. NGC Very Fine-20.  The Alfred E. Burke Specimen.  Acquired by Philadelphian Al Burke in 1965 as a mis-attributed 1817 "Punctuated Date" (Overton 103).   Identified as an 1817/4 in 1973 or 1974.  Following Burke's death in January 1997, the coin was consigned by his widow to Sheridan Downey and sold to Donald Parsley in a sealed bid offering, April 1, 1997 for $135,000.00.  Parsley is the son-in-law of Al Overton and edited the 1990 (3rd ed.) revision of Overton's reference book on Bust Half Dollars. 

7. Fine-12.  The Leonard Elton Dosier Specimen.  Purchased in 1976 by Milton Silverberg from an upstate New York collector.  Authenticated by ANACS and its existence revealed to the collecting public in 1985.  Sold to Sheridan Downey 1988, then traded to Elton Dosier.  Dosier passed away March 23, 1997.  John Crowley acquired the coin for $90,860.00 in Sheridan Downey's Mail Bid Sale No. 22, October 1998.  It sold again at the Atlanta 2001 ANA to John Tidwell of California for $116,771.00. This coin is all early die state, lacking the obverse die break that quickly led to the retirement of the die.  The Dosier specimen is generally conceded to be the most "original" of the 7 known specimens, exhibiting smooth surfaces with natural deep gray toning.  

Sources and/or recommended reading:
Pedigree information courtesy of Sheridan Downey

Al C. Overton, "Early Half Dollar Varieties 1794-1836"

E-mail correspondence from Sheridan Downey on April 18, 2000