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Draped Bust Half Dimes (1796-1805)

Designer: Gilbert Stuart. Engraver: Robert Scott. Weight: 1.35 grams. Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper. Approx diameter: 16.5mm. Reeded edge.

Draped Bust, Small Eagle (1796-1797)

There are only two obverse dated 1796 for this denomination, both of which have been called over dates. The less scarce one has also been touted as a purported blundered die, “LIKERTY”, making three alleged types in all. If the 1796 has berry below E(D), it is the overdate. If the berry is below D, it is the other variety. The “LIKRERTY” is a later die state of the latter, with top and base of B weakened. Some of the minted may have borne date 1795.

Despite generations of contrary cataloging, the order of types in 1797 is chronologically 15 stars, then 16, finally 13. This is only logical. The 15 star dies were left over from 1795, with final digit omitted, as was then common practice.
The 16 star die, like it counterparts in all other silver and gold denominations, was made in 1796 alluding to Tennessee’s admission to the Union as the sixteenth state, but if any presentation striking were made of the half dismes, they have not shown up. And the permanent shift to 13 stars followed Mint Director Elias Boudinot’s realizing that the Mint could not go on indefinitely adding new stars as new states entered the Union.

Date punches on the 15 star die like those on the 1796s are those used on the last varieties of 1795. This is the least rare variety of 1797. And the die continued in use long after breakage and clashing marred it. A single prooflike presentation piece survives, sent by Mint Director Boudinot to Matthew Boulton in England, as a sample of the best the Mint could then produce; this specimen went from Boulton estate to Waldo Newcomer and Harold Barefold, but if tid not apper in the auction of Barefold’s coins.


Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle (1800-1805)

As always, the smallest denominations were among the last to receive the dubious benefit of Scot’s design changes. Scot copied the heraldic eagle device from the Great Seal of the United States (1782), though on all six device punches of this design be committed the heraldic blunder of placing the warlike arrows in the eagle’s dexter claw, outranking the olive branch of peace in the sinister claw. On the actual Great Seal this blunder does not occur. No Archives documentation explains the change.

The design appeared first on 1796 quarter eagles, perhaps originally intended for presentation pieces celebrating Tennessee’s admission to the Union as the sixteenth state: All three dies have 16 stars above eagle.

The only date of this type which can be had in mint state, well struck, without many years waiting is 1800. For 1800, three obverses are known. That with a ll perfectly formed 8 is still unique, after this punch broke, for unknown reasons it was never replaced, and subsequent dies through 1805 either have an 8 made out of overlapping circles or engraved, crude and narrow.

The so-called LIBEKTY die was made with a broken or otherwise defective R punch. This was promptly replaced, but the die remained in use thru part of 1801.

Specimens dated 1801, and most of those dated 1803 and 1805, are among the most poorly struck coins ever issued by the Philadelphia Mint. All are weak on parts of drapery and the reverse areas exactly opposite. And this weakness caused many to look worn after only a few days or weeks in circulation.



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