One of the most coveted rarities of the entire Seated half dollar series, the rarity of the 1849 repunched date is legendary. Scores of collectors have searched for years to find an example through the art of cherrypicking only to come up dry. Unlike the similarly dramatic 1844-O, 1845-O or 1846 lazy 6 repunching blunders that can be had for a price, the 1849 repunched date is a coin that only appears when great collections are sold. Considered a Rarity-6 (19 to 24 known) by noted authorities Randy Wiley and Bill Bugert this variety has earned its place as one of the keys to the major variety collection of Seated half dollars. Not only is the entire four digit date repunched to the east, but there are two other features of repunching in the date, one shows the 9 just below the rocky base between the 49, the other shows the top of the 9 in the dentils below the date. A spur is found on one of the dentils below the 9, seen on all examples that may have formed a crack later on the obverse die. Light die cracks to the top of U(NITED) and STA(TES) MER(ICA) and (HA)L, and heavy die file lines are noted in all three corners with vertical shield lines. None of these features are advanced, and these give no indication as to why this obverse die was retired.
Reasonably well struck with a few of the right hand stars lacking full radials, on the reverse the left talon is a bit soft, but all other devices are sharp. Toned with deep bluish-russet and rose covering the obverse while the reverse is lighter gold with blue at the periphery. Clean surfaces and close to the gem level technically. Identifiable by a single nick in the field just below the stem. Long known as the Finest Known of this famous variety, it stands at pinnacle of preservation for this issue. One other example is reported in mint state, that an MS-62 in NGC's Census. Two others are noted there, one as EF-45, the other as VF. No doubt a few other circulated examples are held in specialized collections at various levels of preservation, but precious few indeed.
The is no particular evidence to explain the great rarity of this issue, such as heavy die cracks, clashing or limited mintage for the year. Perhaps the political in fighting within the Philadelphia Mint is to blame for the rarity. In Walter Breen's Encyclopedia he postulates the following scenario. After Christian Gobrecht died in July 1844 the Mint authorities wanted no one to succeed him, and would rather work with friendly outsiders like Charles Cushing Wright who posed no threat to the lucrative medal business being operated by the Chief Coiner Franklin Peale. Unfortunately for them, James Barton Longacre used his political connections with Senator John C. Calhoun to obtain the Mint Engraver position. Longacre was an outsider to the Mint, which had already long established as being run by Eckfeldts, Pattersons, Peales and DuBois families for 50 years. Owing to mechanical improvements by Kneass, Gobrecht and Peale, manufacture of working dies was totally mechanized so an Engraver would only be needed if new denominations or designs were ordered. Longacre's duties of 1844-49 consisted largely of punching in dates and mintmarks into otherwise completed working dies. Breen believes Longacre deliberately blundered and created numerous comically blundered dates from this period of time—on copper, silver and gold coins! Robert Julian counters that he believes these blunders were caused by the other workers at the Mint looking to make Longacre (their supervisor) look bad and give reason for his ouster. The truth may never be known, but what is known is that this period created several of the most desirable mint blunders or repunchings of that century. Mint Director Robert Patterson offered his friend Charles Cushing Wright the Mint Engravership on Christmas Day in 1849, Wright accepted, but Longacre discovered this and went to Calhoun who outranked Patterson so Longacre stayed at his post. Blundered repunchings continue to appear as the conflicts continued, and Longacre held the Mint Engravership until 1869 when he died, outlasting most of his detractors at the Mint.
NGC Census: 1; none finer of only 4 reported certified for this variety.
From the Dick Osburn Collection.