A History of the Confederate Half Dollar

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by johnmilton, Apr 15, 2019 at 9:16 AM.

  1. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    There was a post in the "What's it Worth?" area of a modern reproduction of the Confederate Half Dollar. I promised to post a picture of the Scott restrike, but while I was doing that I thought that it would be worthwhile to post a history of this piece that I wrote a few years ago for my local club.

    Here are photos of a Scott Restrike.

    1861 Confed Half Dol O.jpg 1861 Confed Half Dol R.jpg

    At the beginning of the American Civil War, each of the southern states as they seceded from the Union seized the properties of the Federal Government that was within their borders. On February 28, 1861 the State of Louisiana took the New Orleans mint "into trust," and began to operate the facility under its authority. In April the Confederate Government took control of the mint from Louisiana and operated it until Confederate authorities decided to close the facility on April 30. During that time the Rebels produced 2.2 million half dollars and almost 13 thousand double eagles ($20 gold pieces).

    Mint personnel struck all of these coins using standard Union dies. There were very few qualified die sinkers in the South, and prior to the war all of the dies for the branch mints had been produced at the Philadelphia Mint. Therefore southern officials had no choice but to use the Union dies because no other tools were available to them.

    During April of 1861, Confederate Treasury Secretary, Christopher Memminger, attempted to start a Confederate coinage. He asked a local die maker, A. H. M. Patterson, to make a die for a half dollar. Patterson's design featured a shield, similar to the Union design, with seven stars in the field at the top and seven vertical stripes at the bottom. The stars and stripes stood for the seven southern states that had seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy at that time. Ultimately 11 states would join the rebellion. The shield was topped by a liberty cap mounted on a pole and was flanked by a branch of cotton on the left side and a wheat stalk on the right. The central design was partially surrounded by the legend, "Confederate States of America," and the denomination, "Half Dollar," at the bottom. Patterson's die, which was officially designated as the Confederate obverse, was paired with a standard Liberty Seated Union obverse die dated 1861.

    Conrad Schmidt, who was the foreman of the coining room, polished both dies to a Proof finish and struck four half dollars on a screw press. Although the coins were struck as Proofs, the obverse die was cracked from the rim to the bridge of Ms. Liberty's nose. The four coins were presented to (1) Dr. B. F. Taylor who was the Chief Coiner at the New Orleans mint, (2) Dr. E. Ames, (3) Professor Biddle from Tulane University and (4) Confederate Treasury Secretary, Christopher Memminger, who turned his coin over to Confederate President, Jefferson Davis. No further efforts were made to expand the scope of the Confederate coinage beyond these four pieces in the South although Robert Lovett, who was a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania die sinker may have been commissioned to produce a Confederate cent.

    After the war Dr. Taylor, who had both the die and an example of the coin, did not disclose what he had for over a decade. He feared that he might be prosecuted as a traitor for supervising the production of a Rebel coinage. Finally in 1879 he broke the story in an issue of the New Orleans Picayune newspaper. Ebenezer Locke Mason, who was a well known 19th century coin dealer, contacted Dr. Taylor and purchased the coin and the die from him. Mason resold the die to the J. W. Scott of New York, who was a prominent stamp and coin dealer.

    At the time that Scott purchased the Confederate half dollar die, it was not in good condition. The die had rusted, and there was a small clip on the edge above the letters "ER" in "AMERICA." With the help of another coin dealer, David Proskey, Scott polished the die to remove most of the rust and devised a plan to put it to profitable use. Fearing that the die would fail if it was pushed too hard, Scott had 500 tokens struck in white metal. The obverse of these pieces featured a brief history of the Confederate half dollar:

    "4 ORIGINALS STRUCK BY ORDER OF THE C.S.A. IN NEW ORLEANS 1861. ******* REV. SAME AS U.S. (FROM ORIGINAL DIE : SCOTT"

    Having survived the striking of the 500 tokens, Scott developed a truly innovative plan to provide collectors with a facsimile of the Confederate half dollar. Scott purchased what were said to be 500, 1861-O half dollars, planed off the reverses and over struck them with the Confederate die. The coins were placed in a copper pan when they were struck with the Confederate die. That procedure flattened on the obverse Liberty Seated design, but served to distinguish these "Confederate restrike half dollars" from the original examples of the coin.

    Scott marketed to coins to collectors, but not without some dealer shenanigans. At one point Scott claimed that he had received 567 orders for the coin which exceeded the mintage. Scott offered $2.50 to anyone who would be willing to sell his coin back to him. The truth was Scott had an inventory of the coins available for a number of years after he made them. The buyback offer was only a market enhancement ploy.

    Today the Scott restrikes of the Confederate half dollar are popular collectors' items. Currently the piece lists for $15,000 in Unc. condition in the 2019 edition of The Red Book. In reality high grade certified examples often sell for several thousand dollars more than that. To date PCGS has graded 165 Confederate half dollar restrikes and NGC has reviewed 76 examples. Most of these coins grade in the AU and Mint State categories.

    The four original examples of the Confederate half dollar are numismatic treasures. Heritage sold the last example to come to market at auction for $960,000. Here is a brief accounting of the four specimens:

    1. The finest known example is the piece that Dr. B. F. Taylor sold to Ebenezer Mason circa 1879. J. W. Scott sold it to a collector, J. Sanford Saltus who also acquired the die. Saltus later donated it to the American Numismatic Society, which is located in New York City, where it remains today. The location of the die is not known.

    2. The Dr. E. Ames coin remained in the family for a number of years before it was sold and passed through the hands of a number of numismatic luminaries. The list includes, Thomas Elder, William Woodin, Waldo Newcomer, Col. H. R. Green (who once owned all five 1913 Liberty nickels) and Burdett G. Johnson. Eric P. Newman obtained it from Burdett Johnson. Heritage sold it at auction for $960,000 in November 2017. NGC graded PR-40

    3. The Professor Biddle piece was held by the family for a number of years before it got into numismatic circulation. The last publically known owner was coin dealer Lester Merkin who sold it to Henry P. Kendal. Sold by Stacks’ – Bowers, March 2015 for $646,250. The grade is NGC PR-40.

    4. The final piece has the most interesting history of former owners. This was the piece that Christopher Memminger passed to Jefferson Davis. Davis was carrying it when Union soldiers captured him in flight after the Civil War. A Union soldier took it from Davis and after that the owners are listed as "private collectors" until the piece surfaced at a New York City coin show in May of 1961. It was very late in the evening, and the coin was offered, as a Scott restrike to the late collector-dealer, John Ford. The price seemed high for a restrike, but after some negotiations Ford bought the piece. One of Ford's friends, Paul Franklin, who witnessed the transaction offered Ford a profit and the coin changed hands again in less than five minutes. A few weeks later Ford bought the coin back from Franklin at a considerably higher price! The upstart was this coin turned out to be the missing original coin that had been "lost" for so many years! The original seller got wind of these transactions and a lengthy round of court cases ensured. This coin, graded NGC PR-30 was sold by Heritage in January 2015 for $881,250.
     
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  3. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Here is an example of the Scott token in white metal.

    1861 Confed Medal O.jpg 1861 Confed Medal R.jpg
     
  4. Penna_Boy

    Penna_Boy Member

    Excellent piece of history, thanks.
     
  5. PlanoSteve

    PlanoSteve Well-Known Member

  6. fiddlehead

    fiddlehead Well-Known Member

    Excellent. Thank you for posting.
     
  7. charlottedude

    charlottedude Novice Collector

    Great read... thanks John!
     
  8. Mainebill

    Mainebill Wild Bill

    Great write up. I’ve always dreamed of owning one as most of my family fought for the confederacy that and an original confederate cent And other than the later discovered 70-s half dime is about the only coin Louis Eliasberg didn’t have
     
  9. Hookman

    Hookman Well-Known Member

    Great story. Very interesting.
     
  10. ldhair

    ldhair Clean Supporter

    Great post. Love the history lesson. I had forgotten much of it.
     
  11. Conder101

    Conder101 Numismatist

    One small addition, in the court cases over the fourth coin Ford prevailed and the coin was in his collection when it was sold by Stacks, and if I recall was the first time any of the coins had been sold at public auction.
     
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