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Obverse of 1838-O Half Dollar     Reverse of 1838-O Half Dollar


Circulation strikes: 0
Proofs: estimated 20

Designer: Christian Gobrecht

±30 millimeters

Metal Content:
Silver - 90%
Copper - 10%

Weight: 206.25 grains (13.36 grams)

Edge: Reeded

Mintmark: "O" (for New Orleans) above the date on the obverse

Auction appearances (an incomplete listing):

August 1973 (Stack's "Reed Hawn" 08/1973:122
    1838 'O' Brilliant Proof.  From B. Max Mehl's William Cutler Atwater Sale.  Described as follows, "A magnificent brilliant proof!  There are a few minor nicks from having been handled with other coins.  These do not affect the appearance of the coins and are only mentioned for the sake of accuracy.  There is no evidence of cabinet friction.  The entire coin is boldly struck with every star filled.  Slightly raised borders with partial wire edge.  Truly a Gem.
    "Until last year I have not had a single specimen of this great rarity offered in any of my Sales during all my numismatic experience of forty-five years.  In my sale of the Ryan Collection, June, 1945, the first specimen I have ever offered at auction brought $1,875.00.  It was a purple proof.  The one offered here is a brilliant gem proof, and in my opinion, and as far as I know, no finer specimen exists or could exist.  According to my records, there are only seven specimens known.  It is therefore considered, and rightly so, one of the very greatest of all United States silver coins -- barring none -- not even the 1804 Dollar.  It is a rarity which will add luster and much value and of course great pride of ownership to any collection of U.S. coins.  It is a thrilling coin to look at and a still greater thrill to own."
    The coin has now taken on a deeper beautiful steel and iridescent tone.  There is not much more this cataloguer can add to B. Max Mehl's description other than in these days of a rising interest in numismatics, that any rarity bought today will certainly be worth much more in future years and grow at a much more accelerated rate.  Well worth a bid in the middle five figure range.

October 2002 (Stack's "Queller Family" 10/2002:446)
   1838`O' Brilliant Proof. One of Only 20 Struck. One of Only 10 or 11 Known. A spectacular, simply gorgeous example of this exceedingly rare issue. The obverse and reverse are a beautiful combination of medium gray and very delicate iridescent blue. The fields on both sides are bright, shiny, and beautifully reflective. On the obverse, all the stars are sharp and show their full central detail. Liberty's hair strands, similarly, are sharp enough to cut one's fingers on. The folds in her cap, likewise, are clear and distinct. The date and mintmark above are sharp. On the reverse, all of the eagle's feathers are bold, the feathers in the arrows are clear, the arrow heads show internal detail, all the talons are up, and the letters in the legend are distinct and complete. A few very minor hairlines are noted on both sides. {cp8}(SEE COLOR PLATE) This is the Newcomer (1916), Neil (1947), James A. Stack (1975) specimen. Mehl described it in 1947 as ``Proof. The surface is an even brilliant medium purple surface; unusually bold impression with slightly raised borders.'' The late Norman Stack wrote in 1975 that ``There is no question in our minds that the Atwater-Hawn specimen and this coin are equal in condition. They are both PROOFS and simply exquisite.'' We note, today, that of the known survivors one is permanently off the market in the Smithsonian, one has been graded an impaired Proof (the Anderson-Dupont coin), and two have been called EF (the Empire and Oviedo coins). Only 10 or 11 are known: the uncertainty lying in the exact identities of the Frossard, Bauer, and Wright sale specimens and the precise pedigree chain of the pieces graded EF. Martin Beistle knew of only 3 specimens when he published his register of Half Dollars in 1929. When B. Max Mehl catalogued this coin in 1947 he wrote that he knew of six or seven. Four years later, in 1951, Wayte Raymond stated that he believed there were 11 specimens in all. Walter Breen listed 10 different in 1988. The March, 1989 Bowers sale cataloguer opined that there were 13-14 survivors but the late Carl W. Carlson, one-time Stack's staffer and a tireless researcher, carefully tracked only 10 distinct specimens in a study published for the ANA in 1991. The 1996 Pryor and 1997 Eliasberg sale cataloguers listed 11 pieces. We suspect that the confusion could be cleared up by a judicious review of all the evidence and careful plate matches of the existing specimens.
   Ex James A. Stack Collection (Stack's, March 1975, lot 415); earlier, ex Will Neil Collection (B. Max Mehl, June 1947, lot 580), Maurice Ryan Collection (B. Max Mehl, June 1945, lot 936), Colonel Green, Waldo Newcomer.
   Although dies for the Half Dollar were sent to the New Orleans Mint in 1838 they were not used until the following year. At some time in the first half of 1839, New Orleans Mint coiner Rufus Tyler mounted a pair of 1838`O' dies in a press and struck no more than 20 coins which he called ``specimens'' (we call them Proofs!) One he presented to Alexander D. Bache, at the time the first president of Girard College in Philadelphia. Another went to the Mint's collection. The other 18 were variously distributed, a couple of which might actually have circulated for a short time. The 1838`O' Half Dollar dies were defaced by the middle of June, 1839.

Images courtesy of the National Numismatic Collection of the Smithsonian Institution

The 1838-O Half Dollar was the first coin struck at the New Orleans Mint and one of the first branch mint coins of any denomination.  Apparently, only 20 coins were made as Proofs.  Today, less than a dozen have been traced, making this one of the most important American rarities.

The January 22-26, 1890 sale of the R. Coulton Davis collection by the New York Coin & Stamp Company (H.P. Smith and David Proskey) contained the following note for the 1838-O Half Dollar listed as Lot 655  “…sharp perfect impression: almost proof. We have seen a letter from Dr. Riddell, Superintendent N.O. Mint, 1838, which accompanied a similar Half Dollar, in which it was stated that only four Half Dollars of this date and mintage were issued, and judging from the extreme rarity, we do not doubt the truth of the statement.”  The coin sold for $51.00

The finest Branch Mint Proof example graded by PCGS is a single PR-64.

The finest "PRBC" example graded by PCGS is a single PR-64.

Known examples (11):
1. National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution.  Rim bruise above TA of STATES.

2. NGC Proof-64.  Ex - Norweb.

3. NGC Proof-64.  B&M "Eliasberg" 04/1997:1911, $121,000.00

4. PCGS Proof-63.  Ex - Colonel E.H.R. Green - William Cutler Atwater- B. Max Mehl's "Atwater" sale, 1946, Lot 555 - Reed Hawn - Stack's "Reed Hawn" 08/1973:122, $41,000.00 - James Bennett Pryor - B&M "James Pryor" 01/1996:94, $104,500.00 - offered by North American Certified Trading in the October 15, 2001 issue of COIN WORLD, price on request.  Contact mark midway between the fifth star and Liberty's eye; another in the right obverse field left of (and slightly below) the ninth star.

5. "Brilliant Proof" (illustrated below).  Waldo Newcomer - Colonel Green - Mehl "Maurice Ryan" 06/1945:936 - Mehl "Will Neil" 06/1947:580 - Stack's "James Stack" 03/1975:415 - Stack's "Queller Family" 10/2002:446, $184,000.00

Sources and/or recommended reading:
"The PCGS Population Report, July 2004" by The Professional Coin Grading Service

 Obverse of 1838-O Half Dollar     Reverse of 1838-O Half Dollar

The Newcomer - Neil - Stack - Queller Family 1838-O Half Dollar
Images courtesy of Stack's