The obverse is the so-called "Barber's Liberty Head with coronet and wheat and cotton." The head of Liberty faces left, IN GOD WE TRUST is above and the date below. Liberty wears a coronet reading LIBERTY in raised letters. The coronet is decorated with wheat ears, cotton bolls and leaves. The stars are seven left, six right. The reverse is "Barber's small heraldic eagle." The eagle has a shield on its breast, clutching arrows and an olive branch. UNITED STATES and HALF DOLLAR are at the rim, with E PLURIBUS UNUM in an inner arc between the wingtips. Struck in silver with a reeded edge.
Only three specimens are known of this R.8 silver pattern, although at the time of the Garrett sales, the cataloger called this piece "possibly unique." One of the three pieces is permanently sequestered in the Byron Reed Collection in Omaha, and the only other specimen in private hands is graded only PR60 by PCGS. As the finest known of this illustrious pattern variety and with an equally starry pedigree, this piece is a standout, even in the remarkable Lemus Collection of incredible breadth and quality. Dr. Edward Maris, the author of what remains today the standard reference on New Jersey coppers of the Colonial era, is the first documented owner of this piece. Next it went to the incredible Garrett Family-Johns Hopkins Collection, begun by railroad magnate T. Harrison Garrett.
As noted in the ANR catalog a few years ago, the piece is actually an overdate of sorts, with the 1 in the date first punched too far right, giving the appearance of an "1877/1177." Other modern collectors would term it an RPD, for "repunched date."
PR65 $46,000.00 (Jan 6, 2009 HA.com)
1877 50C Half Dollar, Judd-1536, Pollock-1704, High R.7
The obverse features a bust of Liberty facing left, wearing a coronet with wheat ears and cotton bolls. The coronet has the word LIBERTY inscribed in raised letters. The motto IN GOD WE TRUST is spelled out above Liberty's head, with stars on either side and the date below. The reverse is centered around a heraldic eagle, clutching an olive branch and three arrows. The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM is located above the eagle's head. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds the eagle, with the denomination HALF DOLLAR below. Struck in copper with a reeded edge.
There are only four examples of Judd-1536 known to numismatists today. When and why the coins were minted has never been satisfactorily determined. The pedigree records for these coins are blank before circa 1950, except for a single citation in the Doughty Collection (New York Coin & Stamp, 4/1891). That specimen was soon impounded in the Omaha City Library, courtesy of Byron Reed. The early history of the three coins still in collectors' hands has remained a numismatic mystery for more than a century.
The key to the puzzle of Judd-1536 may be found in a convoluted lot description in The Linderman Collection of United States Coins and Pattern Pieces (Lyman Low, 6/1887), lot 56. The lot contains two examples of Judd-1536, as part of an 11-piece cased pattern set. It seems likely that the two patterns contained in this set correspond to two of the three specimens in collectors' hands today, but conclusive proof is not available. It is possible that some coins were struck circa 1877 that are no longer extant, so a one-to-one correspondence between the Linderman coins and the examples known today may not be valid. It is a tidy scenario, even a likely possibility, but not 100% certain. In any case, this lot constitutes the first auction appearance of two specimens of Judd-1536.
One could wish that Low had retained the services of a good copy editor, as his description is nearly impenetrable. It is no wonder the information was overlooked until the present time. To his credit, Low tried to identify the patterns in this sale by the numbers in R.C. Davis' pattern listing, then recently published in The Coin Collector's Journal. The attempt at scholarship backfired in this case, as four of the specimens in the lot were unknown to Davis. A careful reading of Low's citation enables the reader to identify two examples of Judd-1536. Note: D. 402 corresponds to Judd-1535, the same dies as Judd-1536, but struck in silver. Davis was aware of the silver strikings, but the copper patterns were unknown to him.
"Lot 56 1877 Set. 10C., 25C. (D. No. 391, 392), 50c., $1.00 (D. 409). Profile Liberty l. with jewelled coronet, hair tied with ribbons, two ends of which depend; stars surround; IN GOD WE TRUST above (except on 10C.). R of Dime and Quar. Dol. regular issue. Half Dol. with National Arms, motto above (like D. 402). Dol. wreath of corn, cotton and wheat encloses 1 Dollar; motto below; 2 specimens to show both sides. Dollars with same rev. but obv. profiles l. with plain and jewelled coronets, hair bound with additional fillet, end droops at back in broad loop, portion of hair extends below neck; two dies slightly differing. Half Dolls., profile l. jewelled coronet with wheat and cotton decorations (D. 402). R National Arms like first mentioned (2 specimens to show both sides). Also one with helmeted head l. R Eagle standing on ground, motto incused on base (D. 405). Another; muled dies of obv. D. 405 with rev. D. 402; four not in D. Copper; mounted on raised discs, satin and velvet lined case. 11pcs."
The purpose of the Judd-1536 patterns becomes abundantly clear. They were produced as numismatic delicacies, primarily for the cabinet of Mint Director Henry Linderman. There was intense competition between Chief Engraver William Barber and his assistant George Morgan in 1878 to produce attractive designs for the soon-to-be-revived silver dollar denomination. Linderman and a few other Mint insiders took advantage of this situation to secure examples of these rare and beautiful coins for their private collections. Linderman died on January 27, 1879, so the date of production for these patterns must closely approximate their inscribed date of 1877. The coins were never intended for public consumption, and most collectors never knew of their existence.
The story of Lyman Low's attempt to sell Linderman's collection is well known to numismatists. The U.S. government claimed the patterns were federal property, stopped the sale, and seized many of the lots without compensation. The financial loss incurred in this fiasco temporarily drove Low out of business. He went to work for J.W. Scott, and became the editor for The Coin Collector's Journal. The coins Low retained from Linderman's collection, including the wonderful set of patterns mentioned above, were offered again under the auspices of J.W. Scott on February 28, 1888. This time the government did not interfere, and the coins were dispersed without incident. After their initial appearance, the examples of Judd-1536 were apparently split up, and their individual paths are difficult to trace until fairly recent times (see USPatterns.com for a discussion of recent pedigree data). Saul Teichman notes an example in Frossard's 92nd Sale (Frossard, 5/1889), lot 322, and the Byron Reed coin mentioned above might be a reappearance of a Linderman coin, instead of a separate example. William Woodin appears to have secured at least two examples of Judd-1536 at some point, as he consigned a specimen to the 1914 ANS Exhibition and there is a citation for one example in the Public Auction Sale of Rare Pattern Coins (Edgar Adams, 2/1911), lot 157. The Adams sale consisted primarily of Woodin's duplicates.
Whatever its history, Judd-1536 remains an attractive and elusive issue, with only three specimens available to collectors. The present coin has been off the market for 18 years. The last offering of any example of this pattern was the Harry Bass Collection (Bowers and Merena, 5/1999), lot 1237, nearly a decade ago. Clearly, opportunities to acquire this issue are infrequent, and the importance of this offering cannot be overstated.