The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 16, Number 43, October 20, 2013, Article 14


In August 2012 Edward Carmody submitted a query to the E-Sylum readership seeking help in locating "original handwritten presentation note from Rufus Tyler (Chief Coiner for the New Orleans Branch Mint) to Alexander Bache. This note was wrapped around the only surviving 1838-O Half Dollar that was actually produced in New Orleans." Carmody submitted this update on his quest. -Editor

1838-O Half Dollar obverse 1838-O Half Dollar reverse
Lot 2310 Heritage 2008 April Rosemont, IL Sale

You were very helpful in publishing my letter last year about the search for the lost Rufus Tyler letter, so I thought you might like to know the results of my two year search.

The reason I wanted to try to find the Tyler letter was to reunite it with the 1838-O half dollar it was wrapped around when " discovered " in 1894. It is now known that this specific coin is unique as it is the only surviving 1838-O half that was actually produced at the New Orleans Branch mint. All 8 other specimens were test strikes done at the Philadelphia mint prior to shipping the dies to New Orleans ( ref: "The Surprising History of the 1838-O Half Dollar" by David Stone and Mark Van Jan 2012 ).

I was perplexed by a number of inconsistencies in the historical record that indicated the note was given to Augustus Heaton sometime after he purchased the coin from William Friesner (sale managed by Ed Frossard) in June 1893.

How did the coin and note manage to stay together for 55 years without either being separated or "discovered" as the origins of the 1838-O were one of the greatest mysteries of 19th century numismatics ?

Why was the note published in July 1894 by Ed Frossard AFTER Augustus Heaton bought the coin, and only then passed on to Heaton?

Here is the sequence of events that makes sense from my two years of research.

1838....The 1838 -O half dollar dies are produced in Philadelphia, and ten test sample coins are produced. They are approved by Mint Director Patterson, the samples are placed in the mint safe and the dies begin their long trip to New Orleans. They arrive late and the New Orleans mint is fully occupied producing half dimes and dimes. Production of half dollars is delayed.

Jan 1839 ....Rufus Tyler produces ten samples of the 1838-O half but the reverse die is loose and he is unable to produce any more . The dies are destroyed shortly thereafter, as the mint already has the 1839 dies on hand. The coins he has made show die rust and distinct double striking on the reverse from the loose die. This makes them easily identifiable vs. the perfect Philadelphia produced samples.

June- Nov 1839 ....Tyler makes a trip to Philadelphia to bring 1839 New Orleans production samples to Director Patterson. He also brings one 1838 half with him, but Patterson does not need this sample as he already has 10 trial strikes in his safe. Patterson directs Tyler to write a presentation note to go with the 1838 sample to be given to his good friend Alexander Bache. Both Patterson and Bache were scientists , and Bache succeeded Patterson as professor of Natural Philosophy (Physics) at the University of Pennsylvania.

While Bache was not a numismatist, he was the great grandson of Benjamin Franklin and he had a collection of archival letters going back to George Washington. The coin and letter went into his family album, where it remained untouched and undiscovered for 55 years. The album was passed along to his adopted son, Henry Wood Bache, who died in 1878 and then to his wife Eveline Bache. Alexander Dallas Bache served as Director of the US Coast Survey ( now NOAA) from 1845 until his death in 1867 and he was in the inner circle of six presidents. As a result, his family album would have contained a treasure trove of letters and early American stamps in addition to the 1838-O half and the Tyler note.

1854-1865.....There are very few numismatists in New Orleans that would have aggressively saved the 1838-O halves, so the remaining nine that did not go North were probably viewed as little more than interesting mementos. Many old silver coins are melted for the value of their metal in 1854 , and The Civil War destroys any remaining keepsakes in the South, as they are drawn into circulation to pay for necessities. These facts probably account for the loss of the other nine New Orleans Minted 1838 half dollars.

1893...Augustus Heaton publishes his "Treatise on Mint Marks" , and Eveline Bache becomes aware of the value of this coin in her family album. She contacts a coin dealer (Collins) who sells the coin to William Friesner, but the Tyler note remains in the album.

Friesner's collection is put up for sale in early 1894 (managed by Ed Frossard) and the 1838 -O is sold to Augustus Heaton in June 1894. Once Heaton receives the coin, he goes back to the sellers in hopes of solving the great mystery of its origin.

Heaton's request goes back to Frossard, to Collins and finally back to Eveline Bache.

Eveline Bache forwarded the letter from the family album, and once Frossard sees it, he instantly recognizes it's importance. He publishes the letter in the July edition of The Numismatist and takes full credit for the discovery. Only then is the letter passed back to Collins to be given to Heaton. Heaton never purchased the letter, so it was then returned to Eveline Bache and back to the family album.

Eveline and Henry Bache had one child, Eveline Coggeshall Bache, who inherited the album and cared for it her entire life. She died in Bristol Rhode Island in 1955 and in the first Codicil of her will,, she wrote : I leave "to the Bristol Historical Society my valuable autograph book with a letter from George Washington on the first page "

July 26 1957..... A suspicious fire destroys all records of the Bristol Historic Society and the Bache family album is destroyed as well. In contacting the Historic Society, no one had ever heard of the album.

Carmody also provided the text of two letters of interest. The first is from Rufus Tyler to Mint Director Robert Patterson regarding the loose reverse die. The letter is from the National Archives, and he copied it from the book by David Stone and Mark Van Winkle -Editor

U.S. Branch Mint, New Orleans

February 25, 1839

Dear Sir,

I mentioned in both of my former letters that the half dollar dies sent us last year are unsuited for present use for, besides being out of date, the bottom ones are too short to reach the screws and consequently cannot be secured in the press. I have however....( illegible ) one of them in order to try the press and succeeded in making ten excellent impressions, the very first one struck being as perfect as the dies and entirely satisfactory. The piece on the bottom of the die became loose and I was unable to strike any more without fixing."

(The letter continues with other matters)

I am, sir, with great respect
Rufus Tyler

The second letter is also courtesy of the same book and is the note published in the July 1894 issue of The Numismatist. Carmody writes: "Note the tone of the piece....clearly Frossard is taking full credit for the discovery of the origins of the 1838-O half dollar. The implication is that only 20 were made and all the production was at the New Orleans Mint. This mintage from the Tyler note below is still used in the red book today....but we now know that 10 samples were produced at the Philadelphia Mint and 10 in New Orleans. The tone of Tyler's text suggests to me that he was directed to write the note. Patterson knew Bache very well, but there is no indication of any such relationship in text." -Editor


The comparative rarity of this half dollar has often formed a subject of discussion among collectors, some contending that only three specimens were struck while others conceded a coinage of from twelve to fifteen pieces. In the recent Friesner sale, 583, the famed 1838 Orleans mint half dollar, with O under the bust of Liberty on the obverse, was wrapped up in an old piece of paper on which was written the following statement which I have the pleasure to communicate to The Numismatist for the benefit of it's readers:

"The enclosed specimen coin of the United States branch mint at New Orleans is presented to Pres. Bache by Rufus Tyler, the coiner. It may be proper to state that not more than twenty pieces were struck with the half dollar dies of 1838."

This certificate in the handwriting of Rufus Tyler, should forever settle the question concerning the number of half dollars of the year 1838 issued at the New Orleans mint. True " not more than twenty " is slightly vague- still it certainly means that the number was either twenty or a few less, say from fifteen to twenty and by these figures numismatist s will hereafter have to abide.

The half dollar in question was purchased by Mr. A. G. Heaton, author of "Mint Marks" and of the " Twelve Silver Barons". and other very original and other very original and worthy compositions in verse which lately appeared in The Numismatist and the certificate has been presented to him by me through B. H. Collins, Esq.

Thanks for the follow-up and great information! -Editor

Carmody adds:

The June 1894 Friesner sale, managed by Ed Frossard, had a collection catalogue. Frossard's write up for the 1838-O (item #583) makes no mention of the famous Tyler note for which he takes credit just one month later in the July 1894 issue of The Numismatist. This further supports my contention that he did not know the note existed when the coin was sold to Augustus Heaton.

Interest in the collecting of mint marks was really stimulated by the 1838-O because of its rarity, the mystery surrounding its production (no official mint records of any production) and the extreme prominence of the large " O" mint mark over the date.....indicating to even the casual observer that this was a different coin.

To read the complete Heritage auction lot description, see: Lot 2310 1838-O 50C PR45 PCGS (

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: QUERY: THE LOST ARCHIVES OF AUGUSTUS HEATON SOUGHT (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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