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 2: See description under 1797 BB-72. Latest state of the die; struck after BB-72.
Obverse die used to strike 1797 BB-72 (earlier) and BB-73 (later).
REVERSE C: Large Letters style. 8 berries in left branch. Leaf ends under center of upright of E in STATES. Lowest berry near ribbon bow is on inside of wreath. E of STATES lightly repunched. All of the A's in the legend show a curious defect at their upper left corners. A leaf points to the left corner of the I in UNITED, another leaf points to the left corner of the first T in STATES while another leaf points to the very end of the 0 in OF. Another leaf is positioned away from the R in AMERICA.
Note: Immediately after 1797 BB-73 Die State IV was coined, the reverse die was mated with a 1798 obverse and used to coin specimens of 1798 BB-82, Die State 1. The die cracks advanced slightly during the coinage. When coinage of 1798 BB-82 was completed, the dies were remated with this 1797 obverse, and additional specimens of 1797 BB-73 were struck, with the reverse being in the same state as used to coin 1798 BB-82. It is likely that all specimens of 1797 BB-73 were struck at the Mint in calendar year 1798.
Reverse die used to strike 1797 BB-73 and 1798 BB-82.
Die State I: Perfect dies (no cracks or clash marks). Obverse die with pellet-shaped raised die flaw in field below innermost point of star 9, and about 40% of the distance from the star point to the hair. Some die roughness, probably as made, between star 1 and date. Die file marks in front of neck, described under BB-72, are present however not as strong. Most plentiful die state.
Die State II: Obverse die has been lightly relapped, removing most of pellet flaw below star 9. No obverse or reverse cracks yet. A plentiful die state.
Die State III: Bolender-La. OBVERSE: A few delicate traces of arc-like clash marks are in the field before Miss Liberty’s face and are so subtle that only high-grade coins show them; these are from the curved palm leaves on the reverse. The die has developed hairline cracks as follows: From denticle upward to outermost point of star 4, continuing through a point of star 5 to ribbon; crack from ribbon downward through hair curl, hair, bottom curl, to border. Minute crack from denticle downward to star 5. Crack from denticle through two bottom points of star 7 to ribbon. From bottom of 97 of date through bust drapery to star 15, minutely continuing through the centers of stars 14 and 13. From denticle toward (but not touching) star 15. Stars on right develop distended points toward the denticles. REVERSE: No cracks.
Die State IV: Bolender-Ib. OBVERSE: As III. REVERSE:
Cracks as follows: Crack in the field from the border above the upper left of D to the border above upper right of first T in STATES. Irregular vertical crack between branch and side of eagle's right (observer's left) wing. Light crack connects denticle with upper part of second T in STATES and continues downward to branch.
Die State V: Bolender-Ic. Dies have clashed again. Now with severe clash marks in field front of Miss Liberty's face, especially from her nose to chin, and under ribbon behind head. Die cracks as IV, plus new cracks: From denticle through bottom of star 2 to hair; from 9th star downward to ribbon. Crack from denticle toward star 15 now touches star 15. REVERSE: Additional cracks as follows: Crack from left base of N in UNITED through leaf tip to connect with separate crack from right base Of I to branch. Crack from center of E through D continuing through S, curving upward to border through T. Crack connecting denticle with upper part of second T in STATES and continuing downward to branch is now much heavier from denticle to top of T. Crack from same T through ES to top most palm leaf. Crack from tops of OF through center of AM.
Note: Specimens of 1798 BB-82 were struck from a die state intermediate between IV and V (crick later from the center of E through D, etc., now only from E onward; no crack from left base of N in UNITED). Specimens were also struck from Die State V (most usual die state for 1798 BB-82).
Die State VI: Die cracks advanced further from Die State V.Gilhousen (Superior, 1973): 1225 may be this state, there called "Bolender-Ie," was described as "shattered and bulged;" ex Baldenhofer and Ostheimer collections.
AUCTION POPULATION SURVEY: Less than Good: 1, Good: 5, Very Good: 17, Fine: 47, Very Fine: 106, Extremely Fine: 52, About Uncirculated: 8, Mint State-60 or better: 10. Total: 246. Probably by today's standards, only a few (at best) of the 10 coins called Uncirculated in the past would be graded that high today; every one of these 10 citations dates before the 1986 "grading revolution."
COLLECTING NOTES: The 1797 BB-73 dollar is usually seen with broad borders, a feature particularly noticeable on the obverse, where the denticles are prominently featured, but also to an extent on the reverse. The reverse is usually not as well defined' as the obverse, due to the relatively low relief of the eagle motif. However, the breast feathers and other reverse details are usually excellent in higher grade specimens of earlier die states. Together with BB-71, the BB-73 is one of the two most available varieties Of the year; both BB-73 and BB-71 are much more plentiful than BB-72.
Over 1,000 1797 BB-73 dollars are believed to exist; I estimate the population to be from 1,300 to 2,100. This variety is the most plentiful of the year, beating 1797 BB-71 by a tiny margin. Most examples of BB-73 are in the VF category, although quite a few EF pieces are known, and come on the market frequently gains realistically graded AU are rare-more so than conventional wisdom allows. True Mint State pieces are exceedingly - dare I say "excessively” Rare. Although BB-71 is slightly scarcer than BB-73 in terms of all grades combined, in AU and Mint State, BB-71 is somewhat more available than BB-73.
Auction '83 Specimen. MS-63. Stack's, Auction '83,
1983: 720. "Uncirculated and choice. Frosty lustre with extraordinary beautiful russet and iridescent toning. Usually very poorly struck, this specimen exhibits nearly full breast feathers and excellent hair detail."
Newman Specimen. MS-60 Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society. Brilliant lustre with pale amber and green toning around the obverse periphery. Small burnished area on reverse below ribbon ends. Die State I.
Miles Specimen. MS-60 R.L. Miles, Jr. Collection .Stack's May 1974 Sale: 228. "Brilliant Uncirculated.
Stack's Spring Sale Specimen. MS-60+ Stack's Spring 1978: 716, MS-60+.
Bergen Specimen. MS-60. Herbert M. Bergen sale, Quality Sales, October 1979: 1346 .Auction '84, Paramount, 1984: 729. "Uncirculated-60. Lustrous surfaces, an exceptional strike and broad serrated borders. The obverse is frosty and the reverse is semi-prooflike with a few light planchet driftmarks. Light golden tone with some multicolored toning near the border."
Blauvelt Specimen. AU-58 Bowers and Ruddy, Harold Blauvelt Collection, 1977: 493. "Sharply struck and lustrous borderline Uncirculated."
Harte Specimen. AU-58 Bowers and Ruddy, Roy Harte Collection, 1977: 2784. "Borderline Uncirculated, small mark at top on the obverse. Quite lustrous."
Hollinbeck-Kagin Specimens. AU-55 January 1970: 780 "Virtually Uncirculated with only slight friction." Hollinbeck-Kagin. June 1970: 602. "Uncirculated golden." Hollinbeck-Kagin, August 1970: 1075. "Virtually Uncirculated, only barest friction, pinpoint nick." Hollinbeck Kagin, September 1972: 1229. "Nearly Uncirculated, traces of lustre." Tercentenary Sale, Part II, Kagin's, 1974: 606, Bolender-1b variety; "Nearly Uncirculated with superb golden patina, only slight friction." These may represent some duplicate listings.
Bullowa Specimen. AU-55. David M. Bullowa, sold to the following in 1953 .Norweb Collection, Bowers and Merena, 1988: 3750 was catalogued as AU-55 with bright, brilliant surfaces.