by | Jan 25, 2024 | History, Numismatics

1861 C.S.A. half dollar. Restrike. MS-62 (PCGS).

A lovely specimen of one of America’s favorite coins, J.W. Scott & Company’s 1879 restrike employing the reverse of the 1861 Confederate States of America half dollar stamped on a planed-down 1861-O regular issue half dollar taken from circulation. Accordingly, on all examples the grading is done by the reverse only, as the obverse always shows wear and is slightly flattened from the striking process.
The story of the 1879 restrike is fascinating, and a synopsis is given below:

J.W. Scott and the CSA Restrikes
In early 1861, troops representing the state of Louisiana seized the federal New Orleans Mint, and on April 1 it came under control of the Confederate States of America. The staff and facilities remained intact, and the C.S.A. continued to operate the Mint for a time, using bullion and dies on hand to strike Liberty Seated half dollars and gold double eagles. Soon, the mint closed. For the rest of the decade, continuing to 1878, it was used for storage, unofficial lodging by itinerants and tramps, and generally fell into disrepair. The building was poorly constructed to begin with, and in the 1850s a massive repair / restoration helped solve structural and other problems. In 1878 the mint was refurbished, and in 1879 coinage resumed, consisting mostly of Morgan silver dollars, punctuated by lower quantities of other silver denominations and scattered gold $5, $10, and $20.
The Confederate States of America did not have its own coinage with distinctive designs, or so numismatists thought. Then in the early 1870s, in a scenario that remains confused to the present day, Dr. Edward Maris, well known numismatist with a specialty in copper cents and the coins of New Jersey, came into possession of 11, perhaps 12, curious copper-nickel cents bearing CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA on the obverse. This inscription surrounded the so-called French Liberty Head portrait created in Philadelphia by Robert Lovett, Jr., and widely used for his store cards (advertising tokens) in 1860 and later on Civil War tokens. The popular story eliminated mention of Maris and stated that Lovett had been commissioned by the CSA to make dies for a cent, had struck 12 of them, but then fearful of reprisals, kept them in a drawer and did not pursue the contract further. He spent one by mistake at a bar, it came to the notice of coin dealer J.W. Haseltine, who recognized it as Lovett’s work, and the story was learned. In 1874, Haseltine had local medalist Peter Krider make restrikes from the dies, which he had purchased from Lovett.
Then in 1879 came another surprise. After an article appeared in the Philadelphia Public Record, January 2, 1879, B.F. Taylor, M.D., of New Orleans, contacted E.L. Mason, Jr., Philadelphia coin dealer, to say he had an original 1861 Confederate States of America half dollar. He stated that four examples had been coined, that he had one, that one of the officers of the Confederate government was given another, another went to Professor Biddle of the University of Louisiana, and one to Dr. Ames of New Orleans
From Taylor, Mason acquired the coin and the reverse die used to strike it. He considered the two items to be of great value, and sought a buyer.
On May 20, 1879, a letter from Mason was read at the meeting of the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society, “offering to dispose of a Confederate silver half dollar; also the reverse die for the same.” The existence of such a coin was not known or suspected earlier. In June 1879, in the first issue of Mason published details of the discovery.
Upon learning of this the editor of the American Journal of Numismatics suggested that: “This piece having been struck in the New Orleans Mint by government officers, with government tools, and on silver stolen from the United States, should be restored to its true ownership, and that it be placed in the Mint Cabinet. The obverse die, we hear, was claimed by the government; why not the reverse also?”
This spoil-sport suggestion was not heeded, and Mason retained possession, seeking to sell the die and coin at a handsome profit. Investigation revealed that in 1861, A.H.M. Patterson had cut the die for a pattern half dollar, and that four pieces were struck. Apparently the die was cut too deeply for high-speed production, or at least this was the opinion of Philadelphia Mint spokesman Patterson Dubois who made this comment in a later article, in 1882.
No buyer was forthcoming. Finally, New York City dealer J.W. Scott purchased the coin and die. Seeking an opportunity for profit he decided to produce restrikes.
By 1879, the die had rusted in a few places, most notably at ER in AMERICA. With David Proskey’s help, the rust was mostly polished from the die, and 500 white metal tokens were struck by Scott to assure that at least some pieces would be available in case the die broke when used to restrike half dollars. The other side of the store card was a new die with lettering describing the reverse., When no further deterioration occurred, Scott then moved on to the next phase of the plan. Half dollars dated 1861, said to have been of the 1861-O variety (but who knows?), recently taken from circulation, had the reverses drilled (word used by Scott) off, effectively removing the lettering and central design. The half dollars were placed in a collar to restrain lateral expansion, with the obverse of the coin placed on an accommodating surface, perhaps a piece of leather. The blank reverse was then struck with a Confederate die, creating a “Confederate half dollar.”
With David Proskey taking care of operations, Scott began a marketing program in which these pieces were offered for sale. Scott soon advertised that his offering of restrikes was oversubscribed, and he drove home the point by saying he would pay a profit to buyers. However, apparently only a portion of the mintage was actually distributed, for in a mood of reflection years later in the 1920s, Proskey, the architect of the project, stated that unsold pieces were in Scott’s inventory for many years thereafter.
By the 1920s they seem to have been distributed extensively. Today, examples are widely scattered, come on the market one at a time, and are highly sought and prized. We handle perhaps a handful each year. For the full story of this interesting coin see Chapter 7 in Q. David Bowers’ More Adventures With Rare Coins.

Jonathan Lerner Revised

Jon Lerner

Jon Lerner, Scarsdale Coin president, is a recognized expert in the numismatist field. Jon has spent over 30 years collecting and evaluating coins. He is often sought out by fellow coin collectors for his advice and knowledge of rare coins.


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Scarsdale Coin

Jon Lerner, a renowned figure in numismatics, discovered his passion for rare coins in his Scarsdale, New York upbringing. With a keen eye for quality, he founded Scarsdale Coin in 1985, quickly establishing it as a premier destination for collectors. Beyond dealing, Jon is a respected speaker and prolific writer, sharing his expertise with enthusiasts worldwide. His commitment to integrity and professionalism has earned him admiration throughout the numismatic community. Jon remains dedicated to enriching collectors' experiences and preserving the legacy of rare coins for future generations.