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April 04, 2014


Click on Coin Image to enlarge

1796 Half Dollar 50C Draped Bust NGC XF45 - $135,000.00

1796 Half Dollar - 1796 50C Draped Bust, Small Eagle, 15 Stars, O-101, R.5, NGC XF45. The 1796 Small Eagle 15 Star half dollar is an extremely rare coin in all grades conditions. In its population report, NGC shows 2 certified at the XF45 grade level and the same is over at PCGS. This is a monumental early American rarity destined for the finest cabinet or investment portfolio of quality holdings.

Please contact me by email or telephone 1-800-624-1870 to reserve this great coin.

This eye-appealing, lightly circulated, rare, Draped Bust, Small Eagle 15 Stars 1796 half dollar shows original mint luster within its devices. The surfaces are clean and original with no individual abrasion marks worthy of description. The coin shows all the lines in the drapery on Liberty’s bust distinctly around to the hair curls. Her hair is well outlined and detailed. The lightly toned coin is predominantly gray and light plum in color, which affirms its originality. The dentils on both sides are full and strong. Adding interest to the piece are adjustment marks on both sides and a prominent obverse die break.

The O-101 variety is identified by the 15 stars on the obverse. The date is high and evenly spaced. Star 1 and the 1 of the date are about equally distant from the curl. The stars are medium in size and have short points. On the right side, they are crowded together. There is a die crack from the edge to Star 13 and down through Stars 14 and 15 across the end of the bust. It then abruptly turns in a heavy crack to the edge below the bust. On the reverse, the fraction is well centered below the knot. There are 10 berries on the laurel branch. A leaf is close to the second T in STATES but does not touch it. A palm leaf extends half way between OF. There is a small die defect at the lower base of C and above its inside curve.

Designed by Robert Scot, the Draped Bust, Small Eagle Reverse half dollar shows a draped bust of Liberty with her hair tied with a ribbon. The word LIBERTY is above and the date is below. In 1796 there were both 15 and 16 star coins made. The 1797 issue had 15 stars. For the first two years, the small eagle reverse was used; it shows a skinny eagle perched on a wreath that is tied with a bow and surrounded by the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The denomination written as the fraction ½ is below the bow. The edge is lettered FIFTY CENTS HALF A DOLLAR with decorations between the words.

The portrait is modeled on a drawing by the famous artist Gilbert Stuart. Mrs. William Bingham was the model. She was a Philadelphia socialite and one of the most beautiful women of her time. John Eckstein was responsible for the eagle motif of the reverse. The palm branches of the wreath are a compliment to Mint Director DeSaussure who was from South Carolina; however, by the time the coins of this design were made, he had resigned his position.

The Mint Director, Henry William DeSaussure, wished to place gold coinage in circulation and to improve the design of the other denominations especially silver. This desire is the reason he engaged Gilbert Stuart to submit a drawing for the new dollar obverse. In 1795 DeSaussure resigned his position because of illness and hostility from Congress. Many of the lawmakers wanted to abolish the Mint and continue the practice of using copper coins made at British token factories and foreign silver and gold coins. Elias Boudinot became the Mint Director after DeSaussure.

Henry William DeSaussure was appointed 2nd Mint Director on July 8, 1795 by President George Washington after Rittenhouse resigned. DeSaussure was a jurist and state legislator from South Carolina, framer of the South Carolina Constitution in 1789 and participant in the founding of South Carolina College that later became the University of South Carolina. He had been a delegate from South Carolina to the Constitutional convention. He later became a justice of the South Carolina Equity Court, which was also known as the chancery court. He wrote much of South Carolina’s state law, which is still in use today. He also served as mayor of Charleston and Columbia South Carolina. As a leading member of the Federalist Party after the Revolution, Washington appointed him Mint Director. However, after only four months in the position, DeSaussure resigned because of his disdain for the post and the unrelenting attacks by Congress over the Mint’s expenditures.

The early Mint in Philadelphia had many challenges. Conditions were poor even at times chaotic. Each of the specialists, the designers, engravers, and press operators were men who had previously worked in other fields. Coin manufacturing was a new trade for them. Production was sporadic. For the new Mint to coin each of the mandated denominations, it took four years. This delay was partly because of inexperience and governmental obstacles. Bonds that were unrealistically high were impediments to engravers working with precious metals. Congress was not united on the need for a government mint since private and foreign coinage seemed to work. Because of the non-existent or low production numbers in the early years of the Mint, foreign copper, silver and gold circulated along with American made coins for many years until they were later demonetized.

Record keeping in the Mint’s early years was fairly inaccurate. At the end of the eighteenth century Philadelphia had recovered from the British occupation and Revolutionary War. It was the second largest city in the English-speaking world, but it could do nothing to protect its citizens from the mosquito-borne epidemic of yellow fever. Its wealthy citizens went to the countryside to escape, and the poor grimly waited their fate. Of course these annual epidemics caused havoc with all manufacturing that required continuity, such as a coinage sequence. The Mint shut operations during the late summer and early fall every year. In addition to yellow fever, disorder at the Mint was also caused by chronic bullion shortages and coin dies that would wear out and had to be re-engraved because they were not taken out of production until they failed completely. Often dies were locked up and later taken out of storage without great attention and care. There was also a jealous Chief Engraver, Robert Scot, who was in his seventies and had failing eyesight.

Thomas Jefferson chose Scot to be the first Chief Engraver of the United States Mint on November 23, 1793. Scot was born in 1744 in Edinburgh, Scotland or England. (Documentary evidence is lacking as to where he was born.) He was trained as a watchmaker in England and learned engraving afterwards. He moved to the United States in 1777, where he worked as an engraver of plates, bills of exchange, and office scales. During the Revolution, he was an engraver of paper money. In 1780 he was made the State Engraver of Virginia. He moved to Philadelphia the next year. He was appointed Chief Engraver of the United States Mint on November 23, 1793 by David Rittenhouse, Mint Director. His salary in 1795 was $1,200 per year. The Mint Director received only $800 dollars per year more. Scot’s ability to make dies was limited, and in his advanced years he had failing eyesight. His work was somewhat less than that done in Europe at the time, and Scot was criticized for its poor quality. He was responsible for designs of most of America’s first coins. These include the Flowing Hair and the Draped Bust motifs used on early silver coins and the Capped Bust gold coins. Scot also designed the 1794-1797 half-cent, the 1800-1808 draped bust half-cent, and the Thomas Jefferson Indian Peace Medal. He died on November 1, 1823 and was succeeded by William Kneass as Chief Engraver.

John Eckstein was a German engraver who called himself an “historical painter and statuary to the King of Prussia.” Because of his delay in getting to America, he was not hired as the Engraver at the Mint. In his stead, Robert Scot received the position. However, in the summer of 1795, Eckstein did some work for the Mint. He was paid for two models for dollars. Some researchers believe that these models were dies for the new Draped Bust of Liberty that had been drawn by Gilbert Stuart. Others feel that Eckstein only made plaster models that were used by Scot but were not dies. Later Eckstein and his brother Fredrick worked as engravers of copperplate in Philadelphia.


Very Truly Yours,

Tom Pilitowski
Toll Free:
Email: TomPilitowski@yahoo.com


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