1794 H10C SP67 PCGS. V-3, LM-3, R.4 as a business strike, High R.7 as a Specimen....
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Only Specimen Strike Certified at PCGS
This SP67 PCGS coin is the finest known Specimen (or Special Strike) certified of the 1794 half dime, one of the debut U.S. silver coin issues and the smallest silver denomination produced during the earliest days of the Philadelphia Mint. Four die pairings are known for the 1794 silver half dimes, but only a handful of examples of this first-year issue have been certified as Specimens at either PCGS or NGC. Besides being the finest certified at either service, this SP67 example is also the only Specimen in any grade at PCGS. NGC has graded four Specimen examples: two in SP64, one in SP65, one in SP66 (7/12).
All three known obverses used for the Robert Scot-designed 1794 half dimes show 15 stars. The V-3, LM-3 obverse is shared with the V-2, LM-2. The obverse shows the digit 1 in the date about centered under the right side of the lowest hair curl, but a more obvious diagnostic is the 9 in the date, which is close to a dentil, while the 4 just about touches the dentils. The 4 is markedly repunched northward (is this mentioned in the literature elsewhere?) Stars 11 and 12 are closely spaced. On the reverse, which is unique to this marriage, a leaf extends to the left side of the U in UNITED. The I in UNITED shows one berry on each side of the wreath, two berries directly underneath, an instant and unmistakable identifier. Looking at the eagle's left (facing) wing, there are two inner berries and one outer berry.
Although ranked R.4, the same as the V-4, LM-4 die marriage, the V-3, LM-3 is scarcer overall and more elusive in Uncirculated grades.
The half dimes dated 1794 were known not to have been actually struck in that year -- a frequent Mint practice in its early days. Despite the date, the dies were prepared in 1794 and laid aside until February 1795, when production began once a supply of silver planchets became available. The Mint reported the mintage of 1794- and 1795-dated half dimes combined at 86,416 pieces, the only two issues of the Flowing Hair obverse design.
Similarly, the half dimes dated 1796 and 1797 would also constitute a two-year subtype, the only issues of the Draped Bust obverse and Small Eagle reverse design.
As the United States' smallest circulating silver denomination and the first issue of the series, the 1794 half dimes' production was clearly an opportunity to strike off a few examples -- likely on more than one occasion, certainly using more than one die pair -- of special quality to commemorate the event. (No half dimes or any other silver coins were struck in 1793, and the 1792 half dismes were apparently struck in the cellar of the Philadelphia home of sawmaker John Harper, at Sixth and Cherry streets before the U.S. Mint building was complete).
Walter Breen writes of the 1794 "presentation coins" half dimes in Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins 1722-1989:
"All four varieties dated 1794 were included, with some dated 1795, in a delivery of 7,756 pieces made on March 30, 1795. Unquestionable presentation pieces exist of three of those, only one known in this state for each variety though ordinary frosty uncirculated specimens exist for V-2, 3 and 4. Possibly the presentation pieces were made earlier, the V-1 perhaps in 1794."
The Specimen strikes, simply put, present a different appearance from "ordinary" frosty Uncirculated Mint State pieces (although precious few of those survive among the 1794 half dimes). Even though there is a fine line among all early (pre-1830 or so) Mint products of any denomination certified as Specimen, one-sided proof, presentation piece, and the like, the Specimen strikes appear more reflective, the dies more polished, the strikes bolder than on Mint State coins, even though educated numismatists can (and do) quibble endlessly about the status of particular pieces.
The Present Example
As mentioned earlier, the present Specimen-67 PCGS coin is the sole Specimen or Special Strike certified at PCGS in any grade, and the appearance of this coin is equally remarkable for its strike, reflectivity, lack of contact, and overall quality. The planchet is essentially perfect, and there are no die clashes, mentionable contact marks, or other surface distractions that appear on either side. The dies on both sides were clearly fresh when this coin was struck, showing none of the die cracks that appear in later states on each side.
The strike is incredibly sharp. The detail on Liberty's hair and eye are sculptural, far more detailed than normally seen, showing the fine strands of hair along with a complete eyeball on Liberty; even the iris in the center of her eye is bold. There is perceptible reflectivity on each side, although moderately intense color subdues it a bit. It takes a strong loupe to find the two tiny horizontal planchet adjustment marks well-concealed in the hair. Nonetheless, it seems that the planchet was specifically chosen for its quality and lack of defects, and perhaps given a bit of extra polish before striking. The lower two-thirds of the obverse is mostly reddish-colored, with the upper portion light blue to sea-green. The reverse displays a reddish center bounded by blue at the margins. The only mentionable strike softness is minor weakness on the tips of Liberty's hair curls.
As the finest-graded Specimen 1794 half dime at either service (and in a higher grade than any business strike, for that matter), this is an offering of immense importance to specialists in early U.S. Mint coinage. Population: 1 in Specimen-67, 0 finer (7/12).
Condition Census of Specimen Silver 1794 Half Dimes
The following roster of high-grade Specimens known may include duplicates but does show that three die pairs were used to produce the coins. No conclusive (or generally accepted) Specimen is known for the V-4, LM-4 die marriage -- most particularly the Eliasberg coin, lot 887.
--SP67 PCGS. V-3, LM-3. The present example. Previous provenance unknown but not an obvious match for any of the pieces below.
--SP65 NGC. V-2, LM-2. William H. LaBelle sale (American Numismatic Rarities, 7/2005), lot 877, which realized $109,250; Joseph C. Thomas Collection / Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2009), lot 2176.
--SP64 NGC. V-1, LM-1. Lester Merkin; Leland G. Rogers Collection / Numisma '95 (Stack's, 11/1995); American Numismatic Rarities (1/2004), lot 1336. Only "presentation piece" known of the V-1 according to Breen.
--MS63-64 obverse/MS65 reverse, prooflike, uncertified. V-2, LM-2. Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection (Bowers and Merena, 5/1996), lot 885. Breen describes this as a presentation (specimen) piece in the Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins.
--MS64 uncertified. V-3, LM-3. Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection (Bowers and Merena, 5/1996), lot 886. Breen also describes this as a presentation (specimen) piece in his Proof Encyclopedia. One of the three Eliasberg 1794 half dimes (V-2 through V-4, lots 885, 886, and 887, the last not cited as a presentation piece) is ex: Richard B. Winsor Collection; S.H. and H. Chapman (12/1895); John M. Clapp; Clapp estate; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. (1942), noted in the Clapp notebook as "11 berries on reverse" (all of the 1794 reverses show either 12 or 13 berries).
From The Greensboro Collection, Part I. (PCGS# 84250)
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