Coin Profile: Norweb Specimen of the 1796 15 Stars Small Eagle Half Dollar Highlights B&M Sale in Baltimore
A Prooflike NGC MS-63; Tied for Condition Census #3
The Half Dollars that the United States Mint delivered in 1797 differed from the previous issues for this denomination from 1794 and 1795. For in late 1796 Mint personnel adopted Robert Scot’s Draped Bust, Small Eagle design that had already been used in the production of 1795-dated Silver Dollars for use on the Half Dollar. The delivery of 1797 amounted to a mere 3,918 pieces, the first 934 or so examples having been struck from one of two 1796-dated obverse dies.
Surprisingly for a denomination that otherwise proved extremely popular with contemporary bullion depositors, no more Half Dollars were ordered until 1801, at which time the Large Eagle variant of the Draped Bust type became current. The Draped Bust, Small Eagle Half Dollar, therefore, became an instant numismatic rarity–a two-year type with a combined mintage of just 3,918 pieces. Survivors of both dates are very scarce-to-rare in all grades, and they never fail to cause a stir among advanced collectors whenever the coins make an appearance at auction.
The 1796-dated Half Dollar delivery was achieved through the use of two obverse dies and a single reverse die in two marriages. O-101 is easy to distinguish from O-102 as the former variety exhibits only 15 stars at the obverse border. There are fewer than 100 different examples of the O-101 die marriage believed extant, an estimate that allows us to further estimate the mintage for this variety at just 569 pieces. The phenomenal Choice Unc that we offer here traces its pedigree to the fabulous Norweb Collection–as well as other important numismatic cabinets–and it is tied for Condition Census #3 for the die marriage with only two other MS-63s of which we are aware:
1. Ex: Benjamin H. Collins (1/1896); J.M. Clapp; John H. Clapp; Clapp estate (1942); Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; The Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection (Bowers and Merena, 8/1997), lot 1673; Denver, CO Signature & Platinum Night Auction (Heritage, 8/2006), lot 5222. PCGS MS-63.
2. Ex: Four Landmark Collections Sale (Bowers and Merena, 3/1989), lot 1990; The Allison Park Collection Sale (American Numismatic Rarities, 8/2004), lot 418; Long Beach Signature Auction (Heritage, 6/2005), lot 6209; The Southwest Collection (Heritage, 2/2008), lot 528. NGC MS-63.
3 – Ex: Waldo C. Newcomer; Colonel E.H.R. Green; The T. James Clarke Collection (New Netherlands’ 47th Sale, 4/1956), lot 1195; The Norweb Collection (Bowers and Merena, 11/1988), lot 3024; The Dennis Irving Long Collection (Bowers and Merena, 1/1990), lot 256; 65th Anniversary Sale (Stack’s, 10/2000), lot 876; The Frog Run Farm Collection Sale (American Numismatic Rarities, 11-12/2004), lot 1236. NGC MS-63, the present example.
This coin is fully prooflike in finish and, in fact, the coin was cataloged as a “Proof” in New Netherlands’ 1956 sale of the T. James Clarke Collection. Numismatic scholarship having advanced considerably since the 1950s, we now know that this coin does not qualify as a proof in the strictest sense of the term. On the other hand, the fields are so well mirrored, the strike is so superior for a product of the early United States Mint and the surfaces have been so carefully preserved that we find it likely that this coin was specially prepared for presentation or other important purposes.
Signs of handling are minimal and confined to a few minuscule abrasions and some even lighter hairlines that can be easily explained away as “cabinet friction” or a similar kind of numismatic handling. Of sizeable abrasions there is nothing to report, and the only significant blemish is a small swirl of variegated color in the upper-right obverse field that represents a toning spot caused by a tiny piece of lint that still adheres to the coin’s surface in that area. This feature is the most suitable pedigree marker we can find along with a minor planchet flaw (as made) at the reverse border between the words UNITED and STATES. Otherwise olive-gray in tone, with iridescent undertones of vivid pinkish-lilac and cobalt-blue colors that come into view at more direct angles. An important highlight of this sale, and a coin that would serve with distinction in another world-renowned collection.
NGC Census: just 3; with a further three finer in MS-64. These totals seem to include examples of both the 15 Stars and 16 Stars varieties.
Ex: Waldo C. Newcomer; Colonel E.H.R. Green; The T. James Clarke Collection (New Netherlands’ 47th Sale, 4/1956), lot 1195; The Norweb Collection (Bowers and Merena, 11/1988), lot 3024; The Dennis Irving Long Collection (Bowers and Merena, 1/1990), lot 256; 65th Anniversary Sale (Stack’s, 10/2000), lot 876; and The Frog Run Farm Collection Sale (American Numismatic Rarities, 11-12/2004), lot 1236.