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 13: See description under 1798 BB-113. Obverse die used to strike BB-113 (1st use), 1798 BB-114 (2nd use), BB:115 (3rduse), BB:116 (4th use), BB-117 (5th use), BB-118 (6th use), BB-119 (7th and final use).
REVERSE M: Star close to both upper and lower points of eagle's beak but does not touch; ray points to upper outside right of B of PLURIBUS. Line star pattern. Leaf points near center of upright of I in AMERICA. Five small berries, the two upper ones closest together. Slight die crack along upper side of right wing tip. The berries are small but the One at the top right appears slightly. smaller than the others. 13 arrows, with the one overlapping the third shaft from the right having a tiny head.
This reverse die, first described by Bolender in 1950, was not known to J.W. Haseltine when he wrote his Type-Table in 1881.
Reverse die used to strike 1798 BB-115 only.
Die State I: Obverse: Die cracks as seen on BB-116, but in a slightly earlier state. The chip on the denticle below 9 is not quite as advanced as BB-116. Sawtooth line of denticle clash marks not visible on BB-115. Perfect reverse die. May not exist with perfect reverse die.
Die State II: Obverse: As preceding. Reverse: Slight die crack along upper side of eagle's right wing tip (on left side of coin). Tiny arc line (possibly used by the engraver as a guide for punching letters) near border between Sand 0 in OF. Slightly scarcer than Die State IV.
Die State III: Intermediate state between II and IV, not otherwise described. New Netherlands Sale 48:55, VF-20, was called superior to the Ralph Lathrop specimen in the 1952 ANA Convention sale. The Spies Collection coin (Stack's, 1974) was catalogued as Fine-VF.
Die State IV: Bolender-31a. Now with extensive die cracks on reverse. Heavy crack from border down through right side of 0 to cloud; another crack from border to top of F to wing, down to cloud below, from border at right wing tip through A under MERICA across claw, stem, and tail; continuing under UNI, across bottom of TED, left wing tip, center of STA. Also four curved die cracks down from TES through stars. All seen are very weak above the eagle's head and at the corresponding obverse. The die could not have been used much longer than this die state. Slightly more plentiful than Die State II.
COLLECTING NOTES: 1798 BB-115 is known to the extent of about 175 to 300 coins, and is one of the more elusive issues of the year. Most are of Die State IV. Most are in lower grades. The auction listing for an Uncirculated piece is several decades old, and in the absence of contradictory information, I call it EF45 in the Condition Census.
It is a small wonder that even as many as 175 or so coins are known, considering that Haseltine in 1881 did not know of the variety. It was a rarity in M.H. Bolender's eyes, and in 1950 he estimated that no more than a dozen existed of each of the two die states of which he was aware. Since then, dozens more have been discovered.
Gross Specimen. AU-55. Country Store, Inc., New Brighton, MN, January 1983, sold to the following. Yolanda Gross Collection.
Hollinbeck-Kagin Specimen. AU-50. Hollinbeck-Kagin, June 1970: 617. "Struck from broken dies resulting in lower portion of collar of bust and opposite portion of reverse (top right star) not being fully struck up, near Uncirculated with lustre."
DeCoppet Specimen. EF-45. James Kelly, Andre DeCoppet Collection, 1955. "Choice EF, stars and clouds on reverse weakly struck."
Baldenhofer Specimen. EF-45. W.G. Baldenhofer to Stack's, Farish-Baldenhofer Sale, 1955. A.J Ostheimer, 3rd Collection. Superior Galleries, ANA Convention Sale, 1975:905. "Reverse die cracks. EF-45, lightly toned obverse, with a darker gray tone on the reverse. Reverse weakly struck up above eagle's head as usual. Minimal signs of handling, but well rubbed on the high spots. Not perfectly centered."
Ostheimer Specimen. EF-45. W. Earl Spies Collection. Lester Merkin, A. J Ostheimer, 3rd Collection, 1968:271. "EF-AU, mint lustre, obverse exceptionally sharply struck, reverse weak above eagle's head as always on the broken die states but elsewhere bold. Traces of old cleaning."
Higgins Specimen. EF-45. Bowers and Merena Galleries, Lloyd M. Higgins, M.D. Collection, 1988:2310. "EF-45 to AU-50. Pink, lilac and golden toning highlights smooth gray surfaces. Most details are well defined, and original mint lustre is present in the upper right field of the reverse."
Willasch Specimen. EF-45. Superior Galleries, H. Roland Willasch Collection, 1990. "Glossy with golden toning gracing clean devices and fields. A minor planchet flaw across star 12 will assist in tracing the pedigree of this rare coin. Faint scratches are visible above eagle's head."
Gilhousen Specimen. EF-40. Superior Galleries, Gilhousen Collection, 1973:1245. "Extremely rare shattered die. EF, the reverse seemingly VF but its weakness is definitely from die failure. Unusually broad border. Mint lustre and iridescent toning. Bolender plate coin."
Willasch Specimen. EF-40. Superior Galleries, H. Roland Willasch Collection, 1990:514. "Medium gray toning with hints of lustre in the fields peeking out. Well struck and defect-free. This scarce die pairing coupled with the familiar obverse die with the three die cracks through the date with a new reverse die, which quickly cracked. The reverse cracks weaken the upper stars and cloud above the eagle. Late die state with several cracks mentioned by Bolender."
Wayne Miller Collection
Dr. Hesselgesser Collection - Goldbergs 9/5/2011:5056, $8,625
Dr. Hesselgesser Collection
Dr. Hesselgesser Collection - Goldbergs 9/5/2011:5057, $7,475