Writing in the 1989 edition of his encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial proof coins, the late Walter Breen accounts for four die marriages of the proof 1836 Lettered Edge Capped Bust Half Dollar. Of the four varieties, two are of perhaps the greatest interest to advanced Bust Half Dollar enthusiasts: the 1836/1336 O-108, a proof example of which is also being highlighted in this sale; and the 50/00 O-116 blundered reverse, a proof example of which is being offered in this lot.
All proof 1836 Lettered Edge Half Dollars are rare coins regardless of individual die marriage. This is in keeping with the rarity of pre-1858 United States Mint proof coins as a group, such pieces having been produced in very limited numbers, mostly for presentation or similar special purposes. In the specific case of the proof 1836 Lettered Edge Half, a small number of coins appear to have been requested at various different times during the year, explaining the existence of several different die marriages. Obviously Mint employees, when tasked with striking a few proof Half Dollars of this date, simply grabbed whatever dies came most readily to hand, prepared them for proof coinage and delivered the small number of specimens requested.
Our research indicates that there are no more than 15-20 proof 1836 Lettered Edge Half Dollars extant of all die marriages. The proof O-116 50/00 variety being showcased in this lot is an important rarity with only six specimens positively known to exist:
1. NGC Proof-67: Ex: The George H. Earle Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1912), lot 2957; John H. Clapp; Clapp estate (1942); Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; The Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection (Bowers and Merena, 4/1997), lot 1906; Salt Lake City ANA Sale (Superior, 3/2001), lot 284; Milwaukee Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 8/2007), lot 688.
2. PCGS Proof-65. Ex: The Northern Bay Collection (Stack's, 5/2006), lot 4323; Dallas Signature Coin Auction (Heritage, 10/2006), lot 1155. This coin is certified with coin #6221, which is now used to denote the proof 1836 Lettered Edge Half Dollar as an issue and not the specific 50/00 variety, although the 50/00 attribution is also denoted on the coin's insert.
3. PCGS Proof-64. Ex: S.W. Freeman Sale (Kreisberg-Schulman, 5/1958), lot 1655; Empire Coin Company; Lester Merkin's sale of September 1967, lot 256; The Hoagy Carmichael and Wayne Miller Collections (Superior, 2/1986), lot 2414; Baltimore '93 Auction (Superior, 7/1993), lot 415; ANA Sale (Heritage, 7/1997), lot 6353; The Hain Family Collection (Stack's, 1/2002), lot 1433; The George "Buddy" Byers Collection of U.S. Half Dollars (Stack's, 10/2006), lot 1092. The present example, and also the plate coin for the proof 1836 Lettered Edge Half Dollar as an issue in the 1989 book Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins: 1722-1989.
4. PCGS Proof-63. Ex: New Netherlands #45 (4/1955), lot 795; R. J. Lathrop; Elliot Landau; New Netherlands #52 (12/1958), lot 565; The Pennsylvania Cabinet (Bowers and Merena, 1/1999), lot 1136. This coin also seems to be certified in a holder with coin #6221 on the insert.
5. "Brilliant Gem Proof." Ex: The Reed Hawn Collection (Stack's, 8/1973), lot 115; The Dr. George F. Oviedo, Jr. Collection of U.S. Half Dollars (Stack's, 9/1985), lot 825; The Spring Quartette Sale (Bowers and Merena, 3/1992), lot 2563.
6. "Proof-60 to 63." Ex: R. Coulton Davis; John W. Haseltine; New Netherlands (8/1954); The Norweb Collection (Bowers and Merena, 11/1988), lot 3115.
A seventh possible proof 1836 O-116 Half Dollar is the impaired specimen that Walter Breen owned circa 1956, although the provenance and whereabouts of that piece are unknown.
The coin that we are offiering in this lot represents an important bidding opportunity for the advanced proof Half Dollar collector, indeed every bit as important as our offering of the proof 1836/1336 O-108 in the preceding lot. This piece is lightly patinated in a blend of pale-silver and iridescent olive-apricot toning, the latter color increasing dramatically in vividness and vibrancy as the coin dips into a light. The strike is impressive for a proof Half Dollar of this die marriage, a couple of examples of which are a bit softly defined in isolated areas (for example, the Pennsylvania Cabinet and Hawn-Oviedo specimens listed above). On this piece, the detail is razor sharp throughout with the denticles crisp and the devices more-or-less full apart from extremely minor lack of detail confined to star 6 on the obverse and the top of the digit 5 in the denomination on the reverse. A uniformly mirrored finish shines forth powerfully as the coin rotates under a light, and a few wispy hairlines are easily overlooked. There are few readily evident pedigree markers, although a minuscule toning spot at the reverse border near the upper-left corner of the first letter S in STATES did help us when plate matching this coin to earlier auction appearances. Of the utmost rarity and desirability, and eagerly awaiting inclusion in the finest specialized cabinet.
The O-116 die marriage is attributable by repunching on star 12 on the obverse and, of course, the readily evident reverse blunder with the digit 5 in the denomination punched over a misplaced 0. Remnants of the underdigit are clearly evident to the left of the 5. This die marriage was later used to strike what must have been a large number of business strikes, examples of which are readily obtainable in the context of the Capped Bust Half Dollar series. The proofs, of course, are very rare and seldom encountered.
PCGS Population: just 1 in all grades with coin #6228 on the insert.
Ex: S.W. Freeman Sale (Kreisberg-Schulman, 5/1958), lot 1655; Empire Coin Company; Lester Merkin's sale of September 1967, lot 256; The Hoagy Carmichael and Wayne Miller Collections (Superior, 2/1986), lot 2414; Baltimore '93 Auction (Superior, 7/1993), lot 415; ANA Sale (Heritage, 7/1997), lot 6353; The Hain Family Collection (Stack's, 1/2002), lot 1433; and The George "Buddy" Byers Collection of U.S. Half Dollars (Stack's, 10/2006), lot 1092. This piece is the plate coin for the proof 1836 Lettered Edge Half Dollar as an issue in the 1989 book Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins: 1722-1989.