Introduction To Capped Bust Half Dollars
John Matthias Reich, a talented engraver from Germany, had done commission work for the Mint since the turn of the 19th century. In 1807 he was hired as an assistant engraver to Robert Scot, who had been at the Mint since its inception.
Reich was charged with redesigning the circulating coinage. In 1807 this began with his portrait of Miss Liberty with a loose cloth mob cap, a motif designated as the Capped Bust design by numismatists. This was used in 1807 on the half dollar and half eagle, the largest silver and gold denominations currently being struck.
At the time the production of different denominations depended on those requested by depositors of silver and gold. Accordingly, not all values were made each year. The larger denominations were easier to count and handle, and more of these were made. It was not until years later in 1829 that the first Capped Bust half dimes were made. In the meantime the design was first used on dimes in 1809, quarters in 1815, and quarter eagles in 1807.
Years later, half dollars came to the fore in numismatic circles. The Capped Bust coins were minted in large quantities continuously until 1836, with the solitary exception of 1816 (a year in which only copper cents were made). The half dollars were widely used as reserves in the vaults of state-chartered banks, especially after 1820 when the international price of gold bullion rose to the point that it cost a few cents more than $5 to made a half eagle, and those became used only as bullion coins, nearly all for export.
With large numbers of half dollars available to collectors and dealers, many set about collecting them by dates and overdates, although in 1881 the Type Table published by John W. Haseltine described die varieties by minute differences. This was not widely used. In 1929 M.L. Beistle published A Register of Half Dollar Die Varieties and Sub-Varieties. Being a description of each die variety used in the coinage of United States Half Dollars, which went on to serve as the standard reference in the series for many years. By the 1950s and early 1960s several dozen specialists sought varieties by Beistle numbers. The shortcomings of that text were realized, and several collectors set about revising it, John Cobb and Al C. Overton prominent among them. Cobb, a prominent California dealer and auctioneer, bought Capped Bust half dollars in quantities (including over 100 of the 1815/2), corresponded widely, and was set to publish a book. Quietly and unknown to many in the trade, Pueblo, Colorado dealer Al C. Overton, who had served as president of the Professional Numismatists Guild, had been doing his own revision of Beistle.
Surprise! In 1967, he published Early Half Dollar Die Varieties 1794-1836. The book was an instant best seller as collectors and dealers recognized that there could be valuable varieties hidden in their collections and inventories. John Cobb, resigned to the situation, wholesaled his holdings. Interest was further engendered by the Bust Half Nut Club, which limited its membership to collectors, excluded dealers, and issued secret lists of the rarity of certain varieties. In the 1980s the John Reich Collectors Society (JRCS) was formed, further expanding interest in the series.
Today in 2017 Capped Bust half dollars are the second most popular series, after copper cents, to collect by die varieties. The Holy Grail is the 1817/4, the story of which is told in our description. The Pogue coins in Part 2 begin with the first year, 1807, and continue to 1822. Later issues 1823 to 1836, are a coming attraction.