Well, I am one step deeper towards being a knowledgeable coin collector. I took an interest in early half dollars a few years ago. I was attracted to the coin based on its design, age and finally size. The price point also suited me as dollars, quarters and dimes are often significantly more expensive from this time period.
My education started by picking up a few coins at local shows in an effort to make a year collection which would consist of 29 coins. About 4 coins into the series, I felt that I would be better off looking for higher quality coins and started purchasing coins in EF-40 or better. There are relatively few coins that meet these criteria at local shows and certainly not at reasonable prices.
To pass time, I started reading “Bust Half Fever”, by Souders. This volume sucked me in and I started to appreciate the challenge of making coins on a screw press.
As I could scarcely contain my lack of knowledge on attributing half dollars, I purchased Peterson’s “The Ultimate Guide to Attributing Bust Half Dollars.” This has been a fun volume and I spent more hours than I care to admit attributing half dollars on the Heritage Auctions site and Ebay.
As opposed to modern coinage where the uniqueness is based on an error or conditional rarity, all coins of this era are all relatively unique. A given master die, would produce hubs, which were used to produce working dies. These working dies were individually stamped with the year and stars on the obverse and “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and the “50 C” on the reverse. The relative position of these features to the dentils and Liberty on the obverse and the motto on the reverse offer an indication of the obverse and reverse die respectively.
Grading the condition of a coin is an art in itself. Coins can be weak or strong for the grade and have better eye appeal, regardless of the technical merits. For half dollars the quality of the strike is also an important issue as the planchets could have been undersized or filed down as a result of being oversized.
Further still, the working dies could deteriorate. From an early die state to late die state, cracks could form, clash marks could be present and any number of issues could present themselves. Overall, it is an exciting area of study for the collector who chooses to specialize.