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Prooflike Near-Gem 1796 JR-4 Dime

1796 10C MS64 NGC. JR-4, R.4. Star 1, the lowest star on the left, is distant from the hair curls, and this position is diagnostic for the obverse die. The upper curve of the digit 6 is lightly recut below. This obverse was shared with two different reverse dies for varieties JR-3 and JR-4. The position of the berry below TE of UNITED distinguishes these reverse dies, with the berry below the upright of E on this reverse. Six different die varieties exist for the 1796 dimes across a mintage of 22,135 coins that were struck during the year. Approximately 10,000 more dimes were coined in February and March 1797, and it is thought that those coins were also dated 1796. The JR-4 variety is scarce and generally considered to be the third rarest of the year. About half a dozen Mint State examples are known, including this Choice example.
The authors of the JR dime reference, Early United States Dimes, 1796-1837, explained the existence of a relatively large Mint State population for this date: "Special pride in workmanship was taken in manufacturing the 1796 dimes; most early pieces are well struck and are quite prooflike in high grade. This was partly because the 1796 dimes, as the first issue of a new coin denomination, were frequently used as presentation pieces for visiting dignitaries. Because of their high quality, such personages and their descendants frequently preserved these dimes for two or more generations before ultimately disposing of them."
The "presentation purposes" argument was a favorite of Walter Breen who repeated this argument for high grade examples of many early coinage issues. Breen also liked another argument that many high grade coins were "saved as first of their kind." To our knowledge, neither of these arguments are historically documented, although the second is reasonable conjecture. While there are certainly occasional references to coins being presented to dignitaries, either as individual pieces or parts of sets, there is no documentary evidence that this was a routine process. Besides, it technically would have been illegal, as all coinage had to be paid directly back to depositors of metal in the order that deposits were received.
This piece, a lovely near-Gem example, is sharply struck with fully prooflike fields on both sides. Slight weakness is evident only at the centers on each side. The surfaces have lovely ivory color with champagne overtones and hints of light blue on each side. Although each side has a few fine abrasions, there are no individual pedigree markers.(Registry values: P7) (NGC ID# 236B, PCGS# 4461)

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Auction Dates
May, 2007
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 7
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