The 1794 Flowing Hair half dollar marks the first year of the 50-cent denomination in the United States and also the first year the U.S. Mint produced large-denomination silver coinage for mass circulation. It was a momentous time for the U.S. Mint, which was in the process of perfecting mass-scale coinage production. And as coining challenges and the evolution of the nation's economy unfolded, the half dollar proved to be an important coin for United States commerce.
The U.S. Mint endeavored to produce around 2,000 half dollars in 1794, but between planchet issues and strike problems more than a tenth of the first-year half dollar production was unsatisfactory for use. A net total of 1,748 half dollars bear the 1794 date, and most of these saw extensive wear in circulation. Only a small handful were preserved by collectors in uncirculated condition.
As with all early U.S. Mint coinage, each die had to be crafted by hand, and this meant the creation of small but numismatically significant design variances between each of the dies. Numismatic expert Al C. Overton catalogued the numerous varieties among these coins. Among one of these varieties for the 1794 Flowing Hair half dollar is the O-101a. The finest example -- a stunner graded by Professional Coin Grading Service as MS64+ -- was recently sold by Heritage Auctions for $870,000.
*Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions, www.HA.com.