An incredible and recent discovery of this formidable rarity that easily merits its assignment as the second finest known of the variety by four grade points. This die pairing was discovered back in 1952 by Roger S. Cohen, Jr., with the ensuing 60 years turning up nine of these including this example. Given the modest number of 1808/7 half cents known, it is unlikely that many more will be found unless they are discovered in non numismatic hands, as was the current example. The Condition Census of this variety, as noted in the 20th Edition of Copper Quotes By Robinson (April 30, 2011) records the following examples: 30, 12 (this new specimen not yet listed of course), 8, 5, 5, 4, 3, 2. This new discovery was seen by many specialists at the recent Early American Coppers and John Reich Collectors Society Convention in Buffalo, New York, and the EAC grade from Bill Noyes is Fine-12.
Most of the known examples of the C-1 variety are not only worn, but are found with the usual problems attendant to early copper, with surface pitting or corrosion, spots or outright damage. The surfaces of this new discovery coin are outstanding for this variety, with satin smooth copper and no traces of corrosion or dark olive surfaces. Handling marks are average to light, with no heavy or detracting circulation marks present. For identification there is a small nick on Liberty's neck a bit below her jaw and a shallow nick on the lower right ribbon bow of the reverse. Trace pin scratches, shallow nicks and edge marks are present but so minimal as to not warrant attention. In presentation, this early half cent would be perfectly suitable for the grade to any advanced specialist even if it was a common variety.
Twenty years ago when this cataloger (Jim Matthews) was writing the auction catalog for the Roger S. Cohen, Jr., Collection (Superior, February 2, 1992) the discovery specimen of this variety was last auctioned, that piece grading Good-4 with some pitting realized $18,150. Incredibly Roger acquired a second example of this variety that was also sold in his auction grading Fair-2 with pitting and corrosion that realized $11,550, and this is the sole early die state example known of this variety. That second example later appeared in Superior's Auction of the J. R. Frankenfeld Collection, February 17, 2001 as lot 108. There have been a couple of private treaty examples of the 1808/7 Cohen-1 variety sold in the last few decades, but no other auction appearances of this prized variety have occured, leaving specialists frustrated with so few opportunities to complete their collections. Now at least one more collector will have a chance to obtain the rarest die pairing in the entire Half cent series (aside from the edge lettering subvarieties of the Capped Bust design). A good comparison coin is the famed 1795 Sheldon-79 Large cent where a dozen or so are now known, with many copper specialists needing just that single variety to complete their collections, but so few have turned up and they are usually prohibitively expensive when they do appear. Holding the title of the rarest variety of the half cent series keeps demand solid and prices seem to escalate with each auction appearance. This is more than evident in recent years of prices for the famed 1796 No Pole C-1 half cent and our recent auction of the 1797 Gripped Edge variety Half Cents, which broke into open fields running to much higher price levels than ever seen before when they crossed the auction block.
An indentured servant named John Reich with considerable talent and a reputation as one of the finest die engravers in the world came to America from Germany in 1801 as a refugee to escape war in his homeland. After years of trying to get on board with the Philadelphia Mint and finally threatening to return to his German home in early 1807, the new Mint Director Robert Patterson wrote to President Thomas Jefferson that Reich should be hired as an Assistant Engraver for the Mint as the long standing current Mint Engraver, Robert Scot was in ill health and suffered from advancing age. Jefferson approved the nomination of Reich as Assistant Engraver on April 1, 1807 for the sum of $600 per year. Reich's specific assignment was to improve upon the designs of Robert Scot then in circulation on all denominations of coinage (recent research credits the Heraldic Eagle designs to engraver John Smith Gardner, but Scot took great pains to replace all of the Gardner heraldic eagle hubs created in 1796 to make new hubs from of his own hand to replace the Gardner hubs as soon as Scot could accomplish this task). Scot wanted all coinage to reflect his workmanship, and did not want competition from anyone, especially someone as talented as John Reich. Powerful forces were at work, and the desire of Mint Director Patterson could not be ignored, thus Reich set to task to change the designs on coinage of the most important denominations first, the half dollar and half eagle, both representing the backbones of our coinage in circulation. Scot's Draped Bust design had been adapted on all coinage from half cents through silver dollars by 1807, and these represent the final appearance of this now classic design, save for one denomination, the Draped Bust half cent which continued to use the Draped Bust design in 1808.
Reich's new designs entered circulation on the Capped Bust half dollars and Capped Bust half eagles in September 1807, and these were well received by the Mint officials and the public. Reich began working on the dies for the Classic Head large cent, and these were launched in 1808. The new designs for the half cent were not as pressing, and new hubs were ready for the Classic Head half cent in 1809 by Reich. Why were these 1808 half cents struck? The Mint had plenty of half cents on hand in stockpiles at the end of 1807, and research by Robert W. Julian confirms that demand was slight for the denomination. Furthermore, only two obverse dies were used to coin these 1808 half cents, both anomalies. The first is the overdate obverse, used to coin this rarity. Apparently this obverse die was prepared for coinage in 1807, but not needed as another existing 1807 obverse die outlasted the production needs that year, so this unused 1807 obverse die languished. When 1808 rolled around, the common practice of overdating the die took place, creating the 8/7 die. The second obverse used in 1808 was probably a leftover die of the Draped Bust design that was ready for service but did not have the final digit punched in for the date. As the 8 punch was not located, the engraver (likely Robert Scot hastening to use all existing dies before his designs were replaced) came up with the solution of employing the tiny 0 punch used in the fraction of the reverse dies, and created an 8 by stacking them together to fill in the missing digit. Thus the second 8 is ungainly, large and too tall, especially when compared with the first 8 engraved using an 8 punch when the die was first hubbed and completed, other than this final digit. Thus 1808 Draped Bust half cents were struck. Were these simply Mint economy of using up existing dies even though their style was outdated, or was this a parting shot by Robert Scot to keep his designs in circulation just a little bit longer?
What is quite evident is this, the early coining presses were worn from use by 1808. The huge production demands of coinage kept pounding the die steel into shattered fragments even under the best of times. One of the recurring problems that is relevant to the story here is a misaligned die situation. In this case, the reverse was not on parallel plane with the obverse die, having been mounted slightly askew in the coining press when that die was set. Therefore, coins struck from misaligned dies in this manner are bold on part of the struck coin, quite weak in the area opposite where the dies are set furthest apart. This affects both the obverse and reverse strikes, but is most prominent on the reverse in this case as that was the die that was misaligned in the coining press. As coins were struck the excessive pressure is not evenly applied to the die surface, and cracks and shattering rapidly occur, accounting for the rarity of this die pairing. Notice the heavy die cracks along the tops ITED and STATES, with the dentils becoming a late retained cud between those words as pieces of the die were being pushed up with each successive strike. The single early die state example known shows only the crack at the top of STATES, but also shows the misaligned die strike with bold reverse definition on the left, weaker definition on the right. With the survival rate of a few percent of the coins struck during this era, it is likely that just a few hundred were struck before the reverse die formed larger edge cuds and was replaced, with the overdated obverse die continuing to create the Cohen-2 variety with this new reverse replacement die (similar in technical appearance to the other reverse used in 1807 for half cents, and likely a leftover as well from that year). Still later, while striking the C-2 variety the overdate obverse failed with an edge cud or break chipping part of the die away over TY forcing its replacement, and at this point the blundered tall second 8 obverse was pressed into coinage, creating the Cohen-3 variety for the year with this same reverse die used on the C-2 variety. These Little Half Sisters represent the last of the Draped Bust coinage by Robert Scot, although he continued working at the Mint for several more years until his death.
Numismatic Reflections by Q. David Bowers
After reading the above description by staff expert Jim Matthews I can only say, "Wow!" I now know more about this variety than ever. One nice thing about extended descriptions in catalogs is that a handful of dedicated experts probably know much of this information, though not all, but the vast number of people in our worldwide bidding audience do not. Essays such as this create interest not only in the variety being offered but in half cents and early die varieties in general.