HALF DOLLAR 50C DRAPED BUST, NGC XF45 Click on Coin Image to
Half Dollar 50C Draped Bust NGC XF45
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.
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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
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.