This remarkable error coin took flight after a summer intern named Will Robins discovered an even more amazing numismatic curiosity while sorting through file folders at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City in 2008. Prominent error coin specialist Fred Weinberg collaborated with Professional Coin Grading Service in 2009 and determined that the Nevada State Museum specimen is an 1873-CC With Arrows half dollar broadstrike, with a brockage obverse and a cupped reverse. This led to the examination of the piece featured here, which prior to the discovery of the Nevada State Museum brockage half dollar had not been designated as a Carson City Mint product. However, when the experts viewed it side by side with the Museum specimen, they concluded that it had been struck in sequence with the Museum piece, possibly right after it or at most within two stampings of it.
Something chaotic obviously happened during the production of these odd-looking half dollars at the Carson City Mint. The coining department at that plant had a solitary press employed at the time. It was the original press installed at the Nevada facility in 1869, and the one that workers used to stamp all of the coins since the mint had started production in February 1870 (by the mid 1870s, the government put two more presses into service). The utilization of new dies (for the With Arrows coins and the trade dollars introduced in spring 1873), and increased production challenged the Carson City Mint's coining department as never before. Additionally, an unexpected change in the position of chief coiner took place midway through the year.
Error coin experts tell us that for brockages, broadstrikes and cupped surfaces to occur on examples such as the 1873-CC half dollar seen here, a combination of mishaps were required. The "mirror" brockage or "full" brockage seen on the spectacular half dollar in this auction happened when the coin stuck to the upper (or hammer) die and then received multiple blows from the Carson City Mint's coin press, with the first coin (the Museum specimen) capped to the lower (or anvil) die. The design on the side facing the front of the PCGS holder is the result of the first coin's obverse colliding into it, and thus appears backwards. The coin's other side is cupped, similar to a bottle cap, and shows nearly full details of the seated Liberty motif, the stars surrounding her, the date and the arrows. The fact that both of these half dollars, struck sequentially, have cupped sides (the reverse on the Museum specimen and the obverse on the piece offered here) is incomprehensible.
Of further interest is the following clip from an article that appeared Carson City's Daily Appeal on June 19, 1873:
"Yesterday and the day before, the coiner of the Mint was busily at work coining half dollar pieces to the extent of several thousand dollars [6,000 pieces]. A breakage in some of the machinery used in the coining process suspended operations."
The reporter further stated that the mint's master machinist, George Fleming, would repair the press and coinage would resume subsequently. He did not mention if any of the half dollars produced during the two-day malfunction in the system looked disfigured, but given the existence of the brockage-capped die pieces, we can make reasonable assumptions.
The rare item offered here is unique in its mirror brockage appearance, its cupped obverse side, and now, its identification as a Carson City Mint-made coin. Its surfaces show signs of circulation, with a blend of steel gray, mauve and turquoise toning. The brockage side, because of the multiple strikings it received, displays weaker details, although all of the devices are plainly visible. The cupped side possesses all of the characteristics of the Extremely Fine condition rating. A couple of small rim dings are noted.
Error coin experts agree that full brockage coins from the 19th century with cupped sides that show full detail are among the most desirable of all specimens. Combine this notion with the fascinating story involving the Carson City Mint and here, indeed, is an extraordinary collectible to contemplate.
Numismatic Reflections by Q. David Bowers
I will add my thanks to Rusty as well, a fine gentleman, fine friend, and the very definition of a successful professional numismatist donating part of his life to research and writing to help expand the hobby. Thank you, Rusty.
Ex: Henry Hilgard. Struck in sequence with coin #1, which is part of the Nevada State Museum Collection in the Carson City Mint. Special thanks to Rusty Goe for his guest cataloging of this lot.