The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 16, Number 3, January 20, 2013, Article 7


draped-bust-half-book I have a copy of the new book by Jon Amato on the Draped Bust Half Dollars of 1796-1797, and thought I'd share a few impressions. This 338-page softcover volume packs a wealth of information about this short-lived series. The product of years of work, the book is a handy compilation of images and pedigree chains. But "compilation" hardly describes the mountain of work that went into the research for the book. Like an iceberg, the finished book is only the tip - the part we can see and hold in our hands as a result of the author's monumental effort.

In these days of Internet sales and online images, it's tempting to think that one could click their way into authoring such a book, but it takes endless hours of research to determine a provenance - hours and hours of searching through old auction catalogs and images, comparing coin after coin looking for clues that reveal which specimen is which.

Dr. Amato has reviewed countless auction listings and photographic plates, with the help of many people throughout the hobby, including numismatic literature dealers Moulton, Brown, Sklow, Kolbe, Fanning, Davis and Lake. All of the major U.S. auction houses pitched in as well with coin images and descriptions. The American Numismatic Society library was also a great resource in this work. And Bruce Perdue notes that this book is another product of the Central States Numismatic Society's research grants. Kudos to all individuals and organizations involved - see the complete acknowledgements on p7-9.

Each specimen is given its own page and serial number in the book (270 different specimens in total). The coin's grade, Identification Markers, Provenance and prices realized are part of each listing. The Identification Markers are the key diagnostics unique to each specimen; these include wear spots, toning, nicks, rimdings and adjustment marks.

The book begins with a brief overview of the history of the coin. Little is actually known about who set things in motion to create the coin design, but bibliophiles and researchers will recognize several famous names - Mint Directors Rittenhouse and De Saussure, artist Gilbert Stuart and engraver Robert Scot. The rest of the book is organized by Overton variety (Al Overton, Early Half Dollar Die Varieties). Page 23 displays a nice visual chart of the 1796-1797 Half Dollar die marriages. Subsequent pages describe in more detail each Overton variety with close-up images.

Dave Bowers has dubbed the coin "the Holy Grail of U.S. Silver Type Coins", a key to completing the set and a rarity in its own right. The book is a wonderful tribute to an important coin in U.S. numismatic history.

I only have two regrets about the book. First, it seems an oversight that the author's name is not included on the spine, only the publisher (Heritage) and the Heritage web address ( This is unusual - as I look at the numismatic books on my shelves, it's rare to find one without the author's name.

The other regret, not surprising for a bibliophile, is that the book was produced only in softcover format. A reference work as valuable as this deserves a hardcover format. My review copy was damaged in transit, leaving a nasty bend on the front cover. A hard cover would have better protected it.

Mark Van Winkle adds:

It was our thought from the beginning to produce a few copies hardbound. However, when it came time to actually print it, our Marketing Director disabused us of that notion very quickly. It was prohibitively expensive to print the few dozen copies we wanted. At that point, Jon and everyone involved in the editing and production of the book decided it was better to get the book into print in some form and softbound would be just fine.

Jon sweated over this book for eleven years, knowing all the while as soon as it is published there would be duplications found, coins that should have been included that were not, and new appearances. That is why I think the website is such an important feature. If a collector has a coin that is not included or anyone sees an error or omission, they can list it on the website mentioned in the back of the book. That way a new edition can be printed with up-to-date information either when we run out of the current printing or when there is a critical mass of new and revised information to warrant a new edition.

To access the book's web page, see:

To order, see:

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: NEW BOOK: THE DRAPED BUST HALF DOLLARS OF 1796-1797 (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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