Estimated grade. Ex. Ely Sold by Bowers & Ruddy Nov '79 Price realized $28000
In 1836, the Philadelphia Mint cranked out 1836 Half Dollars the old way, by adding lettering to the edge in a process separate from the striking of the coins. This extra step was not only time-consuming, but it also led to errors whenever the dies in the edging machine slipped (it is not unusual to find Half Dollars with the lettering overlapping itself on the edge). The introduction of the steam-powered coining press in 1836 allowed the production of coins with uniform diameter and, more importantly, reeding (raised ridges) could be added to the edge of a coin as the coin was being struck. Unfortunately, this new process made it to Half Dollars only after over 6.5 million old-style coins had been produced. This gave the Mint little time to experiment, by experiment they did, resulting in the production of some 1,200 new-fangled Reeded Edge Half Dollars. While all this was going on, the medal department, with its old screw press, produced pattern and proof coinage. Among these were some Proof 1836 Half Dollars with reeded edges, the subject of today’s discussion.
The traditional view is that all of the 1836 Reeded Edge Half Dollars were patterns that tried out the new dies and demonstrated how the designs would strike up. As a result, Dr. J. Hewitt Judd added them to the canon of U.S. pattern coins as Judd-57. In the sixth edition of Judd’s “United States Pattern, Experimental and Trial Pieces,” Judd noted that the 1836 Half Dollar was a “Transitional piece, [of the] type adopted in 1837.” Proofs were listed as Rarity 7 (or 4-12 known).
Over the years, Proof 1836 Reeded Edge Half Dollars have been listed along with the regular issue Reeded Edge series, or they were designated as Judd-57. The application was inconsistent and may have been driven by market forces – the designation that was worth the most was often the one that was chosen.
New research suggests strongly that 1836 Reeded Edge Half Dollars were not patterns, but regular issues, similar to the “Original” 1836 Gobrecht Dollars. The primary reason that the mintage of the 1836 Reeded Edge Half Dollar is so low is because the mint had difficulties deploying the new steam-driven machinery. In addition, the mintage of over 1,000 Reeded Edge Half Dollars was unprecedented for pattern coins, where mintages can often be counted on one hand. The existence of so many survivors, especially those in circulated condition, argues against the “pattern” designation. The Proof versions are extremely rare and there is greater reluctance to move away from a pattern label where these coins are concerned. However, modern researchers, such as Saul Teichman of www.uspatterns.com and Robert Julian, now believe that the Proof Reeded Edge Half Dollars are regular Proofs, not patterns. This belief seeped into the tenth edition of the Judd book, where the following note has been place under Judd-57: “Regular issue. Not a pattern but by tradition often collected along with the pattern series.”