Early American copper coins have an enduring place in United States numismatics. It might have something to do with their lead position as the first coins ever released by the United States Mint for widespread circulation in 1793. Perhaps the dedicated collector following owes to the tremendous number of die varieties known among these early Federal-era coins. Maybe it’s the rich history behind these fascinating pieces. Among these intriguing early American copper coins is the Liberty Cap half cent, which ran from 1793 through 1797 and spawned an outstanding array of die varieties, including the 1796 Liberty Cap No Pole half cent.
The 1796 No Pole variety is perhaps the scarcest issue of all business-strike half cents. This variety is discernable thanks to the absence of a pole that is visible on the counterpart type and extends from before Miss Liberty’s bust, travels behind her head, and traces up into the inside of her cap. The omission came from a simple oversight on the part of the engraver, who was responsible for creating each die by hand (one reason early U.S. coins lend multitudes of varieties). Also distinguishing this type apart from the other is a massive horizontal obverse die crack that extends from rim to rim, the development of which halted output of this variety early on in its production. There are approximately just 30 known specimens.
The nicest of these was graded by Professional Coin Grading Service as MS67RB. This specimen not only boasts the highest numerical grade among any of the encapsulated 1796 Liberty Cap No Pole half cents, but it also is the only one to receive a Red-Brown (RB) designation — a highly coveted mark for any of the early American coppers, which far and away are most common in Brown (BN). When the 1796 Liberty Cap No Pole half cent, PCGS MS67RB, hit the block at Heritage Auctions on January 24, 2021, it commanded an outstanding $780,000.
*Images are courtesy of Heritage Auctions, www.HA.com.