Reverse Varieties Of The
1959 Franklin Half Dollar
by Ken Potter
Copyright Ken Potter 1999
(Originally published in Coin World's Variety Notebook Column August 1999)
A reader recently asked if there were two or three 1959 Franklin half dollar reverse varieties. He had been told by a friend that there were three "types" yet the only reference he could find addressing the subject was in "Walter Breens Complete Encyclopedia of United States & Colonial Coins" where two distinct design "types" are listed.
Breen was correct in that there are only two "types" (or what I prefer to call "varieties") and as he notes, the variations primarily affect the small eagle to the right of the Liberty Bell. They are referred to by me as Variety 1 - Low Relief Eagle and Variety 2 - High Relief Proof Style Eagle (the later as a "proof style" because the enhanced design was intended for proof coins).
Every so often rumor has it that there are three design varieties. This is because one early reference mentioning the varieties, "Major Variety and Oddity Guide of United States Coins" by Frank Spadone lists three "types" in all seven editions of his book. In addition to the first two "types" discussed, he lists a "Type 3 - Low Relief Eagle; three feathers to the left of the eagles perch."
While Spadone was correct in identifying low and high relief eagle varieties, what he failed to recognize was that his Type 3 was not a distinct design variety at all, but a Class III / Dual-Design Hub doubled die created by impressing a die first with the low relief eagle design hub and subsequently with the high relief eagle design hub. Since both styles of eagle occupied the same area on the coin, the act of hubbing (impressing) one image over the other created more of a composite eagle than one with distinct doubling or notching (though some clear separation lines can be seen on the left leg). To complicate things further, the earlier impression(s) of the low relief eagle were of insufficient strength and relief to allow the later high relief eagle impression to fully form. The result was a pretty confusing eagle that at first glance doesnt look anything like either of its parents! However, when the observer studies both designs closely and then relates them to the doubled die it becomes apparent that the disheveled appearance of some of the feathers and the general weakness of this craggy bird is due to both designs of this composite not complimenting each other and from a less than compatible hubbing sequence.
The variety also displays moderate doubling on most of E PLURIBUS UNUM, the bell hanger and bell striker.
The differences in the style of the eagle found to the right of the Liberty Bell on the reverse of the 1959 Franklin Half are shown above. The first is the Variety-1/Low Relief Eagle followed by the Variety-2/High Relief Proof Style Eagle and lastly by the High over Low Relief Eagle Doubled Die Reverse. Photos copyright 1999 Ken Potter.
Due to a phenomenon known as work hardening, (which causes the metal of the face of a die to become too hard and brittle to allow a complete image to be sunk into a die in one operation), several hubbings are required to produce working dies produced via the multiple hubbing process. Between each hubbing the die is removed from the press and annealed (softened) thus allowing for another impression without shattering the die. If for any reason a misgauge of images occurs when a hub is lined up with the image of an incomplete die then doubling results. In this case its apparent two different hubs with variances in design were used interchangeably to create one die.
In regard to scarcity, my findings (as reported upon in Breen) indicate that approximately 20% of the 1959 mintage was made with regular Variety 1 reverse dies while approximately 80% were struck from what appears to be retired proof dies featuring the Variety 2 reverse. The doubled die reverse is restricted to just the one die and may have seen a production run ranging anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 pieces.
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