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The Allure of Collecting Bust Half Dollars

Owner of Eastern Woods II PCGS Registry Set

1807 50c Large Stars 50/20 PCGS AU58. This coin is part of the Eastern Woods II Bust Halves PCGS Registry Set. See link below to view the entire collection.

Let’s start at the beginning, enter Johann M. Reich and his design of the first Capped Bust Half Dollar of 1807. Reich is hired by Mint Director, Robert Patterson, on March 25, 1807, and given an appointment as assistant engraver to which President Jefferson cordially consented.

Between 1807 and 1836 approximately 82 million Capped Bust Half Dollars were struck. Only about 2% of the original mintage survives today. That is about 1.6 million coins, OUCH!

How can this be possible you ask? There is an easy explanation; first melting. Why? Certainly, some coins were lost, and some were damaged, but the vast majority of the coins were melted at various times during the 19th century. There were three major causes for these melts:

  1. Because of the difference in monetary systems, millions upon millions of Bust coins were shipped to Europe (particularly England), immediately or shortly after being struck, where exporters could realize a profit over the face value of the coins. The coins were then melted for their silver content.
  2. By 1836, the silver content in silver coins struck before this date was also worth more than the face value of the coins. As such, millions more were melted in this country.
  3. Finally, to meet the ever-increasing demands of silversmiths in this country and abroad Millions more early silver coins were melted.

The 1815/2 Half Dollar has an interesting twist, during the melts this date was considered "rare" and thus were held out and eventually found their way into the "new world of coin collecting" into the mid-19th century.

Today, you can almost always find one at a major coin show. We always "joke" about how we may have seen – 55,000 of these through the years (only 47,150 were minted). Wise collectors know it is not a rare coin, but very hard to find in original condition as the mini-hoard was abusively cleaned.

When one evaluates the available pool of about 1.6 million coins, it is easy to that the vast majority will never grade at the services as they have been cleaned, artificially toned, scratched defaced, etc. Today at PCGS, for example, the total graded pieces amount to little over 67,000 pieces. Many coins have been counted two and three times due to resubmissions. I’ve estimated the actual total number to be closer to 45,000 or less. Nice original coins can be a major challenge to acquire. We always welcome your comments and hope you enjoyed reading this report.

Here is a link to the Eastern Woods II Bust Half Dollars Registry Set.

Contact: apar

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History Early Half Dollars (1794-1839)