Backward Head Half Dollar Patterns
1839 P50C Half Dollar, Judd-96 Restrike, Pollock-104, R.8

Sometimes called the Backward Head, this pattern features an obverse much like that found on the regular-issue 1839 gold eagles, with a rounded tip on the forward edge of the bust truncation and a pointed tip on the rear edge--but the entire head is facing backward from that on the eagle, right rather than left. Thirteen stars ring the rim, with date 1839 below. The reverse is from the regular-issue Seated Liberty die, Medium Letters, as seen on the 1840 half dollars. Struck in copper with a reeded edge.

An experiment begun in 1838, the various half dollar patterns continued into 1839, but many of them were clearly restruck as numismatic delicacies or "trade bait" for the Mint Cabinet in the late 1850s. The original pieces struck conform to the weight standard of the Mint Act of January 18, 1837, at 206.25 grains of .900 fine silver (0.430 troy oz.; 0.387 oz. pure silver), while the restrikes conform to the lesser-weight requirements of the Mint Act of February 21, 1853, that is 192 grains (0.4 oz.; 0.36 oz. pure silver).

The original silver and copper half dollars from these dies are classified Judd-93 and 94, while the restrikes are classified Judd-95 and 96, respectively. USPatterns.com makes a useful distinction between the two groups, calling the originals "essai" (a trial strike, from the French essayer, "to try") and the restrikes "fantasy pieces." Only three pieces of the Judd-96 are known, one of them in a museum collection. All of the various half dollar patterns of 1838 and 1839 are incredibly rare to unique--with the sole exceptions of the Judd-72 and 73 in silver--and all are monumentally important. These pieces represent a profound shift in design, from the older Capped Bust style to more-modern designs, and as such are significant previews of the future of U.S. silver coinage.

PR66 Brown $43,125.00 (Jan 6, 2009 HA.com)
1839 P50C Half Dollar, Judd-97 Restrike, Pollock-107, High R.7

The Backward Head design. The obverse is much like that found on the regular-issue 1839 gold eagles, with a rounded tip on the forward edge of the bust truncation and a pointed tip on the rear edge--but the entire head faces backward from that on the eagle, right rather than left. Thirteen stars ring the rim, with date 1839 below. The reverse is from the regular-issue Seated Liberty die, Large Letters, as used from 1842 through 1853. Struck in silver with a reeded edge.

In the 1976 ANA sale the cataloger described this coin as, "Brilliant Proof. Deep blue obverse, pink and russet iridescent toning on the reverse. An extremely rare coin, high Rarity 8, with no recent records." The 1989 cataloger quoted the above while adding, "In our opinion today the Rarity 8 rating stands intact. The only other specimen offered in two decades was the example in Rarcoa's session of Auction '81, lot 327. No specimen was included in the Olsen, Garrett, Malcolm Jackson, Crouch, or even Woodin collections. The only earlier record we have was the Farouk Sale, lot 1733."

It appears from the census below that today we should rate the piece as High R.7 rather than R.8, as perhaps five or even a half-dozen pieces might exist. This still puts the variety in the stratosphere of the super-rare, with--a little numismatic perspective here, please--far fewer known survivors than the 1933 double eagle or the 1804 silver dollar.

USPatterns.com says, "Stewart Witham noted 146 reeds [the edge reeding] on these, which according to a reed count listing from Bill Bugert of the Liberty Seated Collectors Club, means they were likely struck some time between 1854 & 1860 although this reed count was also used in 1869 and 1870."

PR64 $27,600.00 (Jan 6, 2009 HA.com)
1839 P50C Half Dollar, Judd-98 Restrike, Pollock-108, High R.7

The Backward Head design. The obverse is similar to the regular-issue 1839 gold eagles, with a rounded tip on the forward edge of the bust truncation and a pointed tip on the rear edge--but the entire head faces backward, right rather than left. Thirteen stars ring the rim, with date 1839 below. The reverse is from the regular-issue Seated Liberty die, Large Letters, of 1842-1853. Struck in copper with a reeded edge.

Saul Teichman notes on USPatterns.com that he believes these are restrikes produced in the 1870s, and throws down the gauntlet challenging collectors to try to match the reverse die to a regular-issue proof. The present example weighs 174.3 grains according to the accompanying envelope, while Pollock notes that it weighs 172.0 grains.

PR67 Brown $37,375.00 (Jan 6, 2009 HA.com)
Source for information and pictures courtesy of  Heritage Coin Auctions
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