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SERIES: Patterns - PR
LEVEL: Year, MintMark, & Major Variety

1877 $50 J-1546 (Proof)



Image courtesy of the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution
PCGS #:
61890
Diameter:
50.80 millimeters
Designer:
William Barber
Weight:
83.58 grams
Edge:
Reeded
Mintage:
1
Metal Content:
90% Gold, 10% Copper
Rarity and Survival Estimates (Explain)
Grades Survival
Estimate 
Numismatic
Rarity 
Relative Rarity
By Type 
Relative Rarity
By Series 
All Grades 1 R-10.0 1 / 3 TIE 1 / 10 TIE
60 or Better 1 R-10.0 1 / 3 TIE 1 / 10 TIE
65 or Better 1 R-10.0 1 / 3 TIE 1 / 10 TIE
Condition Census (Explain)
Pos Grade Thumbnail Pedigree and History
1 PR67 estimated grade   Idler-Haseltine/Nagy-Woodin-Smithsonian
Condition Census (Explain) Show fewer rows
Pos Grade Thumbnail Pedigree and History
1 PR67 estimated grade   Idler-Haseltine/Nagy-Woodin-Smithsonian
David Akers (1975/88): Description: Obverse. Head of Liberty facing left wearing a beaded coronet inscribed LIBERTY. Thirteen stars surround the head, and the date, 1877, is below the bust. Similar in general appearance to the regular double eagle except that the head is wider and the hair is more thick and wavy. Reverse. Eagle with outspread wings wearing a shield on its breast and holding three arrows in its left talon and an olive branch in its right. An ornamental scroll to the left of the shield is inscribed E PLURIBUS and a similar scroll to the right reads UNUM. Above the eagle's head are rays and an oval of 13 stars containing the motto IN GOD WE TRUST. Above the rays is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and below the eagle is the denomination FIFTY DOLLARS.

Comments: The proposal for a U.S. fifty dollar gold piece was initiated in California in 1854. Businessmen in San Francisco sent a petition to Secretary of the Treasury James Guthrie requesting him to authorize the striking at San Francisco Mint of a fifty dollar gold piece of the same shape and fineness as the regular U.S. double eagle. The denomination would greatly have facilitated counting operations in California since no banknotes of any denomination were in circulation there. Guthrie approved of the idea and a measure authorizing a one hundred dollar gold piece (a union) and a fifty dollar gold piece (a half union) was introduced in the Senate by California Senator William Gwin. The measure passed the Senate on June 16, 1854 but was defeated in the House, probably because such denominations were not needed in the East where paper currency was readily available.

It was a known fact that two fifty dollar gold pieces of differing designs had been struck at the U.S. Mint in 1877, but R.C. Davis, in his pattern listing of May, 1886 in The Coin Collector's Journal, stated that "of these extraordinary patterns one specimen only, of each variety was struck in gold for the cabinet of the U.S. Mint, but owing to the lack of appropriation they were rejected, and melted up by the Superintendent and Coiner." In 1909, however, they turned up in the collection of William H. Woodin who no doubt had obtained them directly from the Mint. Capt. John W. Haseltine and Stephen K. Nagy of Philadelphia sold both pieces to William Wooding of New York for a reported $10,000 each, a record price at the time.

Shortly after his widely acclaimed purchase, Woodin came under considerable pressure from the Government to return the coins to the Mint Collection. In late 1909, he did so and the December, 1910, Numismatist reported that the "condition attending Mr. Woodin's disposition of the pieces, so far as we have been able to learn, have not been stated by those who are parties to the transaction more than it is understood that the matter was consummated to the entire satisfaction of Mr. Woodin." Wooding certainly had good reason to be completely satisfied since in the transaction he obtained an enormous number of patterns from Archibald Louden Snowden, former Superintendent of the Mint, many of them previously unknown to collectors.