1877 $50 Fifty Dollar, Judd-1547, Pollock-1720, Low R.7, PR65 Gilt NGC
The William Barber Large Liberty Head design. Liberty faces left, with coronet bearing her name, its top border ornamented with beads. Her hair is thick and wavy, and a B in the field just below the truncation (unusually, not on the neck) stands for the Barber. Thirteen stars ring the border, with date 1877 below. The Large Head shows the tip of the coronet between stars 5 and 6 while the Small Head has the tip below star 6, and the date is considerably closer to the bust truncation on the Large Head. The two lowest curls on Liberty are pointed, rather than rounded as on the Small Head. The reverse is in the same style as the contemporaneous double eagle, but detailed differently, the most obvious being two extra small decorative elements at the rim on each side, between UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the denomination FIFTY DOLLARS. Struck in copper, gilt, with a reeded edge.
At Low R.7, the Judd-1547/1549 half union copper patterns and their unique gold cousins (Judd-1546/1548) are the largest denominations in the U.S. pattern series. The denomination was apparently considered only briefly (or not at all, as the large gold coins would have been particularly susceptible to shaving and filing) before being abandoned. According to the Bass Museum Sylloge, "Evidently they were struck by late August 1877, as impressions from the dies were sent to [Mint Director Henry] H.R. Linderman on August 30 of that year." It is noteworthy that Linderman was an avid coin collector himself; Don Taxay has written that he believed Linderman ordered the coins for his own use.
$207,000.00 (Jan 6, 2009 HA.com)
1877 $50 Fifty Dollar, Judd-1549, Pollock-1722, R.7, PR67 Brown NGC
The William Barber Small Liberty Head design. Liberty faces left, with coronet bearing her name, its top border ornamented with beads. Her hair is thick and wavy, and a B in the field just below the truncation (unusually, not on the neck) stands for the Barber. Thirteen stars ring the border, with date 1877 below. The Small Head shows the tip of the coronet below star 6, while the Large Head shows the tip between stars 5 and 6, and the date is considerably further away from the bust truncation on the Small Head. The two lowest curls on Liberty are rounded, rather than pointed as on the Large Head. The reverse (same as the Large Head) is also the same as the contemporaneous double eagle, but detailed differently, the most obvious being two small decorative elements at the rim on each side, between UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the denomination FIFTY DOLLARS. Struck in copper with a reeded edge.
In the Judd-1547 description we wrote of the "unusual" circumstances, to say the least, that led to William H. Woodin's possession of the two unique gold half unions, now ensconced in the Smithsonian Institution. The pieces were "deaccessioned," to use a fancy euphemism, from the Mint Cabinet.
For the serious researcher into pattern coins, the Pollock and Judd references are each in their own ways indispensable. But USPatterns.com must not be overlooked, another valuable resource. The following is given verbatim from that source, except to better identify in brackets [ ], where possible, a couple of the characters in the drama:
"The circumstances of the return of this and its companion gold piece J1548/P1721 has been shrouded in mystery but correspondence between Woodin's attorney and the mint in the John Ford library have shed some new light on the matter, and, at a minimum, establish that the 2 pieces belonged to Col Snowden.
"One of these letters from Woodin's attorney to U.S. Attorney Henry W. Wise on June 7, 1910 is shown below courtesy of George Kolbe.
'Col. [Archibald Loudon] Snowden [Philadelphia Mint chief coiner 1866-77 and superintendent 1879-1885], who had originally purchased these coins from the Director of the Mint [presumably Henry R. Linderman, Mint director 1867-69, 1873-78] in Philadelphia by depositing the bullion value and the charge for pattern pieces to save them from being melted down, in the course of negotiations between himself and Dr. [A. Piatt] Andrew, Director of the Mints [November 1909-June 1910], came to an agreement with the latter over all matters in dispute between them, and proposed to Mr. Woodin to repay him the $20,000 he had paid for these pieces, in order that he might carry out his arrangement with Dr. Andrew. Mr. Woodin after numerous visits to Philadelphia and Washington and conference with Dr. Andrew, both there and in this city, decided to accept this offer, returned the 50's to Col. Snowden, and I thereupon notified Mr. Pratt, as did Mr. Woodin, that the incident was closed, and we requested a letter from your office confirming the same. In view of the trouble and expense to which Mr. Woodin was put to facilitate Dr. Andrew in the adjustment of a very difficult situation, your letter seems a little unfair, in that it would tend to create the appearance of a record some time in the future that Mr. Woodin had been compelled to give up something of which he was improperly in possession.'
"Additional information can be found in the May 17 and 24, 2004 editions of Coin World by William Gibbs. It appears that Col. Snowden either gave them back to the Mint or the Mint confiscated them from him after the deal mentioned above was completed."
Reading between the lines, this carefully worded letter appears to be a lawyerly effort to, of course, not only exculpate Woodin--the attorney's client--while obtaining official notice that the incident is resolved and carefully avoiding the blatant casting of blame. One notices that Col. Snowden's motive is purportedly altruistic--to "save them from being melted down." But one also notices that the source of the patterns in the first place is not even named--could it have been the curator of the Mint Cabinet at the time, or other Mint personnel? One also observes that there is considerable friction between Director Andrew, Col. Snowden, and Woodin, to the extent that the Mint ended up loading down Woodin, clearly a shrewd businessman as well as an avid collector, with "crates" of patterns in return for the two gold half unions.
USPatterns.com estimates that "less than a dozen" of both the Large Head and Small Head are known, some gilt, some not. Most copper examples of this design have been gilted, making this nongilt piece even more extraordinary and desirable.
The 1913 Adams-Woodin pattern reference says of the two unique gold half unions:
"In this year  were struck at the Mint two of the rarest and most interesting pattern coins of the whole series. They were of a denomination higher than any coin of regular issue, being of fifty dollars value, and are regarded by all collectors as the most desirable coins ever issued at the United States Mint."