As collectors of contemporary counterfeit Capped Bust half dollars we know there are hundreds of unique varieties. These variety identifications are documented in Contemporary Counterfeit Capped Bust Half Dollars, First Edition, Contemporary Counterfeit Capped Bust Half Dollars, 2nd Edition (both books by Keith Davignon), plus the New Discoveries section of this website. Have you thought though of the possibility of Flowing Hair Type half dollar (1794-1795) and/or Draped Bust Type half dollar (Small Eagle Reverse 1796-1797, Heraldic Reverse 1801-1807) contemporary counterfeits as well?
Directly addressing this question is the following excerpt from Circulating Counterfeits of America by John M. Kleeberg:
"The Flowing Hair counterfeits have many characteristics that are more suited to counterfeits than fakes made to fool collectors: they are in base metals; they show severe wear; they are often scratched up, in an attempt to pierce the silvering."
Controversy continues to exist though when these 'Before Davignon' contemporary counterfeit half dollars were first minted. John L. Riddell, M.D. ( Melter and Refiner in the United States Branch Mint, New Orleans and Professor of Chemistry in the Medical College of Louisiana) in his A Monograph of the Silver Dollar: Good and Bad of 1845 published a list with illustrated facsimiles of the then known general circulating half dollar counterfeits which included a 1795 dated Flowing Hair Type half dollar and an 1806 dated Draped Bust Type half dollar. Additional knowledge comes from Don Taxey's comments found in his 1963 landmark Counterfeit Mis-Struck and Unofficial U.S. Coins which noted a third potential contemporary counterfeit half dollar, this one dated 1787:
“The Schilke ‘discovery coin’ was owned by an elderly man who claimed that it had been with his family for many years. The coin was wrapped in a piece of stained and yellowed paper which was beginning to crumble at the crease marks. An almost illegible inscription on the paper read:
‘Limpsten (?) Wednesday, May 19, 1813 - This day rec’d of John Cram of Unity, one half dollar dated 1787 – and inclosed (sic) The same within this paper – Francis Chase & Chs (Charles) Way present at the time – Attes – Abneil Chase.’
The above note, if genuine, would indicate that the manufacturer of these coins took place some time between 1787 and 1813. And yet the omission of any 1787 dies from Dr. Riddell’s extremely inclusive list of counterfeit half dollars would seem to preclude this possibility. The alternative is that they were made around the third quarter of the third quarter of the last century, along with the 1650 Pine Tree shillings, the Washington half cent, and other such fancy productions."
A counterargument can be suggested that 1787 counterfeit halves were not commonly encountered enough to be referenced by Dr. Riddell in 1845, but regardless of their actual earliest date of being minted these 'Before Davignon' contemporary counterfeit half dollars continue to offer an interesting opportunity for study! Significant to their continued study is the important contribution made by John M. Kleeberg's reference to the catalog of the American Numismatic Society's collection of Flowing Hair and Draped Bust contemporary counterfeit half dollars in his 1998 book Circulating Counterfeits of America. As stated in Mr. Kleeberg's book:
"The Flowing Hair half dollars are clearly all by the same maker - the style is unmistakable, and if enough examples turn up, they will probably die chain with each other. So far, three obverse dies and two reverse dies have been identified:
Obverse die 1. Date 1787. 8 stars on the left, 6 stars on the right.
Obverse die 2. Date 1787(?). 8 stars on the left, 7 stars on the right. The point of the eighth star touches a denticle.
Obverse die 3. Date 1878. 7 stars on the left, 8 stars on the right.
Reverse die A. The dexter wing of the eagle protrudes only a little beyond the wreath. The left foot of the M in AMERICA is very close to a leaf.
Reverse die B. The dexter wing of the eagle protrudes much more beyond the wreath. The D in UNITED is distant from the E."
[Note - All the 1787 and 1878 Flowing Hair half dollar counterfeit varieties have been found from numismatic study to share the same edge collar and were minted from nearly identical billon type alloys. This further corroborates Kleeberg's (1998) article on such pieces being made before 1813 (when a contemporary letter was written about one of these pieces).]
Continuing in the spirit of identifying varieties as pioneered by Al C. Overton in his book United States Early Half Dollars Die Varieties 1794-1836 and the numismatic studies made by Dr. Riddell, Don Taxey, John Kleeberg plus others below are listed specimens of nine known contemporary counterfeit Flowing Hair Type and Draped Bust Type half dollar varieties. [Note - Additional cast counterfeits of Flowing Hair Type and Draped Bust Type half dollars are known to exist (e.g. there is a cast 1795 dated Flowing Hair Type known with remaining traces of silver wash and an edge comprised of indented dots that are roughly equally spaced instead of edge lettering). However this cast specimen and other similar known cast specimens are either too worn and / or too distorted with porosity from poor casting for an accurate identification to a genuine Overton variety origin to be made. It is hoped that higher grade discoveries of surviving specimens of cast contemporary counterfeits will provide sufficient detail to identify their genuine coin Overton origins to become vetted contemporary counterfeit varieties.]
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