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From the September 2001 issue of ACCent, the newsletter of the Anchorage Coin Club:


The Interesting Varieties Of 1823 Half Dollars

By Mike Nourse  


            In the process of flipping through your Red Book, or while looking at a price guide such as Trends in Coin World or Coin Market in Numismatic News, you may have noticed three 1823 half dollars with interesting names. This trio of coins are known as the ‘broken 3’, the ‘patched 3’, and the ‘ugly 3’.

            What do the dates on these coins look like, and how were they created? For answers to these questions, I went to Al Overton’s Early Half Dollar Die Varieties and the more recent Edgar E. Saunders’ Bust Half Fever, two excellent references on die varieties of Capped Bust halves.

            Let’s start with the broken 3 variety. On this coin, the top and bottom loops of the number three in the date are barely connected together at all. Because the three is also tipping over toward the right, one would almost expect the top half of the three to roll right off the bottom half! The theory presented by Mr. Saunders in his book as to how this was created is that the number three punch used on this die was not yet complete, therefore not ready to be used on a die.

            This leads us from the broken three to the patched three, which really is a patch on the broken three. In a (failed?) attempt to improve the look of the broken three, a small bar shaped punch was stamped into the junction of the upper and lower loops of the three. Unfortunately, this particular punch did not in any way resemble the sideways v shape on the back of the three. Additionally, the repair was punched in at an awkward angle, sloping down to the left, providing a repair that is far from artistic. Again, as with the broken three, the number 3 is tilted harshly to the right compared to the other three numbers in the date.

            Finally, the ugly three, which is unrelated to the other two varieties. In this case, a normal three has various bulges along its right side, giving it an unusual (ugly in somebody’s opinion!) appearance. This time, the culprit is not the hand of a mint engraver. Instead, it was the hand of the coinage press in use at the Philadelphia mint at that time. This particular die was suffering from an acute case of overuse, and was now starting to crack. One crack developed that ran from the denticles on the edge, up near the right side of the number three, and on up into Miss Liberty’s lower curls. Some tiny chips broke off the die in the narrow gap between the back of the three and the die crack nearby, making the right side of the three quite irregular.

            I know all of you have a copy of the Overton book on early half dollars, but to save you from having to look it up, I will let you know that there are totally thirteen die varieties for the year 1823. The broken three variety is listed as O-101 (Overton-101). After striking some unknown number of coins, somebody at the mint decided to remove the obverse die from service, soften it, try to patch the three in the date, re-harden the die, and place it back in service with the same reverse die. Since it is still the same set of dies that were used for striking the O-101 coins with only that small modification to the three, the first group of patched three halves are designated as O-101a. The obverse die with the patched three outlived the reverse die, thusly creating O-102 when it was paired with a new reverse die before going into retirement itself. As described earlier, the ugly 3 is really just a late stage in the life of a die, after it had cracked slightly and lost a few chips on the right side of the three. This die pairing is known as O-110 before the damage developed, when it had a normal three, and is known as O-110a after the obverse die had deteriorated to the point where we have an ugly three.

            What is the best feature of these three half dollars? Simple – they are inexpensive enough that almost anybody can afford them. Let’s see what a four piece set including a normal 3, a broken 3, a patched 3, and an ugly 3 would cost. If you are on a strict budget, coins in Good condition are acceptable because the dates on capped bust halves are quite bold, so they generally do not wear down to mere shadows until a grade of About Good is achieved. According to Trends, the four pieces in Good will cost about $150 total. I believe that the best value comes in the form of a set of four Fine condition for $250 or Very Fine for $350. The price much more than doubles when the grade is increased to Extra Fine, and doubles yet again when you hit Almost Uncirculated. Nice Fine or Very Fine coins will allow you to see much of the design details along with clear views of our hero, the number 3.


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