Sunday, July 17, 2011

JR Newsletter: 17 July 2011 (45)

Richard Meaney wrote:

The JRCS will auction one set of John Reich Journals, complete from volume one through volume twenty, at the JRCS annual meeting in Chicago.  The set includes an original volume one/issue one...not a photocopy as is typically found nowadays!  The funds from the auction will go to the JRCS treasury.  The JRCS annual meeting will be on Wednesday, August 17th in room six of the Stephens Convention Center from 8:00 to 9:30 AM.. 

I will present the educational session at the JRCS annual meeting.  The topic will be "Half Dime Remarriages and Cuds."  I will have plenty of full-color photographs, including photos of some of the rarer remarriages and cuds in the capped bust half dime series.

Jim Matthews wrote:

In the blizzard of great coins that wended their way to Stack's-Bowers for the ANA Auction one piece really caught my eye. From an old consignment there was an 1836 half dollar with a Lettered Edge in Proof-64 (NGC). After 40 straight days of cataloging and still running late, of course the very last week of writing deadlines, and the most intense pressure to get finished is when all the weird animals appear at the campsite and need immediate attention. Well first off, 1836 Lettered Edge half dollars in Proof are certainly not common—although Steve Herrman reports four different die pairings were used to make these proofs. How bizarre is that? There's probably something like 10-15 proofs known and Engraver William Kneass managed to polish up a whole bunch of dies and strike just one or half a dozen at a time. In passing I asked John Pack which variety the 1836 Proof half dollar was. He said it's an O-106. I stood up, went over to my heavily notated Overton book and went OMG--let me see that coin! Of course, as nature would have things, it was certified in a 15 year old NGC holder with no possibility of seeing the edge. At that point a lot of the finer nuances were not noted on the slab inserts. This one said "1836 Proof, Lettered Edge" I knew that the O-106 reverse die was used to coin ALL the Crushed Lettered Edge Proofs of 1833, 1834, 1835 and 1836! So—here's an 1836 O-106 in Proof, it has to be the long missing Crushed Lettered Edge from the Davis-Graves Auction, Stack's , April 8-9, 1954, Lot 533. No other 1836 O-106 Proof half dollars are reported to exist.

You have to understand, the O-106 reverse is the only Capped Bust half dollar die with a sunken lip around the edge engraved by Kneass—all other obverse and reverse dies have long tooth-like dentils that extend to the very edge, on this solitary die, Kneass was bridging the current technology and experimenting with a closed collar, in this case a fixed metal ring in which the planchets would be inserted, then struck, the closed collar would force the metal flow up into the sunken lip on the die to make a solid circular edge to the coin, greatly extending the circulating life of the coin. After striking the coin would be squished into this closed collar and the lower die would rise up slightly, pushing the coin out of the collar and another planchet would be inserted. In the late 1820s Kneass accomplished this same mechanism on the smaller coining press, with raised lips appearing on struck coins of Dimes in 1828, half dimes in 1829, quarters 1831, quarter eagles and half eagles in 1829. The larger coins had to wait.

As a numismatic cataloger, I see a lot of coins. Rarely do I have much of a chance to study these as the looming deadline precludes more than a cursory identification of where any problems are, the strike and surface qualities. But this coin got me going, I had written about the long missing 1836 O-106 half dollar in proof with the Crushed Lettered Edge in the George "Buddy" Byers Collection in 2006. As luck would have it, there is only one recorded appearance of this experimental coin by Kneass, it last knowingly crossed the auction block in 1954. At the time that coin realized $60, an immense sum for a Proof half dollar of that era. The description in the Davis-Graves sale states: "1836 Lettered Edge. Small Stars, the edges are squared and almost obliterate the lettering. Brilliant Proof." Of course this auction was years before the Overton reference came out so no further information was available when the coin was cataloged. Enticingly it was not plated either.

As luck would have it, this all happened on a Friday, a day when we can't ship coins out with  the weekend pending. So it would have to wait until Monday to get back to NGC where Rick Montgomery and David Lange could take it out of their holder and put it in an edgeview holder so edge could be viewed. I was virtually certain this would be the long missing 1836 O-106 Proof with the Crushed Lettered Edge. It had the right dies, exact weak strike of the other Crushed Lettered Edge Proofs of 1833, 34, and 35--and the result had to wait until Tuesday. Finally we talked with Rick Montgomery and after examining the coin they stated it was a normal lettered edge! What--here's yet another bizarre coin animal that makes no sense! Why would Kneass make a specific die to roll out his closed collar and then make a regular LLettered Edge Proof with it? There are all sorts of minute die characteristics noted in the catalog that left for future reference. Under normal circumstances all Capped Bust half dollars had their edges lettered prior to striking, when they were struck their edges were allowed to expand outward between the dies, hence the distended lettering so commonly seen. Employing a closed collar would not allow for any edge lettering device as it would be crushed in a collar when the coin was struck. Only vertical reeding can be imparted by the collar to allow for the coin to be ejected, unless the collar is segmented and can be opened and then closed for striking. The Crushed Lettered Edge proof half dollars were all struck in 1836 using the same reverse die that struck this particular coin. It undoubtedly was the first coin struck with the die, to test new lipped reverse by Kneass, and likely the closed collar was then installed to the old coining press—perhaps even the new steam press, and the Crushed Lettered Edge restrikes (new obverse dies engraved) to coin a handful of 1833, 1834 and 1835 half dollars along with the one missing 1836—struck from these very same dies.

So the mystery 1836 Crushed Lettered Edge coin remains at large, lurking in some advanced collection awaiting discovery.