The 1837 half dollar is hardly at the top of anyone’s want list, but in a way it’s a lot more important than many know. It’s a type coin that a lot of people need simply to save some money. If you want a half dollar of the type with a reeded edge and denomination expressed as “50 CENTS” below the eagle, you have to take either the 1836 or 1837. In 1838 the denomination was changed to “HALF DOL.”
For decades the U.S. Mint fell short of being an example for the world. It was an emerging nation that had far more important concerns than the quality of the machines in its mint or the coins that facility produced. About the only time any consideration given to the Mint was when it cost too much money.
Slowly there were changes. The growing country needed more coins. Gold had been discovered in the south and plans were in the works to establish branch mints.
The arrival of a steam powered press in 1836 was designed to increase production. Of course the new high speed press required some changes. There would be no more lettered edges, but that was not seen as a problem. When the new press arrived there was an interest in seeing what it could do, so a test striking took place in 1836 with a reeded edge and the denomination expressed as “50 CENTS.”
There has been some debate over whether this piece is a coin or pattern. In fact, it was a test striking of a coin. Had something gone wrong it probably would have been destroyed, but that did not happen so the 1836 was placed into regular circulation. The historic estimate of its mintage is 1,200. It is priced at $850 in G-4, $7,250 in MS-60 and $58,000 in MS-65.
Fortunately for type collectors there was a second mintage in 1837. This time the total mintage was 3,629,820, which naturally makes it much more available today. It is at just $55 in G-4, while an MS-60 is $1,000 and an MS-65 is at $15,000.
The 1837 is the obvious choice of type collectors but it should be noted that the 1837 is not generally of the same quality as the 1836, which seems to have been well struck. The 1836 was a test and care was being taken. The 1837 was a heavy production and it shows.
Professional Coin Grading Service has graded 796 examples of the 1837 and just 21 managed a grade of at least MS-65. Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has graded a total of 821, but a total of 49 have been called at least MS-65.
In both cases the number seen in Mint State is far higher than the total for the 1836. Again, it makes the 1837 the obvious choice for the type.
Even though the 1837 is not the original test striking, it was the first full mintage date to use the new press. This may not mean higher prices, but it is an important coin in terms of Mint history. This should make it important to collectors as well.