In 1837, Andrew Jackson finished his last term as president and returned to his Tennessee home with what he declared was “barely $90 in my pocket”. Could this 1837 half dollar have been part of the former president’s small sum?
The introduction of a steam coinage press in the Philadelphia Mint in 1836 occasioned a redesign of the hardy Capped Bust Half Dollar. Assistant Engraver Christian Gobrecht reworked the design to include a sharper, more refined appearance to Liberty's portrait on the obverse and the reverse eagle. He also removed the scroll that used to reside in the upper-reverse field and upon which the Latin motto E PLURIBUS UNUM was inscribed.
The steam press allowed the U.S. Mint to start using a close collar to produce coins of this denomination, and some of Gobrecht's modifications to the Capped Bust Half Dollar were also made to accomodate this innovative piece of equipment. Most significant in this regard are a beaded border and a pronouned raised rim. Since the lettering that appears on the edges of Capped Bust Halves from 1807-1836 was imparted prior to striking, and the close collar exerted tremendous pressure while the coins were in the press, this feature could no longer be used. Instead, Half Dollars struck in a close collar would now display reeded edges. The modified Capped Bust examples of 1836-1839 are usually referred to as the Reeded Edge type.
This brief, four-year series actually includes two distinct types. The Reeded Edge Halves struck in 1836 and 1837 have the denomination expressed as 50 CENTS along the lower-reverse border. For those pieces delivered in 1838 and 1839, the denomination reads HALF DOL. Survivors of both types are among the more underrated U.S. silver coins in the finer Mint State grades.