LIBERTY HALF DOLLARS (1839-1891)
NO MOTTO ON REVERSE (1839-1866)
1847 Half Dollar
Thomas Sully, executed by Christian Gobrecht; reverse
by Christian Gobrecht
Silver - 90%
Copper - 10%
grains (±13.4 grams)
None (for Philadelphia,
PA) below the eagle on the reverse
NGC Proof-64. Ex - Ira & Larry Goldberg Coin &
Collectibles' "The Fairchild Family Trust Collection
Sale", May 28-30, 2001, Lot 715, illustrated, sold
The finest Uncirculated example graded by PCGS is a
The finest Uncirculated "1847/6" example
graded by PCGS is a single MS-62.
The finest Proof example graded by PCGS is a single
THE SULLY-GOBRECHT LIBERTY
SEATED DESIGN, NO MOTTO (1839-53)
Following the early
Mint tradition of uniformity of design of all silver
coins, the Gobrecht Liberty Seated design (after Thomas
Sully), adopted for silver dollars in Dec. 1836, was
extended to half dollars in 1839. Rev. is similar
to previous types, but inscription is at first in
small letters similar to those of 1836-37.
The first obv. dies show no extra drapery at crook
of elbow; later dies through 1891 have a small extra
patch below it. This is nothing like the bulky cloak
on the Robert Ball Hughes version found on dollars
and smaller silver 1840-91. Only on half dollars does
the original Sully-Gobrecht design continue (albeit
with redrawn Reich eagles rather than the Peale-Gobrecht
flying eagle of the 1836-39 dollars). Nor is it coincidence
that the half dollars are the only denomination thereafter
to come sharply struck. Coins from the 1839 "no
drapery" dies went into circulation early and
stayed there; mint-state survivors were until recent
years so rare that their existence was controversial,
but today perhaps five qualify at that level plus
three proofs. Those from the three "with drapery"
obvs. are nearly as rare in mint state.
Small Letter revs, continue through 1841; two of the
1841 O dies remained unused and went to press with
1842 Small Date obvs. at New Orleans. These are thought
to have formed part of the initial [203.000]; they
are almost unobtainable above FINE.
No reason has been found for the change to large letters
in 1842; this letter size remained standard through
1891. This new rev. type has been attributed to Robert
Issues remained fairly large until 1850. The Mint's
principal output in this period continued to consist
of cents, half dollars, and half eagles. However,
discovery of gold in California sent world market
prices down in terms of silver, which trend was experienced
in the East as a sharp rise in silver bullion prices
reckoned in gold dollars. Eventually (1851-53) bullion
dealers bought up most of the Mint's output of larger
silver coins for shipment to the West Indies and Latin
America, partly as coins, largely as ingots made by
melting the coins: They had become worth more than
face value as bulk silver. Less silver went to the
mints for coinage; survivors remain very scarce, especially
near mint state.
Gobrecht died in July 1844. The Mint authorities wanted
nobody at all to succeed him; they then preferred
to work with friendly outsiders like Charles Gushing
Wright, who posed no threat to the lucrative medal
business being operated by the brilliant but unscrupulous
Chief Coiner, Franklin Peale (Adam Eckfeldt's successor).
Unfortunately for them, James Barton Longacre (1794-1869).
renowned bank-note-plate engraver and portraitist,
exerted political pressure through Sen. (later Vice
Pres.) John C. Calhoun, and obtained the Mint engravership
as a sinecure. Owing to mechanical improvements by
Kneass, Gobrecht, and Peale, manufacture of working
dies was totally mechanized,
and an Engraver would be needed only if new denominations
were ordered. Longacre's duties, 1844-49. consisted
largely of punching dates and mintmarks into otherwise
completed working dies. At this donkey work his hand
faltered, producing double dates, triple dates, overdates,
and blunders such as the 1846 over lazy 6. These blunders
some of which may also have come from workmen in the
Coiner's Department, as Julian suggests became excuses
to oust Longacre; but the real reason for official
opposition to him was politics. Not only was Longacre
outside the Mint's Imperial Divan (the Eckfeldts.
Pattersons. Peales. and DuBois families and their
cronies), but worse still, he had achieved the engravership
by aid of a notorious politician from slaveholding
South Carolina. On Christmas Day, 1849, Mint Director
Robert Maskell Patter-son privately offered Charles
Gushing Wright the Mint engravership, effective as
soon as the establishment could dispose of Longacre;
Wright accepted. However, Longacre somehow got wind
of the offer, and went over Patterson's head to Calhoun
preserving his job at the cost of 19 years of enmity
from Mint officials, most of whom Longacre managed
The final issue of this type, before adoption of the
new weight standard, was from New Orleans (1853 O
No Arrows): one of the most famous of American silver
rarities. No record survives about this mintage, either
of manufacture or disposition, except that the Philadelphia
Mint shipped six obv. dies, only one of which was
apparently used. There were 19 old revs, on hand from
1851 and possibly earlier years. Records of their
disposition are confused; some revs, were returned
to Philadelphia, others defaced (with the obvs.?)
before June 9, 1853. Absence of any record of manufacture
suggests that the few survivors were made for presentation
purposes, only to be spent later or kept as pocket
pieces. Only three survivors are traced:
1. J. W. Haseltine (before 1881), J. Colvin Randall
(1885), H. P. Newlin, T. Harrison Garrett, J. W. Garrett:339,
$40,000. F. 201 grs. = 13.02 gms.
2. Colin E. King:854 (1892), Col. E. H. R. Green,
"Ander-son Dupont," C. A. Cass, "Empire,"
A. M. Kagin, R. E. Cox, E. Yale Clarke:289, $24.000,
Julian Leidman, Roy Ash, Leon Goodman:1712, $16,000,
Delaware pvt. coll. G. 199.6 grs. = 12.93 gms.
3. H. O. Granberg, W. H. Woodin. Waido Newcomer, Col.
E. H. R. Green, Adolphe Menjou, Louis Eliasberg estate.
A fourth is rumored; authentication is essential.
All three genuine specimens are from the same dies;
note incomplete third rev. pale gules (nearly vertical
embossed stripe). Forgeries are numerous, mostly alterations
from 1858 O; these have date elements grossly different
in shape from the genuine, and are necessarily lightweight,
generally below 192 grs. — 12.44 gms. Others
could be made by grinding off arrows and rays from
genuine 1853 O coins; these even more lightweight
would show abundant evidence of monkey business at
date and in fields.
Dates 1848-52 are all rarer than their mintage figures
might suggest. The immense shipments of gold from
California began lowering the world market price of
gold reckoned in silver coins, or effectively raising
the price of silver reckoned in gold dollars, until
dollars, halves, and quarters became worth enough
over face to be worth melting down as bullion.
LIBERTY SEATED, NO MOTTO, 1839-53
Christian Gobrecht; obv. after Thomas Sully, rev.
after John Reich. Mints, Philadelphia (no mint mark),
New Orleans (O below eagle). Physical Specifications,
Authorizing Acts, as before.
Grade range, FAIR
to UNC. GOOD: Date and all letters legible except
LIBERTY. VERY GOOD: At least three letters of LIB¬ERTY
legible; partial rims, partial feather and drapery
details. FINE: LIBERTY fully clear; most major drapery
folds and over half feather details clear (leg at
1. of arrow butts may be weaker). VERY FINE: All major
and most minor drapery folds clear; almost all feather
details clear. EXTREMELY FINE: Scroll edges and clasp
clear; isolated tiny rubbed spots only (mostly on
thighs and wingtips). EXCEPTIONS: Some New Orleans
issues are weak flat strikings, as noted in text.
NOTE: Beware alleged "UNC." coins showing
rubbing on thighs and/or signs of cleaning in fields.
1847 [all kinds
1,156,000 + ?P] Normal date.
Several minor positional vars., some with traces
of repunching on digits.
1847 Thin numerals. Rare.
Hairlike serifs. Same comment as to 4768. Randall,
Garrett (1976):210, Proof, $2,300.
1847 Double date. Very rare.
1847 Repunched 47. Scarce. Discovered
by John H. Clapp.
Beistle 1-A, 1-Aa. Traces of overdate fade (die relapped?).
One proof known ("Dupont," Cass, "Empire."
Hawn:161, $7,500, E. Yale Clarke:276, $9,000, Robison:1634,
$6,000), and possibly 10-12 business strikes. NN,
$2,500 (1962), Glassenberg, 1975 ANA:574, borderline