Amazing quality to represent this prized rarity, as just a handful are known in Mint State condition which are seldom available for collectors. The color is satin smooth medium brown on the obverse and reverse with a few traces of lighter golden-tan in areas, with no detracting specks or spots. Examination of the surfaces notes tiny flakes missing from the edge of the planchet, as part of the rolling and striking process did not quite eliminate these natural features common to copper flans of the decade. The strike is sharp on Liberty's curls and cap, along with the wreath leaves and lettering, even the dentils are well defined in most areas.
In 1796 there were two die pairings used to coin these, the first obverse die split in two horizontally, probably during the annealing process, and was used to strike a very limited number of coins, these are the famed No Pole 1796 half cent issues. A new obverse die was introduced with the pole above the truncation of Liberty, and this die pairing produced the present coin. All survivors are considered rare and desirable, and although a handful of Mint State pieces are known, demand has exceeded supply for many years. Not only is the a highly desirable date of 1796, but the rarity of this issue has long been known, with date collectors fighting over the few that turn up, along with die variety specialists and other collectors who just want something really rare and unusual. The distinctive variation between the two varieties adds to the mystic, one without the pole, the other with the pole, makes attribution downright simple. A formidable example of the 1796 With Pole half cent that any collector will long cherish.
Numismatic Reflections by Q. David Bowers
The 1796 half cent has been an honored rarity ever since numismatics became widely popular in the 1850s. Since then the appearance of a 1796, With Pole as here, or Without Pole, has been a special occasion and in our own generation a very special happening.
There is much to read about 1796 half cents in the literature. Although the pedigree of this specimen is not known, the chances are fairly good that it was among the early American copper coins found in English cabinets by American dealers and collectors who visited there in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Chapman brothers, Henry Miller, and others routinely went to England to buy American coins. In the 1790s there was little domestic interest in numismatics, and the survival of a 1796 half cent or any other coin was a matter of rare chance. On the other hand, in England numismatics was dynamic, copper coins in particular were in great demand (epitomized by the countless tokens struck for collectors and connoisseurs), and federal American coins were sought. After all, the United States had been a British colony just a short time before.
When I first saw this coin in May of this year I became very excited and examined it closely, even doing a video clip on it. Today as I write these words my enthusiasm is still unbounded. Here indeed is a rarity for the ages.
PCGS Population: 1; none finer within designation.
From the Werner Family Collection of 1796 Coinage.