David Lange continues his in-depth retrospective of 1842 coinage.
Of all the various denominations bearing Christian Gobrecht's familiar Seated Liberty
design, it was the half dollar alone that remained true to his original rendering
of the figure. For reasons now lost to history, it did not receive the revised treatment
prepared by Robert B. Hughes in 1840. The sole concession was the addition of a
shallow, extra bit of drapery at Liberty's elbow during 1839 and a reduction to
the size of the rock upon which she sits.
The half dollars of 1842 feature either the Small Date used 1839-41 or the Medium
Date seen on coins dated 1843-46. In addition, the size the letters in the reverse
legends was increased substantially during midyear. The mixing of these various
dies resulted in several popular varieties.
Most commonly seen of the Philadelphia Mint issues is the Medium Date/Large Letters
combination, followed in scarcity by the Small Date/Large Letters variety. Both
are sufficiently available that examples remain affordable through the lower mint
state grades. One reverse die of the SD/LL combination is distinctly doubled, and
this variety is quite scarce.
An extreme rarity is the Small Date obverse with Small Letters reverse, just two
pieces being known. The first example, a moderately worn coin, was discovered in
1998. An unattributed mint state example then appeared at auction during 2005, with
several alert specialists bidding it up to a very high price.
The New Orleans Mint produced two major varieties during 1842. Once again, it is
the Medium Date/Large Letters variety that is the most available, while the Small
Date/Small Letters variety is scarce enough to be costly across all grades. This
is a genuinely rare coin in uncirculated condition.
Mint Director Robert M. Patterson's attempt to reintroduce the silver dollar into
circulation after a 35-year suspension commenced in earnest in 1840. The Philadelphia
Mint was still coining moderate numbers of these coins in 1842, but its efforts
were in vain. This coin remained nearly invisible in domestic circulation, with
most examples being lost to the Asian silver market. Only 184,618 silver dollars
were coined in 1842, which is just enough to make this coin collectable in circulated
grades. Mint state pieces, while not truly rare, are seldom seen without numerous
and heavy marks. With such a limited mintage it's not surprising that no significant
varieties have been noted for the 1842 silver dollar.
Before 1849 the USA's gold coinage was limited to just the three denominations authorized
by Congress in 1792. The quarter eagle, or 2-1/2 dollar gold piece, was still a
popular and widely used coin in 1842. Examples were coined at each of the U. S.
Mints then active: Philadelphia (2,823 minted), Charlotte (6,729), Dahlonega (4,643)
and New Orleans (19,800). All four issues are scarce in circulated grades and genuinely
rare at or near the mint state level. Perhaps due to this limited production, the
changes incorporated into the other gold issue during 1842 were delayed until the
following year for the quarter eagle. There are no major varieties for this date,
all pieces having the Small Date typical of 1840-41 coins.
The half eagle was then, and remained for decades afterward, the most widely used
gold coin in everyday commerce. Mintages in 1842 were somewhat higher than those
for the quarter eagle, though modest when compared to the number of copper and silver
coins produced. Both the dates and reverse legends were increased in size during
midyear, and several collectable combinations are known. The Philadelphia Mint coins
all have a Small Date, but they are known with either Small Letters on the reverse
or Large Letters, the latter being noticeably scarcer. 1842-C half eagles all feature
the old Small Letters reverse, yet they may be found with either a Small Date (rare)
or the new Large Date. The Dahlonega Mint issues made a clean transition, being
known as either SD/SL or LD/LL (rare). 1842-O half eagles come in just one flavor,
having only the SD/SL combination.
(To digress a bit, it should be noted that the term "Large Date" is a merely relative
to earlier issues, as the date size was increased again in 1847. "Medium Date" would
be more accurate to describe the 1842-46 logotype. For more musings and rants on
the abuse of size descriptions in American numismatics, see my column for November,
Coinage of the eagle, or ten-dollar gold piece, had been suspended on presidential
order in 1804, but Mint Director Patterson successfully reintroduced it in 1838.
The Charlotte and Dahlonega Mints did not produce denominations above the half eagle,
so 1842's production was limited to Philadelphia and New Orleans. The former struck
examples with either the Small Date of 1840-41 or the "Large Date" of 1843-46 (the
same comments apply regarding relative date sizes). Though numismatists have reconstructed
mintage figures for Philadelphia that suggest the Small Date (18,623 pieces) should
be scarcer than the Large Date (62,884), they have proved to be about equal in rarity.
The New Orleans Mint coins are known only with the Large Date variety and are noticeably
scarcer across all grades. For whatever reason, the size of the reverse legends
was never increased on the eagle, limiting the number of varieties for 1842.
David W. Lange's column, "USA Coin Album," appears monthly in Numismatist,
the official publication of the American Numismatic Association