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Phenomenal MS66 1796/5 Half Dime, R.6, Likely Finest Known1796/5 H10C MS66 PCGS. V-2, LM-2, R.6. The years 1795 and 1796 were busy and productive ones for the fledgling U.S. Mint. Director Henry DeSaussure--continuing his dual missions to produce circulating gold coinage and to improve the design of circulating silver coinage--employed the noted portraitist Gilbert Stuart in the summer of 1795 to fashion a new portrait of Liberty to replace the unpopular Flowing Hair design on silver denominations. From those sketches, artist John Eckstein prepared obverse device punches, and Chief Engraver Robert Scot prepared dies conforming to the Mint Act of 1792. The new Draped Bust, Small Eagle design was introduced first in 1795 on the silver dollar. The Mint also coined its first silver dimes and quarters in 1796, and the first gold quarter eagles made their appearance. In 1796 the new design was employed on all five silver denominations, from half dimes through silver dollars. Many of these new coins and new designs were produced in extremely limited numbers, and the year overall is notable for producing some of the rarest U.S. type coins.
Although no 1795 half dimes with the Draped Bust motif were coined, a 1795-dated obverse die of the new design was produced, then overdated with a 6 to create this rare LM-2 1796/5 variety. That obverse was paired monogamously with a single reverse die. A second non-overdate obverse was also paired singly with a different reverse, creating the LM-1 variety. Those are the only two die marriages known for the year; both featured a weak B in LIBERTY from a defective letter punch. The well-known LIKERTY "variety," with the top and bottom of the B weaker still, is technically a late, lapped die state of the LM-1.
This spectacular coin is uncommonly well brought up in the centers. The mint luster is bright, and the reverse fields display a semi-reflective gleam. A few shallow, horizontal adjustment marks are seen in the center of the obverse. The only marks of any note on either side are a couple of light abrasions in the lower right obverse field, which may be useful to the future pedigree researcher. The obverse shows light rose-colored patina, while the reverse is mostly pale lilac with rose-golden accents around the margins.
This is a phenomenal example of this overdate, a rare coin in any grade--much less the memorable MS66 condition of the present specimen. Although for many years the finest graded specimen at PCGS was a single MS64 coin, the current online Population Report shows an MS66 as the finest known of the LM-2 at that service by two points (10/06). The second-finest at NGC of this variety is a single MS63 coin. There is also a single unattributed 1796 half dime at NGC graded MS67 : That piece is likely the much more available LM-1. While we cannot be certain whether this NGC-graded MS66 1796/5 coin and the PCGS LM-2 in the same grade are in fact the same coin, the sudden, near-simultaneous appearance of the same spectacularly high-graded and rare variety at both services leads one to at least consider the possibility that the pieces are, in fact, identical, and that the coin was submitted to both services. Suffice it to say, the present offering certainly appears to be tied for the finest certified piece, if indeed we cannot say with certainty that it is the single finest graded at either service. Before the advent of certification, a couple of MS64 examples of the 1796/5 changed hands in the late 1970s and mid-1980s. One piece in a Stack's auction (10/1985, lot 5) brought $50,600, while an example in a 1979 Bowers & Ruddy auction (11/1979, lot 229) brought $60,000. The Eliasberg specimen, an MS61/62 (Bowers and Merena, 5/1996, lot 895), brought $28,600. An MS62 example in Bowers and Merena's "Rarities Sale" (9/2002, lot 173) described as "flatly struck and striated across Liberty's hair and on the lower right reverse" brought $25,300. The PCGS online Price Guide lists the 1796/5 at $57,500 in MS64, while it is unpriced in MS65 and finer grades.
In the dozen-plus years of Heritage's auction archives, we have offered only seven pieces, including an MS62 and an MS60 as the only Mint State examples. This spectacular and spectacularly rare MS66 R.6 coin in today's heated market should see feverish bidding from both type collectors and early half dime specialists.
From The Essex Palm Collection.(Registry values: P7) (NGC ID# 22ZY, PCGS# 4255)
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