Perhaps Finest Known LM-2 1796/5 Half Dime, MS661796/5 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 fresh 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 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 the same 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 obverse die, which is by far the more common of the two varieties of 1796 half dimes.
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.
With approximately 30 examples of LM-2 known in all grades, the current coin is special for its absolute rarity first and foremost, at least from a fundamentally numismatic point of view. Sometimes we lose perspective of the significance of rarity ratings. Perhaps it is more poignant to state that, from a set of dies sunk in 1796, only 30 artifacts of those dies remain in any condition; quite literally, a handful of half dimes. And of those 30 pieces, most are low grade and/or impaired in some way. It goes without saying that owning the finest known specimen from a particular die pairing, especially a rare die marriage, of any coin is a dream that most collectors will never realize. The current coin is perhaps the finest known example of this rare variety. This is the highest yet graded at PCGS (11/07), with the next finest a lone MS64 that reigned supreme for several years before this piece was recently certified. To add perspective to the conditional significance of this half dime, the specimen from the famed Eliasberg Collection was estimated to grade MS61/62. Regardless of date or variety, the coin in this lot is one of the finest known Draped Bust, Small Eagle half dimes and is destined for inclusion in the most distinguished of cabinets.
Ex: Essex Palm Collection (Heritage, 1/07), lot 842, which realized $172,500.
From The Madison Collection.(Registry values: P7) (NGC ID# 22ZY, PCGS# 4255)
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