From the Grading Room: Business Strike 1892 Columbian Half Dollar with Proof Diagnostics

Posted on 12/11/2012

NGC recently certified a regular issue (non-proof) 1892 Columbian Half Dollar struck from the proof die pair.

Collectors of classic silver commemoratives are well familiar with proof 1892 Columbian Half Dollars. While by no means cheap, they are the only readily collectable proof issue in the entire series because, with 103 struck, they have the highest mintage of any proof early commemorative.

103 struck? Why such an unusual number? The first 100 Columbian Half Dollars struck were coined as proofs. The 400th example struck – symbolic of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery – was also struck as a proof. And, to represent the year of his discovery and the current year, the 1492nd and 1892nd coins struck were also proofs. Rather famously, Remington Typewriter purchased the first example struck from the Columbian Exposition for $10,000, a huge sum of money in 1892 (nearly $250,000 in today’s money when adjusted for inflation).

Proof Columbian Half Dollars are distinguishable from business strikes most readily by the exceptional crispness of their devices and their flat, hard-mirrored fields. Prooflike examples are plentiful and, while they may possess deep mirrors, they do not share the sharp detail and texture of the proofs. They were not struck on polished blanks and likely were struck under less pressure. Experts can readily tell them apart with just a cursory examination.

Proof 1892 Columbian Half Dollar

Since all proofs were struck from the same dies, there are also diagnostics features that are used to definitively attribute a proof. Most well known, on the coin’s reverse, a die line at the bottom of the central sail running from the second to the fourth rightmost ribs can be seen on all proofs. A lesser known obverse diagnostic also identifies the proof die. Two lines behind Columbus’ neck, inside the fold of his shirt collar, are seen on all proofs.

Recently, NGC certified a regular issue (non-proof) 1892 Columbian Half Dollar struck from the proof die pair. The coin has a heavy frost throughout, and no mirror-like reflectivity in its fields. While reasonably well struck for the issue, it does not show the sharpness of detail characteristic of proofs. Because of its die state, this coin was clearly struck after the proofs. It is not known if the dies were resurfaced to impart the frosty finish or if the die naturally frosted through use.

Mint State 1892 Columbian Half Dollar, struck from the same dies as proofs

NGC is not aware of any previously published references to this die pair being used to strike non-proof coins. Likely, it is not a rare trait. Since this is not a popularly-collected variety, no rarity or survival estimates are known. This situation, however, is by no means unusual. At the US Mint, after dies completed their service in the coinage of proofs, they frequently continued to be used to make business strike coins.

The obverse die diagnostic seen on a proof coin, at left, and a business strike coin, at right

The reverse die diagnostic seen on a proof coin, at left,
and a business strike coin, at right

From the Grading Room is an occasional feature of the NGC E-mail Newsletter in which we highlight some of the more unusual or seldom seen items submitted for certification. Click to explore other special finds.

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