One of the great rarities of early American coinage, the second finest of just four recognized specimens. Somewhat brassy light brown, smooth where appropriately struck. The obverse reads M. BA ... RA, with the central denomination of 1/2 and a three-digit date of 817. The monogram left of the date appears to be AED, though it is identified as AD (i.e. anno domini) in the Bevill-Stern article in the May 2011 issue of The Numismatist. The obverse die has cracked on a wandering diagonal from the D portion of that monogram to the base of digit 1 in the denomination, up on an arc and to the rim near 3 o'clock, swelling the right obverse field of the coin and removing peripheral detail in that area. The reverse design appears to consist of a six-pointed star, plainly visible, if not well defined. The rest of the reverse is rough, as struck, a result of planchet texture. It cannot be discerned if any other design was present on the reverse die. Two light parallel scratches are noted on the right side of the obverse, but the eye appeal is superb for this extremely crudely made rarity. The other known pieces, graded VF-35 (PCGS), Fine-12 (PCGS), and VF Details (PCGS), are all dark and show significant ground patina. This is the only "pretty" example known.
This issue has burst onto the scene with some rapidity, long known from documentary evidence but never properly identified in the metal. Three have sold so far: the piece in our August 2012 ANA sale, certified as Fine-12 (PCGS), brought $48,875. Heritage sold two in their August 2011 sale, one graded VF-20 (PCGS) at $25,850 and another graded VF Details (PCGS) at $52,875. The two Heritage coins and our 2012 ANA coin were struck from the same obverse die, with a four digit 1817 date and a legend that begins with the letter R; the Heritage cataloger identified this as R. Garza, while the Bevill-Stern article was more circumspect, simply identifying the letters R and A on their Figure 1 and Figure 2. The two coins Bevill and Stern illustrated were found at San Juan Batista, Texas at Mission San Bernardo in the mid 1960s by metal detector; both of the recovered coins were from the same obverse die as the two Heritage coins and our 2012 ANA coin. The present coin is the only example known from this obverse die, clearly cut by the same hand but with an abbreviated 817 date and a legend that plainly reads M. BA [...] RA, consistent with the minter hired by the Texas government by the decree of March 29, 1817: Don Manuel Barrera. This coin was illustrated by Bevill and Stern as Figure 4 and noted that it, "begins to bring the pieces of the puzzle into focus." A final known specimen, making seven in all, from three different obverse dies, was recovered archaeologically at the Presidio La Bahia near Goliad, Texas. That coin, illustrated by Bevill and Stern as Figure 3, also appears to include BARR in its obverse die. The amorphous reverse die of all seven coins appears the same, or at least similar.
Among those known, this piece is both the sharpest and the smoothest. It is tied for finest certified by PCGS, though the other VF-20 is dark and granular. It is unique as a die variety, and is the only specimen in private hands with a clear reference to Manuel Barrera. For those properly fascinated by the numismatic legacy of Texas, this coin stands as a landmark.