The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 18, Number 3, January 18, 2015, Article 4


Author Kevin Flynn forwarded this updated press release for his latest book, this one on the 1838-O Half Dollar. Thanks. Only a limited number are being printed, so get your orders in soon. -Editor

1838-O Half Dollar obverse The 1838-O Half Dollar, An Alignment of the Stars, by Kevin Flynn and John Dannreuther is now complete. This book is being self-published with the goal being to print only the number ordered before the book is printed. The following is a summation of this incredible variety.

To meet the increasing demand for coinage for commerce, Congress authorized three new mints in 1835. One of the chosen locations was in New Orleans, a city strategically located on the Mississippi River that would help in disbursing coinage throughout the south and west. The Philadelphia Mint supplied equipment vital to coinage production such as three steam powered coining presses, each of a different size. David Bradford was hired as the Superintendent of the New Orleans Mint with Tyler Rufus employed as the Coiner. Robert M. Patterson was the Director of the Mint from 1835 through 1851.

The New Orleans Mint opened in 1838 and in anticipation of commencing coin production, on February 14th, Tyler requested working dies for the silver half-dime, dime, and half dollar. Between April 9th and 11th, two sets of 1838 dated half-dime, dime, and half dollar working dies were sent from Philadelphia to New Orleans. All working dies sent were shipped in a softened state, and required hardening and polishing at the New Orleans Mint. For the two sets of half dollar working dies sent, one set had a false border while the other did not. Both half dollar working dies required being put through a lathe at the New Orleans Mint.

Director Patterson was very conscientious about theft of these working dies and their illegal use to strike coins. All of these working dies were in a state that they could not have been used by the Philadelphia Mint prior to shipping to strike coins at the Philadelphia Mint. These dies were not sent to New Orleans especially prepared or intended to strike proof coins or to test the design or alloy. As stated by Patterson, these working dies were the same used in Philadelphia except for a mint mark added.

On May 8th, 1838, Tyler struck thirty dimes on the small coining press before having mechanical problems. One specimen was sent to Director Patterson, ten were put in a cornerstone of a new building, with the remainder being given out as mementos. Additional dimes were struck up through July 1838. Between August 2nd and November 1st, the New Orleans Mint was closed because of yellow fever. Dimes and half-dimes were struck in December and the beginning of January 1839.

On January 17th, 1839, Director Patterson stated that no time should be lost in getting ready for the coinage of the half dollars. Between January 17th and the end of January, Tyler was able to get the large coining press into operation to be used for the half dollars. Tyler found that the half dollar working dies were too short to be held in place by the screws. In order to test the large coining press, he built a support system to raise the bottom working die to reach the screws. He was able to strike ten "excellent impressions" from a single set of 1838 dated half dollar working dies before the support system was crushed.

The time frame in which these ten 1838-O half dollars were struck is based upon a letters from Rufus Tyler on February 25th and Superintendent Bradford on March 7th. Bradford stated in his letter that Tyler had struck a few half dollars in the middle of January on the large press. No 1838-O half dollars were submitted to Philadelphia for the annual assay sent on January 17, 1839. The fields of these ten coins exhibit a brilliant surface texture expected from a new pair of working dies. The striking characteristics of the design elements and rims are very strong.

Between February 26 and March 12, 1839, three pairs of 1839 dated half dollar dies were sent to the New Orleans Mint. Two sets of these arrived on March 16th. On March 29th, Superintendent Bradford stated that Tyler was able to get the half dollar coining press into operation and commenced striking half dollars on March 27th. The reverse used for the 1838-O half dollars in late January 1839 was moved from the large coining press to the half dollar coining press and used to strike 1839-O half dollars. This reverse is found on ninety percent of the known 1839-O half dollars.

The key to a second striking was found in the 1838-O half dollar in the Smithsonian Institution collection. This specimen exhibited the latest die stage of any of the nine known 1838-O half dollars. The fields on the reverse display mirrored surfaces equal to the 1838 proof half dollar at the Smithsonian. The striking characteristics of this coin were also stronger than the 1838 proof half dollar. There are several 1839-O half dollars that have been categorized as proof coins. Two or three of these coins exhibited diagnostics that were later than any of the first eight known specimens, but earlier than the 1838-O Smithsonian specimen. The 1838-O Smithsonian half dollar also has stronger striking characteristics than the 1839-O half dollars that are called proofs. A conclusion can be made that in late March 1839, Tyler was able to get the half dollar coining press into operation. He first used an 1839 dated obverse with the reverse used for the 1838-O half dollars and struck several half dollars. Tyler then replaced the obverse with the 1838-O half dollar working die, increasing the striking pressure and struck one or more 1838-O half dollars. He then continued to strike 1839-O half dollars.

The two 1838-O half dollar working die obverses were defaced on June 13, 1839. A note allegedly from Rufus Tyler published in 1894 stated a specimen was given to Alexander Bache and that not more than twenty specimens were struck. Nine 1838-O half dollars are known to exist today, including one in the Smithsonian Institution collection. Most likely, eleven to fifteen 1838-O half dollars were struck with only one specimen known from the second striking. The 1838-O Smithsonian half dollar should be classified as a proof, whereas the remaining coins should be classified as specimen coins.

Price for the softcover is $29.95. To order, send a check or money order to Kevin Flynn, P.O. Box 396, Lumberton, NJ 08048. Please include $5 for media shipping or $10 for first class shipping. Please email me at to reserve a copy. See other books available at

Wayne Homren, Editor

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