1877 50C Sailor Head Half Dollar, Judd-1502, Pollock-1655, Low R.7
The central figure of the obverse is a head of Liberty facing left. Liberty wears a coronet inscribed LIBERTY, and her hair is tied with a ribbon. The bust is surrounded by 13 stars, arranged seven to the left and six to the right. IN GOD WE TRUST is at the border above and the date below. The reverse features a heraldic eagle clutching an olive branch and a group of eight arrows. The peripheral inscriptions are UNITED STATES OF AMERICA above and HALF DOLLAR below. E PLURIBUS UNUM is inscribed in the field above the eagle's head. Struck in copper with a reeded edge.
This issue was extremely rare in the 19th century, and a diligent search of the great pattern collections of that era has unearthed only two examples. The first appearance of this pattern we have been able to trace is in the Linderman Collection (Lyman Low, 6/1887), lot 56, where it appeared as part of an 11-piece cased set of patterns. This sale was suppressed by the U.S. government, with many coins being confiscated. The wonderful pattern set was offered again a year later in J.W. Scott's 84th Sale (Scott Stamp & Coin Company, 2/1888), lot 56. The Doughty Collection (New York Coin & Stamp, 4/1891) contained a specimen of this rare variety, which is now impounded in the Durham Western Heritage Museum (this coin may possibly be the Linderman example, in a later appearance). The next auction appearance of Judd-1502 we have encountered is in the Public Auction of Rare Pattern Coins (Edgar Adams, 2/1911), lot 156.
Adams organized that sale to help his benefactor, William Woodin, dispose of many duplicate pattern coins he had acquired in his famous deal to return two half union gold patterns to the Mint Cabinet. Woodin reportedly received "several crates" of patterns in exchange for the two fifty dollar gold coins, including many pieces unknown to collectors before the event. In the catalog, Adams discusses the half dollar patterns of 1877 and reveals some interesting information about Judd-1502: "At least one of the above never has been listed, No. 156. It was not known to Dr. Davis, the pattern expert, and was not mentioned in the catalogue of the Maris sale, when something like seventeen 1877 pattern half dollars were sold." Apparently, Adams was not aware of the Linderman and Doughty listings. Considering Adams' comments and noting the small number of auction appearances for Judd-1502 before this sale, it seems reasonable to conclude this issue was virtually unknown to collectors of the 19th century, and most of the half dozen or so examples we know today must have come from William Woodin's pattern hoard. Woodin consigned another example of Judd-1502 to the 1914 ANS Exhibition.
Today, USPatterns.com can account for seven specimens of Judd-1502 (see the website for detailed census information). The present coin is virtually unimprovable and last appeared at auction in 1970. The present offering is a valuable opportunity to acquire this seldom encountered numismatic prize.