The obverse centers around a bust of Liberty facing left. Liberty wears a Phrygian cap and laurel wreath, with the word LIBERTY inscribed on the cap band. The bust is surrounded by 13 stars arranged seven to the left and six to the right. IN GOD WE TRUST is inscribed above with the date below. The reverse features an eagle standing on a tablet inscribed E PLURIBUS UNUM, and clutching an olive branch and three arrows. The eagle's left talon supports a shield. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is at the border above, with the denomination HALF DOLLAR below. Struck in silver with a reeded edge.
The year 1877 saw an unprecedented number of patterns produced at the Mint, most notably the series of beautiful half dollar designs. Noted researcher Saul Teichman believes that the 1877 half dollar patterns should not be viewed as individual, unrelated coins created haphazardly, one-by-one by engravers Barber, Morgan, and Paquet. A deeper understanding of these coins can be attained when they are considered in the context of a coordinated design program, and an artistic struggle between Chief Engraver William Barber and his gifted assistant, George Morgan.
Morgan was new to the Mint in 1877, having been hired as assistant engraver the year before. Mint Director Linderman had imported him all the way from England to augment the artistic talent of the Mint staff. Clearly, Linderman recognized Barber's limitations as an artist and sought to improve the design process by bringing in a man of real ability. Of course, Barber recognized him as a threat and became jealous of his artistic reputation.
In Congress, events were under way that would lead to passage of the Bland-Allison Act and the return of the silver dollar in 1878. In anticipation of the need for new coinage designs, the engravers at the Mint created the celebrated series of half dollar patterns we know today. Competition between the engravers was intense, with each man putting forth his best efforts to produce a winning design. Many experimental motifs were created, with nine different obverse dies used in combination with 12 reverse dies. The various mulings produced beautiful, intricate coins, state-of-the-art for 1878. Teichman notes that Morgan concentrated his efforts on a single theme for his Liberty obverse, while Barber created many different motifs in a search for a design that would please the Mint officials.
No issue is more clearly the result of this competition than is Judd-1539A. The similarities between Barber's concept and Morgan's famous Liberty Head design are too great to be accidental. Perhaps the two designers were tasked specifically to produce a design using the same Phrygian Cap motif--or Barber may have decided to go head-to-head with Morgan and try to outclass him on his home ground. Unfortunately for him, while Judd-1539A is certainly an attractive design, Morgan's classic creation is clearly superior. Morgan's Liberty Head concept was chosen for the silver dollar in 1878, and it is one of the most popular designs of all time. USPatterns.com can trace only three examples of Judd-1539A today.
A rare and unusual design on both obverse and reverse. The obverse shows a large head of Liberty with a wide band in front of a Liberty cap that has the word LIBERTY incused. The reverse shows a large eagle standing on a tablet inscribed with incuse E PLURIBUS UNUM. The eagle awkwardly supports a large shield, which distinguishes the reverse from Judd-1537 (silver) and Judd-1538 (also copper). Struck in copper with a reeded edge.
Designed by William Barber, one of the large suite of half dollar patterns that were produced, likely for profit, before the final Morgan dollar design was adopted in 1878. Pattern expert Saul Teichman and we believe that there are only two pieces existing of the Judd-1539. For many years the Judd-1538, lacking the reverse shield on the eagle, was miscataloged as Judd-1539.
Teichman comments that the four Judd-1538 examples were listed as Judd-1539 for many years, including being overlooked in the Adams-Woodin reference. The Judd-1538 was first described in Thomas Elder's 5/1908 sale (lot 521, which went to Virgil Brand) before publication of the Adams-Woodin book (1913), even though Omaha collector Byron Reed had had a Judd-1538 piece since 1891. The first description of the Judd-1538 and 1539 as being different was by Wayte Raymond in Morgenthau's 4/1932 Shinkle sale. It appears that both Farouk examples were actually Judd-1538 but were listed in the Sotheby's sale under the Adams-Woodin number for Judd-1539.
PR65 Red $27,600.00 (Jan 6, 2009 HA.com)
1877 50C Half Dollar, Judd-1538, Pollock-1706, High R.7
Since the existence of Judd-1537 is only speculated, Judd-1538 is the sole variety for these dies. The obverse depicts a bust of Liberty facing left, with pursed lips and wearing a Phrygian cap. The reverse has a defiant eagle standing with wings unfurled, clutching three arrows and an olive branch. The eagle is standing on what appears to be a bundle of wheat. Struck in copper with a reeded edge. It was speculated in the past that the Liberty design was originally intended by Charles Barber to compete with the eventually adopted Morgan dollar. Recent research by R.W. Julian suggests that his father, William Barber, was the designer.