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The E-Sylum: Volume 20, Number 26, June 25, 2017, Article 17

LETTER SHEDS LIGHT ON 1838-O HALF STRIKINGS

Kin Carmody of Savannah, GA submitted this article about the ultrarare 1838-O and how the coins may have come into being. Thank you! -Editor

NEWLY DISCOVERED LETTER SUGGESTS
A POSSIBLE 1838-O DECEPTION

On May 1, 2017, a previously unknown letter from The Chief Coiner of the New Orleans Mint to New Orleans Mint Superintendent David Bradford was discovered in the National Archives, and this letter suggests that Tyler may have intentionally deceived Robert Patterson regarding 1838-O half dollar specimens sent to Philadelphia. The Tyler letter is dated April 16, 1839, and the critical portion reads as follows: "THE LARGE COINING PRESS BEING NOW IN SUCCESSFUL OPERATION WILL OF COURSE DOUBLE THE AMOUNT OF COINAGE IN BALANCE WITH THE SAME COUNT OF LABOUR.”

This newly discovered letter is significant because it PROVES that the large coining press was NEVER made operational after the first "circulation strike" run of 1838-O half dollars in Jan 1839 and before the start up of the half dollar press on March 27 1839. While most experts agreed that an interim repair of this large press was extremely unlikely, it always remained a possibility. This letter confirms the conclusions in "ALIGNMENT OF THE STARS" by Dannreuther and Flynn ( published 2016) that there were ONLY TWO production periods for the 1838-O half dollar. The first was in Jan 1839 in New Orleans on the large dollar press to make circulation strikes per the written directive of Mint Director Patterson. This event is well documented via archival letters. Exactly 10 circulation strikes were struck before the support system for the reverse die collapsed ending the run. The second run was on March 27 in New Orleans on the half dollar press which had finally become operational. There is absolutely no documentation for this second run, but Dick Graham and John Dannreuther have proven this run took place with their examination of existing specimens.

Dick Graham is the Numismatic expert on the "Reeded Edge " half dollars which includes the 1838-O. He has identified the GR-1 reverse die crack as a key marker for ALL 9 known 1838-O and MOST 1839-O half dollars, and the extent of this crack determines the sequence in which these coins were struck. Those coins with the most developed crack were struck latest while those with the least developed crack were struck earliest.

John Dannreuther has studied most of the 1838-O and 1839-O ( "Proof") half dollars and has been able to determine a sequence of production. He discovered that the Smithsonian ( Mint Cabinet) specimen was produced AFTER one or more of the 1839-O " proof" half dollars. He also established that all 9 known 1838-O half dollars have less developed GR-1 die cracks than any circulation strike 1839-O 's, and therefore had to have been produced before those circulation strikes.

On March 29 1839, New Orleans Mint Superintendent Bradford wrote Mint Director Patterson that Tyler had made the half dollar press operational and production of 1839-O half dollars had begun on March 27.

"I have the pleasure of informing you that Mr. Tyler has got the half dollar coining press in operation. He commenced striking on the evening of the 27th inst and the press is now performing admirably.” (courtesy National Archives Philadelphia)

This means that the Smithsonian "proof" 1838-O MUST HAVE BEEN PRODUCED ON MARCH 27 ON THE HALF DOLLAR PRESS BEFORE THE PRODUCTION START UP OF CIRCULATION STRIKE 1839-O's. This timing makes sense because the production of proofs is "one at a time" process, while the production of circulations strikes is a continuous automatic operation. It would be extremely inefficient to interrupt the continuous striking once it had started.

In ALIGNMENT OF THE STARS, Dannreuther and Flynn also postulate that 4 or 5 other proofs may have been made at that time (since lost) in order to get closer to the currently accepted mintage total of "not more than 20" (10 circulation strikes on the first run plus 6 proofs on the second ). They also postulate that these coins were requested by Mint Director Patterson for his Mint Cabinet collection. This conjecture is very reasonable given that one of these proofs is in the Mint collection.

ADDITIONAL RESEARCH AND FINDINGS

New research on one of the 1838-O half dollars was completed in 2016 and published in E Sylum on Oct 30 2016. This research PROVES ( based again on GR-1die cracks) that there is ONLY ONE SURVIVOR FROM THE FIRST CIRCULATION RUN IN JAN 1839. This means that all 8 remaining specimens had to have been produced in the second run on March 27. The research also shows that all 8 of these specimens were sent to Patterson based on their survival rate, condition and late appearance in the numismatic marketplace. The newly discovered April 16 1839 Tyler letter proves that there was no press available to produce any of these 8 other specimens before March 27. This is an excessively large number to send to Patterson for the selection of one for his Mint Cabinet Collection, and that presumes a100% survival from the March 27 run. The best estimate is that 10 proofs were produced on March 27 with 8 surviving to this day.

THE PATTERSON DIRECTIVE

Patterson learned of the failure of the Jan 1839 circulation strike run in a a letter from Rufus Tyler dated Feb 25 1839.

"I have however spliced one of them (the reverse die) in order to try the press and succeeded in making 10 excellent impressions, the very first one struck being as perfect as the dies and entirely satisfactory, but the piece upon the bottom of the die became loose and I was unable to strike any more without fixing.” (courtesy of the National Archives Philadelphia)

After learning of this failure, Patterson sent the following letter on March 15 1839 to Superintendent Bradford.

"I advise that the dies of 1838 be not used by you, that we have sometimes used the dies of a particular year for a few days after its close.” (courtesy of the National Archives Philadelphia)

This letter is remarkable in the specificity of his order. It was an absolute ban on any further use of the 1838 dies, and he did not make any exception for the production of proofs for his Mint Cabinet collection. The production and distribution (by obvious extension) of out of date coins was against his policy. He ordered that "The dies of 1838 BE NOT USED BY YOU.”

The order contained in this letter was so clear that Bradford felt compelled to affirm his receipt of the directive AND that he had passed it on to Chief Coiner Rufus Tyler. At this time, letters between Philadelphia (Patterson) and New Orleans (Bradford) took about 7 to 10 days to get to their destination, so Bradford would have received the directive before the half dollar press start up on March 27. On March 29 1839, Bradford wrote to Patterson as follows:

"I stated to Mr. Tyler that you advised that the dies of 1838 be not used and I suggested that it would be best to return them to you, thinking that they might serve some purpose, but he thought it not worthwhile.” (courtesy of the National Archives Philadelphia)

THE FIRST PROBLEM

Given the clarity of Patterson's order that "The dies of 1838 be not used by you", the production of one or more 1838 samples for his cabinet collection would have REQUIRED another letter to Bradford making this request . Patterson would have had to reverse his previous "not used by you" order just days after it was issued, which would have been most unlikely and out of character. In addition there would have to have been considerable correspondence regarding his new order, the production of the proof samples, the shipping and finally the receipt of these samples by Patterson. As stated earlier, absolutely NO DOCUMENTATION referencing this second March 27 proof run has ever been found. The explanation that ALL the letters on this particular subject have been lost is not very credible.

THE IMPOSSIBLE PROBLEM

The second problem renders impossible the entire theory that Patterson REQUESTED any samples for his Mint Cabinet Collection. On March 29,1839, Bradford wrote to Patterson that his direct order that the dies of 1838 "be not used by you" had been given to Chief Coiner Tyler. However, WE HAVE PROVEN THAT THE PROOFS HAD ALREADY BEEN PRODUCED ON MARCH 27, 1839.

Since it is not possible (based on GR-1 die cracks) that any 1838-O's were made after that date, it is an inescapable conclusion that these 10 coins were not made AT Patterson's request. Clearly, no letter from Patterson with a change in policy had been received by Bradford two full days AFTER the proofs had already been struck. Rather, they were made DIRECTLY AGAINST THE EXPLICIT ORDERS OF BOTH PATTERSON AND BRADFORD, AND THE COINS WERE THEN SENT TO PATTERSON BY TYLER.

THE POSSIBLE DECEPTION
THE REASON WHY THE PROHIBITED COINS MIGHT HAVE BEEN MADE

It is clear from Patterson's order that the minting of out of date coins AND THE DISTRIBUTION OF THESE COINS was against his policy. Upon receipt of this order, Bradford asked Patterson how properly to dispose of the dies. Bradford wanted to return them to Patterson, and it is highly probable that he ordered Tyler to return the coins as well. If Tyler no longer had the original circulation strikes or if he felt they were not of adequate quality to be presented to the Mint Director, he would have had a major problem. This problem would have been aggravated by the fact that he needed to be in Patterson's good graces due to his conflicts with Bradford and his pending investigation.

The only way out of this situation would have been the clandestine striking of 10 extremely high quality replacement coins to send to Patterson instead of the originals. The images below show the only surviving circulation strike and a representative "replacement" proof restrike. It is clear from these images that the replacements proofs would have presented a far superior picture of Tyler's work.

1838-O Half Dollar comparison
(Images courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries)

HOW THE PROHIBITED COINS COULD HAVE BEEN MADE

The space in the New Orleans coining area was limited, and it is clear from sworn testimony in the Tyler/Bradford investigation that others were well aware of their surroundings and took note of any "unusual" activity. How could Tyler accomplish a clandestine striking of 1838-O half dollars without drawing any attention from his co-workers? There are three unusual events that would have helped greatly in any deception. First, Tyler's production run began on the EVENING of March 27 rather than during normal working hours. Second, the production of 1839-O "proofs" has never been explained. There was no need and no request for such samples. By indicating that he was going to use the initial March 27 start up of the half dollar press to make some "test" 1839-O proofs, Tyler would have been able to conduct "single coin" production along with die and planchet polishing without raising any suspicions. Third, by retaining the 1838 reverse, even though it was cracked and he had a perfect 1839 reverse, he would have eliminated the need to switch the reverse dies, further minimizing unusual activity.

SUMMARY
WE NOW KNOW THE FOLLOWING:

1) Exactly 10 circulation 1838-O half dollars were struck in Jan 1839 on the large dollar press in New Orleans, and there is only one survivor from that run. This first circulation run was specifically ordered by Mint Director Patterson.
2) Between 8 and 10 (best estimate 10) "Proof restrikes" were made on March 27, 1839 on the half dollar press in New Orleans, and there are 8 survivors from this run. This production run was specifically prohibited by both Mint Director Patterson and Superintendent Bradford.
3) No documented evidence of this second run has ever been found, and this documentation should exist because of Patterson's explicit prohibition order.
4) The prohibited proof restrikes were sent to Mint Director Patterson
5) There were no other production runs of 1838-O half dollars

It is SPECULATION that the proof restrikes were made as replacements for the original circulation strikes and that this was a deception orchestrated by Tyler, but I have found it difficult to come up with any other explanation that accounts for the 5 proven facts above. As a result, I STRONGLY ENCOURAGE OTHER E-SYLUM READERS TO OFFER THEIR THOUGHTS ON THIS SUBJECT. ANY NEW EVIDENCE OR EXPLANATION IS EXTREMELY WELCOME!

I'll forward reader thoughts to Kin. Thanks! -Editor

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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