Bust Half Dollars- Talk given by Harvey Bastacky 4/12/12 @ Ft. Lauderdale Coin Club (2)



The capped bust half dollar 1807-1836 was designed by John Reich, a German immigrant who became an engraver for the US Mint after being freed from a bond of servitude by a mint official. His design of the head of Liberty facing left was used on all denominations of coins for the next 30 years.


The half dollar is composed of .8924 silver and .0176 copper and has the approximate diameter of 32.5 millimeters. These coins were struck in a loose collar to preserve the edge lettering. Edge lettering was put on these early coins before striking to prevent people from shaving off small amounts of silver from the coins. The edge lettering machine, called a Castaing machine, had one fixed bar die and one moveable bar die that imprinted FIFTY CENTS OR HALF A DOLLAR on the edge of each planchet. Many times, planchets were put into the machine for imprinting and the machine was not set properly. This resulted in edge errors with some missing words or letters.


The capped half dollars were produced each year from 1807-1836 except 1816 because of a fire that broke out at the mint that destroyed part of the mint and its planchet producing machinery. Many of these coins still survive today because these halves were used by the banks to transfer large sums of money in bag quantities from bank to bank.


The screwpress that produced these coins was operated manually by two men. Each coin was manually fed into the screwpress and struck one at a time. The obverse and reverse dies were prepared by hand by mint engravers and each die was prepared slightly different from the previous die. When one die became worn or broken, it was replaced

by another. Each time a die was replaced, whether it was the obverse or reverse die, it produced another new variety that later would be identified and numbered by Al Overton.


For each year from 1807 to 1836 of the lettered edge bust half dollars, Al Overton numbered each year’s different varieties starting with number 101. When an obverse or reverse die was replaced, another die variety was produced and it became the next variety, or number 102.  When another die became worn or broken, the next variety was produced and it was numbered 103. When a die started to wear, cracks would develope on the dies and this would produce coins with diecracks showing on the coins. These diecracks are very popular among bust half collectors. Some collectors enjoy collecting different stages of die wear for any particular date and variety of bust half. They might collect a particular variety in its early die state which might not have any die cracks and also look for the same variety coin in a later die state which might have a small die crack and then look for the same variety coin in a much later die state which might have more or larger die cracks.


Al Overton published his first edition of “Early Half Dollar Die Varieties in 1967 and in 1990 published the Third Edition which was much easier to use and contained larger obverse and reverse pictures to identify the varieties.


Since each obverse and reverse die was individually hand cut, there were minor differences and slips of the engraving tool which produced minor errors that could only be seen with a glass. For instance, a slip of the engraving tool produced a line that was longer than it should be on the shield of the eagle and extended past the shield, and this difference became the diagnostic for identifying a particular die variety.  There are 4 different varieties of 1807 capped bust halves. The first 10 varieties identified by Al Overton were of the draped bust type. The Overton 111 variety of the capped bust 1807 has a diecrack from the chin of Ms. Liberty to her chest. It has been named the “Bearded Goddess” and is very scarce in any grade. The Overton 112, or O.112 as it is abbreviated, has the 5 from 50C on the reverse recut over a 2. The die engraver may have picked up the punch number for a 2 instead of a 5 and part of the 2 remained on the die and is visible on the top left of the 5. The O.113 variety has smaller stars on the obverse. The O.114 variety has a die lump under the 7 in the date.


The small differences in each die produced for the half dollars from 1807 – 1836 created 450 different varieties of capped bust half dollars. The collector who decides to collect capped bust halves by Overton varieties tries to collect as many of the 450 varieties as he

is financially able. Some rare varieties are only known to exist in low grades, so grades

become less important when trying to assemble an Overton variety set. Some varieties are so scarce that the collector sometimes has to wait for a collection to come up in auction before a particular rare piece becomes available on the market. There are only 7 pieces known to exist of the 1817 over 4 variety.


At the mint, if a die was still useable at the end of the year and had the previous date on it, the engraver would just remove the previous year’s digit and recut the new year’s digit onto the die. The tools and the technology in the early 1800’s were very primitive. The small remains of the previous digit produced overdate coins. In the capped bust half series, there are the following overdates: 1808 over 7, 1811 over 10, 1812 over 11, 1814 over 13, 1815 over 2, 1817 over 3, 1817 over 4, (the rarest variety), 1818 over 7, 1819 over 8, 1820 over 19, 1822 over 21, 1823 over 22 which is more commonly known as the Broken 3 variety, 1824 over 1, 1824 over 4, 1824 over various dates, which probably is 1824 over 2 over 0, 1827 over 6, and 1829 over 7.


Once a collector has assembled a date set with overdates, he might start to look for other Overton varieties of the dates and begin to assemble a set by Overton varieties. There is a club of bust half collectors who all share the passion of collecting bust halves by varieties. To become a member, one must have at least 100 different varieties of bust halves and have the ability to attribute the Overton varieties. An existing member must sponsor the new member and verify that the new member does indeed have at least 100 different varieties and that he also has the skills to attribute the bust halves properly. The new member must submit his list of bust halves or “census” to the club and the name of the new potential member is published in the club’s Newsletter. If there are no objections by any members of the club and the person meets the requirements, the person becomes a member. As a member, he must submit his updated list of bust halves twice a year to the club, by year, date,  variety and grade. If the person has duplicates of the same date and variety, he needs to report just the highest grade piece that he has. The club keeps track of each member’s census and the total number of coins and varieties within the club. If it becomes evident from the club’s total census that a particular variety that was considered extremely rare contains more of this variety, the club may vote to reduce the rarity rating for that variety.


Rarity ratings are assigned to each variety by estimating approximately how many of a particular variety exist. These numbers are assigned based on records and observations.

R1 and R2 are the most common pieces.


R1       Common                                 over 1000

R2       Slightly Uncommon               500- 1000

R3       Scarce                                      201- 500

R4       Very Scarce                             81- 200                                   

R5       Rare                                         31- 80

R6       Very Rare                                13- 30

R7       Extremely Rare                       4- 12

R8       Unique or nearly so                 1- 3


When you get tired of just filling holes in an album and completing sets, consider collecting capped bust half dollars by variety. You might just learn to appreciate these old coins and decide to collect as many of the 450 varieties as you can.

Pictures of Harvey's Double Struck coin: