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."
OBVERSE 1: Die State III of 1796 BB-61, to which refer. The stars are small and the last two or three are spidery. Curl on top of the head defective.
This is a later state, equal to Die State III of 1796 BB-61 as noted, with relapping removing part of Miss Liberty's top curl, and some of the part of the stars in lower relief, making them appear smaller.
Obverse die used to strike 1796 BB-61 (early state) and BB- 62 (late state).
REVERSE B: Described under 1795 BB-51, herewith repeated: Small Eagle. Small Letters in legend. Eagle stands on clouds. Wreath is composed of a palm branch (right) and olive branch (left); the latter with seven berries. A short, prominent die scratch extends up to left from tip of right, inside leaf below (observer's) left wing. Berry under A of STATES; a quick way to identify this reverse.
Bolender reported that some letters were bifurcated on examples he had seen of 1796 B-3 [BB-62], and thought this meant that the die had been "touched up" (however, bifurcation is an idiosyncrasy of striking, and has nothing to do with the die variety or state).
Reverse die used to strike 1795 BB-51; 1796 BB-62, BB-63, and BB-66 (now relapped); 1797 BB-72; and 1798 BB-81.
Die State II: Perfect dies. May not exist. Reverse die not relapped.
Die State I: Obverse die relapped; curl at top of head now defective, some stars appear smaller. Reverse die not relapped. This is the die state usually seen. Obverse die state equivalent to Die State III of 1796 BB-61. Reverse die state equivalent to 1796 BB-63. 1796 BB-62 was struck before 1796 BB-66 (which I believe to have been struck in 1798). 1796 BB-61 was struck before 1796 BB-62.
COLLECTING NOTES: Bolender wrote this in 1950: "While many 1796 dollars have been listed as [B-3; BB-62], this has been erroneously done. I have purchased a dozen or more [B-3; BB-62], every one of. them wrongly attributed. Only three specimens are known to me.
The rarity of 1796 BB-62 approaches legendary proportions. In fact, it has kept out of sight so well that many specialists have never seen an example. The fifth revised edition (1988) of Bolender's The United States Silver Dollars noted the following: "Most experts now question whether this variety actually exists."
In a conversation; Jules Reiver related that over the years a dozen or more 1796 "Bolender-3" dollars have been offered to him, but without exception they were all misattributed.' "I don't believe that B-3 [BB-62] exists," he concluded.
Not having seen a specimen in the flesh, I cannot say whether or not it exists. However, a specimen is listed and clearly illustrated as Lot 2065 of the Philip G. Straus Collection (Stack's, 1959). The cataloguer, probably Norman Stack, described it as follows:
1796 B-3 [BB-62]. Small Date, Small Letters. Has diagnostic flaw in hair curl. On reverse, berry centered directly below A of STATES. An excessively rare variety, and only three known according to Bolender. Very Fine to Extremely Fine. After checking some of the outstanding collections of silver dollars, we learned that none have this variety represented. One specialist commented that "This is the only B-3 [BB-62] I have ever seen. Nobody I know has one." Considering the rarity of the coin, we would not be surprised to see it bring a "runaway price." [The coin brought $500.]
The identical specimen appeared 16 years later as Lot 24 of the W. Earl Spies Collection (Stack's, 1974). The cataloguer noted the following:
1796 B-3 [BB-62]. Small Date, Small Letters. The letters not bifurcated., and the curl at the top of the head imperfect. One of only very few known. Probably a high Rarity-6 or perhaps 7. Very Fine to Extremely Fine. From our Straus Sale in 1959. [Realized $950.]
The preceding descriptions, particularly that in the Straus Collection sale, indicate that the cataloguer for Stack's was quite certain at one time that a BB-62 existed, and was examined by a specialist.
In recent decades, such notable silver dollar variety collection sales as Ostheimer (1968), Gilhousen (1973), 1975 ANA, and Willasch (1990) have lacked an example of this variety. It is worth noting that Bolender's own collection, auctioned in 1952, was missing the 1796 BB-62.
Straus Specimen. VF-30. Straus Collection, Stack's, 1959. Spies Collection, Stack's, 1974: 24. Letters not bifurcated, and the curl on top of the head imperfect. VF to EF.
The following are of unknown status:
Note: With the exception of the Straus-Spies coin, all "Bolender-3" 1796 dollars listed in our survey fall into one of two categories: 1. The coin was mis-attributed based on plate examination. 2. The coin was not plated in the catalog making verification impossible.
Boyd Specimen. VF-20. World's Greatest Collection, F.C.C. Boyd, Numismatic Gallery, 1945: 20. Haseltine-3. VF and very scarce. Not plated.
Blauvelt Specimen. VG-10. Bowers and Ruddy, 1977: 492, About Fine. Some marks on obverse. Not plated.
Aaron Specimen. VF-20. Steve Ivy, 1982: 1070. Not plated.
Phoenix Specimen. VF-25. Steve Ivy, 1982: 998. Die dot in field above 1 in date. Tear-drop die flaws below stars 11 and 13. Non-bifurcated letters in LIBERTY. Even gray surfaces which are very lightly granular. Not plated.
Hatie Specimen. VG-8. Bowers and Merena, 1983: 908, VG-8 or fairly close to it. Some traces of adjustment marks on 'obverse right field. Light gray coloration. Not plated.
Dr. Hesselgesser Collection - Goldbergs 9/5/2011:5024, $60,375