1908-O Barber Half NGC MS67 CAC
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After 55 years, the Seated Liberty half dollar design had become a bit creaky.
A classic, yes. Exciting, no.
So in 1891, Mint Director Edward O. Leech announced a design competition. Just one fatal flaw in his plan: he would only pay the winner. As a result, none of the invited artists participated, so Leech turned to Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber to design a new coin.
Leech instructed Barber to model Liberty on contemporaneous French coins, a suggestion Barber promptly ignored, at first producing a slim, full-length Liberty with an eagle spreading its wings behind her (sounds like a good motorcycle jacket design, if you ask us). Leech rejected the design, and Leech and Barber’s working relationship grew frosty from there.
One of Leech’s sticking points was Barber’s apparently inaccurate rendering of an olive branch. So Leech visited the National Botanical Garden, got an olive branch, and sent it to Barber — without comment. (An olive branch sent as an act of war; how ironic!)
Then Leech approved a design with clouds and ordered working dies of it, only to quickly change his mind and have two more versions made. Can’t have been fun to be Barber!
In the end, the design featured on the obverse a classical Liberty head facing right and wearing an olive-branch crown and a small headband bearing the word “LIBERTY.” “IN GOD WE TRUST” appears above Liberty’s head, the date below her head, and 13 six-pointed stars to her left and right. This Liberty is dignified, restrained, classical. Some like that, some don’t — it all depends on your taste.The reverse shows a heraldic eagle, based on the Great Seal of the United States. Its left claw holds 13 arrows and its right an olive branch (o troublesome olive branch). In his mouth he holds a scroll bearing the words “E PLURIBUS UNUM,” and he is encircled by the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and “HALF DOLLAR.”
A LITTLE STICKER MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE.
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