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1797 Draped Bust Dollar

Stars 9x7, Small Letters


Variety BB-72, B-2 - PCGS AU58

  Obverse: Variety BB-72, B-2 - PCGS AU58

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Reverse: Variety BB-72, B-2 - PCGS AU58

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Mintage of the Draped Bust/Small Eagle type continued on into 1797; however, with a lower overall mintage.  Just 2 different obverse dies and 3 different reverse dies were used, creating 3 different die varieties, each quite recognizable.  The distinction is based on the arrangement of obverse stars -- either 10x6 or 9x7 -- and the size of the reverse letters -- either small or large.

Specimens of the 9x7 Stars/Small Letters sub-type are by far the rarest of the year.  Indeed, noted author Q. David Bowers has said that this variety is "the rarest, best known and most sought after...[and] may well be the most famous variety after 1794 and before 1804."  Perhaps only 250 specimens still exist, with just four known in AU.  (A single mint state specimen remains forever impounded and unavailable.)

This variety proclaims for posterity the frugality of the early Mint, as it represents yet another re-use of that same small lettered reverse die first used in 1795.  Here, further weakened from re-use, the die was losing its ability to produce adequate strikes.  Consequently, coins of this variety often appear fully one to two grades weaker on their reverses than their obverses.

At AU58, the Cardinal Collection specimen ranks as the single finest 1797 small letters dollar ever graded.  Really rather well struck for the variety, the Cardinal specimen displays full hair detail to Miss Liberty and sharp obverse stars, and full feathers throughout the eagle's wings, with a good portion of feathers visible on the eagle's neck, breast and legs.  Full crisp detailing in the leaves of the wreath (which normally wears first) and the presence of vestigal planchet adjustment lines demonstrate the lack of breast feather detail is due to the ever-present strike weakness of the variety, and not to wear.  The surfaces bear light gray toning, with a light satiny luster sparkling from beneath.


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