1877 50C Half Dollar, Judd-1540, Pollock-1711, High R.7
The central figure of the obverse die is a rather small bust of Liberty facing left, surrounded by an arc of 13 stars, with the date 1877 below. Liberty is wearing her hair tied in a bun and a ribbon inscribed LIBERTY in incuse lettering. The reverse features a stylized eagle with shield, clutching an olive sprig and three arrows. The eagle holds a scroll inscribed E PLURIBUS UNUM in its beak. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA arcs around the periphery, with the denomination HALF DOL. below. Struck in silver with a reeded edge.
Anthony Paquet created this unusual design with a cosmopolitan aesthetic quality. The small, delicate bust on the obverse resembles the work of French designers of the late 19th century, while the robust eagle on the reverse is reminiscent of the Prussian style. The dies were ready early in 1877. Roger Burdette and USPatterns.com cite a Mint archives document, dated March 20, 1877: "Anthony Paquet left pair of half dollar dies with Coiner to have them turned down to fit the mint's presses." Unfortunately, the dies broke extremely early in the striking process, as all examples from this die feature a prominent die crack through stars 1 to 5 and extending through the date to stars 12 and 13. It is unusual for a die to fail so rapidly.
Perhaps the high relief of the design required several strikes to bring up all the design details. The extra stress of the repeated strikes may have resulted in the early failure of the dies. Another die was prepared, with the date positioned differently, and at least one example is known from this die. It must have been clear to the Mint personnel that the design was impractical for regular-issue coinage.
Judd-1540 is an extremely rare issue. Today, five examples are known from the original cracked die, and one example survives from the perfect replacement die (see USPatterns.com for a detailed pedigree listing). A search of auction records has failed to uncover any auction appearances of Judd-1540 in the last four years.
Liberty faces left with her hair tied in a bun at the base of the head, a headband inscribed Liberty and ornamented with a star. The date is below the bust and 13 stars are evenly spaced along the border. The reverse has a rather fanciful eagle with a square shield, an olive branch and three arrows in the claws. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA traces the border with the denomination HALF DOL. below. Struck in copper with a reeded edge.