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Obverse of 1861-O Half Dollar     Reverse of 1861-O Half Dollar


PCGS No: 6303


Circulation strikes: 2,532,633
Proofs: estimated 5

Designer: Obverse by Thomas Sully, modified by Christian Gobrecht and Robert Ball Hughes, executed by James Barton Longacre; Reverse by Christian Gobrecht

Diameter: 30 millimeters

Metal content:
Silver - 90%
Copper - 10%

Weight: 192 grains (12.4 grams)

Edge: Reeded

Mintmark: "O" (for New Orleans, Louisiana) below the eagle on the reverse

Images courtesy of Early American History Auctions, Inc.

The mintage for this year includes 330,000 examples struck by the Union and 2,202,633 examples struck by the Confederacy (after they seized the New Orleans Mint on February 28, 1861).  

Some 1861-O Half Dollars feature exceptional strikes and heavy, Prooflike surfaces, such that several of these pieces have been called Proofs in the past.  No official documentation exists to support this possibility, but that is the case with many of the so-called "Branch Mint Proofs" (Proof coins struck at mints other than Philadelphia).  That the Confederacy was interested in (and capable of) striking Proofs is supported by the existence of the 1861 Confederate Half Dollars (four Proofs struck at the New Orleans Mint sometime in April 1861).

According to Breen, all "Proofs" are of the Beistle 2-C variety.  Here's a roster of the known "Proof" 1861-O Half Dollars:

1. Unknown donor - Massachusetts Historical Society - Stack's, March 29-31, 1973, Lot 608, sold for $3,000.00.  Present whereabouts unknown.

2. ANACS Proof-60, toned (illustrated above).  Ex - Stack's sale of the "Anderson-Dupont" collection, Part II, November 11-13, 1954, Lot 2168, "First we ever handled" - Larry Briggs - offered by Jerry Peterson on eBay (#1207036100) with a closing date of January 17, 2001 and an opening bid of $12,500.00 (no reserve), unsold - Early American History Auctions, Inc. Mail Bid Sale, June 8, 2002, Lot 1146, illustrated, sold for $17,250.00 - Robert LeNeve collection

3. Stack's sale of the "James A. Stack" collection, March 13-15, 1975, Lot 494, sold for $3,400.00.  Present whereabouts unknown.

4. R.E. Cox, Lot 196.  Present whereabouts unknown.

5. V.L. Arrington, circa 1956, possibly to Breen.  Present whereabouts unknown.  According to a 1965 letter by Breen (see #7 below), this is not the same specimen as the Green example or #7.

6. Colonel E.H.R Green collection.  Called "Proof" by Beistle (according to a 1965 letter by Walter Breen).  Untraced -- this may be any of the examples listed above.

Possible Proof examples:
7.  NGC MS-63 (illustrated below).  Ex - Superior Galleries "The New York ANA Sale 2002", August 1-3, 2002, Lot 988, illustrated, described as follows: "1861-O. Beistle 2-C.  NGC graded Mint State 63.  With Walter Breen 1965 Documentation.  Toned. [NGC #413096-004] "This piece is an 1861-O half dollar from the Beistle 2-C dies.  This is the variety from brilliantly polished dies on a polished planchet, of which Beistle called the Colonel Green specimen a "Proof.  Besides the Green coin, the former V. L. Arrington specimen (over 12 years ago) and the present coin, I have encountered no other 1861-O halves with nearly the same claims to proof status. My hesitation in calling it an actual branch mint proof stems entirely from lack of documentation of any proof mintage in New Orleans in 1861 aside from the four Confederate proofs.  It is fully comparable to the Arrington piece and, I believe, to the Green coin.  It is identifiable by a couple of minute signs of contact with another coin, above L in HALF.  It is superior in striking and finish to the usually seen first strikes.", sold for $1,840.00

The finest examples graded by PCGS are 3 MS-66's.

No Proof examples have been graded by PCGS or NGC.

Recent appearances:
Brilliant Proof.  Ex - Stack's "The University of Notre Dame Sale", March 20-21, 2001, Lot 395, plated, sold for $3,680.00

NGC AU-55.  Ex - Bowers & Merena Galleries' "The Cabinet of Lucien M. LaRiviere, Part III", May 21, 2001, Lot 1504, not illustrated, sold for $253.00

Sources and/or recommended reading:
"The PCGS Population Report, April 2003" by The Professional Coin Grading Service

"Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins 1722-1977" by Walter Breen

"Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins" by Walter Breen

Obverse of 1861-O Half Dollar     Reverse of 1861-O Half Dollar

Images courtesy of Superior Galleries