Q. David Bowers: The following narrative, with minor editing, is from my "Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia" (Wolfeboro, NH: Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc., 1993). Note: the Notable Specimens list should be used with caution - it has been updated in my 2013 edition of "The Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars 1794-1804."
"Close 17 Obverse."
OBVERSE 5: Left stars distant from curl and L; star 7 is farther from L on this than on any other obverse of the year. Right stars close to Y and bust. This die is quickly recognized by keeping the above in mind. Numerals 1 and 7 closer together on this than on any other 1799 obverse. Star 1 is about 2 mm. distant from curl, and star 7 is just as far from the L. Star 8 is quite close to Y, and star 13 almost as near to bust. Star 6 has raised die defect or trace of extra ray to left of top most ray (ray pointing upward).
Obverse die used to strike 1799 BB-158 only.
REVERSE I: U in UNITED defective at upper left part, which is cut off, due to employment of a defective U punch. Point of star touches point of lower part of eagle's beak; ray points to left serif at left side of U in PLURIBUS. Star under cloud 1 is noticeably smaller than any other. A in AMERICA rests on 4th feather. Leaf point is under left side of upright of I. Upper right star has only one point touching cloud 8 (whereas two points of this star touch the cloud on the BB-157 reverse). Far right edge of A is over junction of clouds 3 and 4. Berries boldly defined in branch for Die State I, with the one at top left being the smallest. Berries weaker in Die State II.
Reverse first used to strike 1799 BB-158, during which time it had its first relapping (berries weak), next coining BB-159, then BB-158 again, then, second relapping (removing berries), BB-160 and, finally, BB-161.
Die State I: Obverse and reverse with perfect dies. Early state of reverse die with all berries strong, including one at top left of branch (which later weakens). Examples are fairly plentiful.
Die State II: Berries slightly weaker, especially the one at the top left; probably from very light relapping. This is the die state used to coin 1799 BB-159. 1799 BB-158 dollars of this state are rare; I have seen just one.
Die State III: Bolender-16a. OBVERSE: Later state, after the dies came together (clashed) without an intervening planchet. Now with incuse "waves" above date caused by impression of reverse clouds on obverse die. Additional clash marks in left obverse field to right of stars 1 and 2, above bust, and between bust and star 13. Impact of clashing caused several cracks, including small crack through upper left of star 1; crack from bottom border, through drapery, upward and then curving left toward hair, then abruptly turning upward to area just to left of the front of neck. REVERSE: Incuse marks from obverse die include lower drapery line (which appears as a die crack, which it is not, through OF), and entire date 1799 between ES and OF (to see this, invert the coin; this is visible only on higher grade specimens). Berries somewhat weak as on Die State II. Scarce die state.
Die State IV: Bolender-16b. OBVERSE: Now with numerous die cracks shattering the dies. Cracks as above, plus additional cracks: From border opposite upper left of star 1, to star 2; from same spot through upper left of star 1 (as in Die State II); crack from border opposite star 2, through stars 3 to 6, past inner right ray of star 7 to field; additional crack from star 6, right and down through hair ribbon, hair, and bottom curl to border, with a couple other small cracks at the same border area; additional crack from star 5, down to end of hair ribbon, to hair; additional crack on right, from border up through drapery and bust, to field opposite star 9; border crack above stars 10 and 11 and above 12. (Some transitional pieces do not have all of the cracks fully developed.) REVERSE: As preceding. Examples are fairly plentiful.
COLLECTING NOTES: 1799 BB-158 is one of the most plentiful varieties of the year, and is readily available in most grades through AU. Mint State coins are very rare. Most auction appearances are from years ago. It is probable that some of these would only grade AU today. I estimate that 850 to 1,500 specimens of BB-158 survive in all grade combined.
Caveat emptor J.P, Martin, of the American Numismatic Association Authentication Bureau (ANAAB), provided two counterfeit 1799 BB-158 dollars for examination. Both are Die State III of this variety. The surfaces of each displayed microscopic porosity. The rims were crisp and sharp, while the edge lettering was unusually well detailed. The edges were polished and showed microscopic scratches parallel to the rims. Both examples showed four or five raised ridges on the edge, perpendicular to the rims. On each, these were positioned at the edge device star immediately preceding H in HUNDRED. One weighed 414.8 grains, the other 419.8 grains (an authentic specimen on hand for comparison weighed 417.3 grains); the weight is apt to vary, and is not a definitive test. I recommend that any suspected example be submitted to ANAAB for checking.
Carter Specimen. MS-63 . Stack's, Amon Carter, Jr. Collection, 1984): 225. "Intermediate die state. Lacks second reverse crack at OF and to 5th and 6th stars. Choice brilliant Unc., blazing lustre."
Fritz Specimen, MS-60. Lester Merkin, Fritz Collection Sale, 1966:307. "Gray toned Unc., obverse with touches of cabinet friction, reverse needle-sharp and choice. Evidently long displayed with its beautiful reverse uppermost."
Greater New York Specimen. MS-60. Stack's, Greater New York Convention Sale, 1978:182. Stack's, Greater New York Convention Sale, 1983:1222. "Brilliant Unc. and fully frosty. Sharply struck with excellent surfaces and edges. Light russet toning mixed with pale iridescence."
Ostheimer Specimen. MS-60. Lester Merkin, AJ. Ostheimer, 3rd Collection, 1968:287. "Advanced die cracks. State IV of seven known die states. RRR. Unc., peacock blue and antique gold toning with sunset overtones; planchet defect at U; small rim dent on either side."
Stack's Specimen. MS-60. Stack's January 1969 Sale:256. "Brilliant Unc, Full frosty mint lustre with excellent surfaces. Struck from the terminal state of the die, showing a myriad of fine cracks all over the obverse and the double crack through 'O' of OF."
Wyatt Specimen. MS-60. Superior Galleries, Russell and Eudora Bell Wyatt Collection, 1985:2039. "Late die state of Bolender-16 with numerous die cracks shattering the dies. MS-60. A trifle weak around the borders, but overall well struck with full hair and feather detail. The surfaces are remarkably clean and frosty throughout. All is overlaid with an attractive blending of russet and steel violet tones."
Green Specimen. AU-58. Col. E.H.R. Green Collection M.H. Bolender Collection. Lester Merkin, AJ. Ostheimer, 3rd Collection, 1968:288. "State VI, still further advanced cracks; RRR, more so than last. Golden and violet toned Unc., traces of cabinet friction, sharper strike than usual.
Stack's/Bowers 6/2012:3021, not sold - Goldbergs 6/2014:905, $114,562.50
Bill Nagle, sold privately in 8/2012 - Eugene H. Gardner Collection - Heritage 6/2014:30589, $61,687.50
Wayne Miller Collection
Ostheimer Collection - Lester Merkin 9/1968:287 - Stack's 1/2002:1521, $17,250
Stack's/Bowers 6/2012:3021, not sold