1836 P50C Half Dollar, Judd-57, Pollock-60, Low R.7 as Proof
The obverse features a modified Capped Bust design, with six stars to the left and seven stars to the right, and the date below. The reverse consists of a perched eagle with shield, clutching three arrows and an olive branch. The peripheral legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is above and denomination 50 CENTS below. Struck in silver with a reeded edge.
Although the 1836 Capped Bust, Reeded Edge half dollars have been widely collected as patterns, most numismatists now believe the coins are regular issues. The variety is listed in Davis, Adams-Woodin, Taxay, Pollock, and Judd, but recent editions of the standard references include a caveat about the issue's disputed pattern status. The coins were struck on November 8, 1836, well in advance of the Act of January 18, 1837, which authorized the new weight standard for the denomination. This circumstance is probably the reason early researchers considered the coins to be patterns. Date of production notwithstanding, the fact that nearly all examples of this issue were released into circulation through regular commercial channels seems undeniable and decisive. Regardless of its official status, the issue continues to be collected by pattern specialists and Bust half dollar aficionados alike.
The year 1836 saw a watershed event in Mint operations. Steam power was introduced, and the first steam press began operation at 10:35 a.m. on March 23, 1836. The Capped Bust, Reeded Edge half dollars of 1836 were the first coins of this denomination to be minted with the new technology. Another innovation, the close collar, was also used on half dollars for the first time with this issue. The close collar introduced many improvements in coin production. It confined the planchet during striking operations, ensuring that all coins had uniform diameter. The coins were well centered, and sharpness of detail was much improved. The new technology was incompatible with the ornate lettered edge devices used in previous years, however. The edge lettering was damaged when the planchet tried to expand against the restraining collar during striking operations. It was found that a close collar could impart a reeded edge to the coins during striking and the coins could be easily ejected afterward. Technology thus mandated the change to the new reeded edge design.
It was originally intended to use the Seated Liberty design for the obverse of the new half dollar, to match the Gobrecht dollars that were minted for the first time in 1836. Unforeseen difficulties caused authorities to change their minds, and Christian Gobrecht settled for slightly altering the old John Reich designs.
The obverse is the regular Capped Bust half dollar die as used from 1836 through 1839. The reverse shows an eagle with its head turned right (facing), with olive branch in the left talon and four arrows in the right. The usual legends encircle the rim. Struck in silver with a reeded edge.
The reverse design will be instantly familiar to students of U.S. coinage, as it is quite similar to that used on the short-lived twenty cent coinage of 1875 through 1878. The arrows and olive sprig are switched, and other minor details vary, but there is no mistaking the many identical elements. The obverse was also used on Judd-72, Pollock-75 of 1838. The weight of the Garrett-Bass-Simpson specimen is recorded as 192 grains, which would place it in the category of mid-19th century (or later) restrike. Saul Teichman of USPatterns.com calls these restrikes made for sale in the 1870s, as evidenced by the heavy die rust prominent on both sides.
The obverse is the regular Capped Bust (1836-1839) die, with date 1839. The reverse is a rather ungainly Flying Eagle design with plain field, similar to the Flying Eagle cents but with an awkward extra crook in the neck. The usual legends ring the rim. Struck in silver with a reeded edge.
This is another incredibly rare pattern, with only two examples known, per all the standard references we possess. A note on the accompanying envelope puts the weight at 192.5 grains, marking this, unsurprisingly, as another restrike from after the weight was changed as per the Mint Act of February 21, 1853. The former weight of 206.25 grains of .900 fine silver was lowered to 192 grains of .900 fine silver.
Weakly struck, particularly on the area just below the cap on the obverse. The heavy die rust on both sides marks this as another restrike. Whether these were struck in the late 1850s-early 1860s or in the early 1870s is still open to debate, although USPatterns.com is clearly in the latter camp.