Rio History: A Tale of Two Doorstops

Special to the PRESS

I’ve always had a fascination for stories about how someone inherited an old item which they assumed had little or no value only to discover…

Wanting to buy a new car, a British woman decided to sell an old wooden Chinese pot she had inherited from her father which she had used as a doorstop for the past 40 years. The surface of the artifact, which had been crafted from a solid piece of rare Zikan wood, was covered by an intricate carving of a portrayal of “The Hundred Boys,” a well known folk story in China which pictures people setting off fire crackers, marching in processions and chasing bats.

One expert suggested it could have been used to hold the tools of Chinese calligraphers and would probably realize in excess of $30,000 at auction. The woman was “stunned” and “lost for words” as she watched her old “doorstop” bring in $225,000.

Then there was the family that brought a chunk of metal to a “discovery day” hosted by Holabird Western American Collections. They hoped the object, which had been used as a doorstop for generations in their home, could generate a little money for the family member who owned it.

That doorstop turned out to be a “CC”( Carson City) reverse die for the Liberty Seated half dollar. When the Holabird staff asked the lady how she acquired it, she said it had been her grandfather’s. Although no notes or letters survived, it turned out her grandfather was an assayer who once worked for the Carson City Mint.

Coin dealer Fred Weinberg  paid  $18,975 the die at auction and resold it to Littleton Coins President David Sundman., “I was attracted to it partly because I’ve always liked Carson City coinage and of course the story,” Sundman told a reporter, “I had the vague idea that it would make a nice display item, there not being many canceled U.S. Mint dies in private hands.”

The die languished in Littleton’s vault for the next ten years. Once or twice a year, David would take it out to look at it. Then in 2014, Bill Bugert, a long-time collector of Liberty Seated coinage and a co-author and author of several Liberty Seated half dollar varieties books had a chance to study the find. He determined it was the FIRST half dollar reverse die, one of 3 used in 1870.

Carson City expert Rusty Goe told a reporter; “Coin dies aren’t supposed to survive.” In those days, branch mints would ship the dated side back to the main mint in Philadelphia each year. But due to cost saving efforts, Carson City and San Francisco were both been authorized to destroy their own dies. Unused dies without dates (reverse dies) in good condition could be kept for later use. Dies that were no longer usable were routinely canceled by chiseling an “X” through the entire design. What makes Littleton’s die so unique is the fact that it only has two chisel cuts on either side of the outer portions leaving much of the eagle untouched. I’ve seen a lot of canceled dies because of my research… there’s a Morgan dollar die at the New Orleans Mint [like Littleton’s] that’s lightly canceled… I’ve only seen two lightly canceled like that. It’s a wonderful piece of history.”

The Carson City die and an 1870-CC Liberty Seated half dollar it struck are now on display at Littleton Coin Company in Littleton, New Hampshire.

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