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 3: Large date. The "large" size of the date is not immediately obvious, but upon study, the digits are indeed slightly larger, and are in the numeral size used the following year, 1797. The 6 in date plainly shows it was double punched; this is visible at the underside of the top of the 6 and the upper inside of the bottom loop. Stars at right are very closely spaced and touch or nearly touch their neighboring stars. Highest wave of hair is below upright of and is very indistinct, probably due to very light relapping.
As the numerals bear a close relationship to those used in 1797, this obverse die was probably the final die cut in the 1796 year. Further, the lower right tip of R in LIBERTY is broken; the latest state of any of the four 1796 obverses.
Obverse die used to strike 1796 BB-65 only.
REVERSE D: Small letters. Leaf under A of STATES. Seven large berries in wreath, and a very small 8th berry is made to show on inside stem of lowest sprig of leaves on left. Three leaves beneath eagle's right (to observer's left) wing, these having been added by hand in front of the cloud. Eagle punch impressed deeply and strongly into the working die; thus, coins from this die have much better breast feather definition than on BB-61. Wreath differs from any other variety, several leaves touching letters of legend. Quickly identifiable by a lump at right top of I in AMERICA; this lump does not touch C in the earlier state of the dies.
Note: This is the third and final Small Letters reverse die in the series. The others were the long lived die first used to strike 1795 BB-51, later 1796 BB-62, BB-63, and BB-66 now relapped, 1797 BB-72, and 1798 BB-82, and another die used to strike 1795 BB-52. The obverse of BB-65 is believed to be the latest die made bearing the 1796 date, but the reverse, the Small Letters style, is the style of 1795 and, possibly, early 1796, and was probably the first 1796 reverse cut (before the two Large Letters dies).
The reverse of BB-65 could have been made in 1795 but not used then.
Reverse die used to strike 1796 BB-65 only.
Die State I: Perfect dies; obverse not relapped; reverse without lump at I in AMERICA on reverse. May not exist.
Die State II: Obverse lightly relapped, with highest wave of hair incomplete. Obverse is cracked from the 6th denticle right of numeral 6, extending vertically toward bust but not quite reaching bottom of drapery. Reverse: Prominent lump caused by piece out of the die at the upper right outside of I in AMERICA, extending upward toward the denticles and rightward toward C, but touching neither denticles nor C. The field of the coin is bulged outward in a small area below the lump (discernible only on higher grade coins). Letters I and C are joined by a short crack from a point just below the center of each letter. The noted bulge is between this crack and the lump. It is likely that this short crack establishes a lower limit for the "internal die break" or lump. Stars 2 and 3 are weak and are not defined at their centers, due to metal flow into the lump at I, which was opposite stars 2 and 3 when the dies were in the press. Most specimens seen are of this die state.
Die State III: As above, but the lump at I in AMERICA is now slightly larger and lightly touches the adjacent C. Scarcer than the preceding.
Die State IV. As III, but now the lump extends along the curve of the C closest to the I, and also has enlarged to the left, covering the vertical shaft of the I at one point. Scarcer than either II or III.
Die State V: Bolender-5a. The lump joins IC and extends past C. Rare.
Die State VI: The lump extends further, and there is noticeable die rust at ER in AMERICA (cf. Bowers and Merena 3/89: 1951 and others).
Note: There is really no end to the theoretical number of intermediary states. For this reason, most numismatists are content with but a single specimen of a given variety of a specific Bolender number. Collecting by die states has attracted a few numismatists over the years, primarily because Bolender gave much space to them. Today, interest in minute die state differences is minimal.
COLLECTING NOTES: 1796 BB-65 is the second most available (after BB-61) of the die varieties of the 1796 date. I estimate that 800 to 1,400 survive. While it is common in the middle circulated grades, BB-65 becomes a rarity in AU or finer.
Most specimens show light striking at stars 2 and 3 (due to metal requirements to fill the defect at I opposite in the dies in the press). A few have weak striking at first T in STATES on reverse.
Newman Specimen. MS-61. Eric P. Newman Collection. Toned in gold, brown and green. Die State II.
Hollinbeck-Kagin Specimen. MS-60. Hollinbeck-Kagin Sale, June 1970: 601. Uncirculated with attractive patina.
Alto Specimen. MS-60. Stack's, Alto Collection, 1970: 1063. Brilliant Uncirculated, with a prooflike surface. Perfectly centered, and very sharply struck. A superbly toned specimen, with splashes of golden and blue iridescence which enhances the overall beauty of this coin. Minute planchet defect on reverse edge. Full eagle's eye is seen S.S. Forrest, Jr. Collection, Stack's, 1972:978 .Metropolitan New York Convention Sale, Stack's, 1975:154.
DeCoppet Specimen. AU-55. James Kelly, Andre DeCoppet Collection, 1955. "Practically Uncirculated, a beautiful sharp specimen."
New Netherlands 54th Sale Specimen. AU-55. New Netherlands 54th Sale, 1960: 1010. "Uncirculated. Weakly struck in centers as usual. Considerable original mint frost. Slight peripheral tarnish." Don Corrado Romano Collection, Stack's, 1987:746. "Light steel and russet toning, the border of denticles complete on both sides."
Four Landmark Collections Specimen. AU-55. Bowers and Merena, Four Landmark Collections sale, 1989: 1951. "Very sharply struck, Beautifully toned in shades of pale gray and iridescent golden brown. Several obverse die breaks can be seen, as made. A lovely, sharply struck specimen, with full and separate definition in Liberty's hair strands and folds in her gown on the obverse, and nearly complete feathering detail in eagle on reverse."
Flip-strike mint error. Concerning a flip-strike specimen of Die State V, grade not stated, Bolender noted this in 1950: "Another specimen of this variety is a curious overstrike. The reverse is struck over the obverse of this variety, the date and stars showing plainly on the reverse."