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February 17, 2006
This Week In Coin & Currency News
Coin Market Roars at Long Beach Auction!
Seldom Seen Selections: The Starr 1792 Half Disme
Website tips: Population Guide
Numismatic Glossary
Help Wanted: Numismatist
Around Heritage Auctions
Coin Club Outreach Program
Instant Quiz: Test your numismatic knowledge
Is It Time To Sell? 2006 April Atlanta, GA (ANA) Signature Auction
Current Auctions: 2006 March Palm Beach, FL Signature Auction, 2006 March Palm Beach, FL Online Session, Exclusively Internet Auction, Continuous Internet Auction, Internet Currency Auction, Fine Art Monthly Auction, Amazing Sports Auction, Internet Movie Poster Auction, Amazing Comics Auction
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Collector News
Coin Market Roars at Long Beach Auction!

Heritage Auction Galleries held our 2006 February Long Beach Signature Auction on February 9-11, 2006 at the Long Beach Coin and Collectibles Expo in Long Beach, CA. Over the course of the 4,204 lots offered, this auction realized $10,324,835 so far, with after-auction purchases continuing. With the related On-Line Session that closed on February 13, totals for this auction will climb even higher.

To say that we are thrilled with these results is an understatement. Coin after coin brought outstanding results, with many pieces bringing the highest figures we?ve ever seen for a similar item in auction.

This auction continues what is starting out as another great year for Heritage. A little over a month into 2006, we have already seen Heritage Coin and Currency Auctions realize more than $65 million. The market has never been hotter, and we can only look forward to our next auction in Palm Beach, Florida with the greatest enthusiasm.

Highlights of the February Long Beach Signature Auction included:

Images, descriptions, and prices realized from this auction, as well as all previous Heritage auctions, are available in the Permanent Auction Archives

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Seldom Seen Selections: The Starr 1792 Half Disme

Heritage is proud to present the spectacular Starr 1792 Half Disme, the finest example known and probably the first coin produced in the United States, at our upcoming Central States Numismatic Society Signature Auction, to be held in Columbus, OH, April 26 to 29.

The story of the 1792 half disme, its peculiar spelling, and the legend surrounding the manufacture of these coins begins not in 1792, but almost two hundred years earlier, in 1585. In that year, a pamphlet named "Be Thiende" was first published that proposed a decimal system of coinage. The pamphlet was translated into French in 1608, and entitled "Le Disme." The subsequent English translation was, "Disme: The art of tenths, or, Decimall arithmeticke." The Founding Fathers (especially Gouvenour Morris) were familiar with the concept of tenths, and because of the confusion present throughout the colonies from the circulation of Spanish reales and English pounds side-by-side, the United Colonies (the later United States) had a very real need for a rational system of coinage. The dollar was officially adopted by Congressional resolution on July 6, 1785. The Mint Act of 1792 specified "...that the money of account of the United States shall be expressed in dollars or units, dismes or tenths, cents or hundredths and that all accounts in the public offices and all proceedings in the courts of the United States shall be kept and had in conformity to this regulation."

President Washington appointed David Rittenhouse as Mint Director twelve days after passage of the Mint Act, and well-known clock maker, Henry Voight, was appointed Acting Chief Coiner on June 1. Washington was personally involved in the establishment of the Mint, its founding, and even its operation in the early days. His personal dedication to the nation's coinage is best demonstrated by the donation of $100 in "silver plate" to make the country's first coinage: the 1792 half dismes. It has been speculated in the past that "silver plate" meant Washington donated Martha's silverware to make these coins. While this is a good story, and one that has contributed to the legend of the 1792 half dismes, it is probably not the case. It is more probable that he donated bullion or specie, and that is the way Adam Eckfeldt remembered the occurrence 52 years later. President Washington had such an interest in early Mint affairs that he even mentioned the production of these coins in his fourth annual address to Congress on November 6, 1792, when he said, "There has been a small beginning in the coinage of half dismes; the want of small coins in circulation calling the first attention to them."

It has been estimated that 1,500-2,000 pieces were struck from the silver donated by President Washington. The lower figure is based upon an entry in Thomas Jefferson's account book of July 13: "rec'd from the mint 1,500 half dismes of the new coinage." The 2,000 mintage figure is based on two different sources. One is the record book Coinage and Expenses 1792-1835, and the second source is an 1844 letter written by Dr. Jonas McClintock, a one-time melter and refiner at the Mint. In either case, some 200-250 pieces are believed known today in all grades.

The same Dr. McClintock interviewed Adam Eckfeldt in 1844 and wrote down his remembrances in a document formerly owned by Walter Breen. This document gives us most of the data that we know today about the 1792 half dismes. For instance, this single document (who owns it now?) tells us "Half Dismes...were struck at the request of Gen. Washington to the extent of One Hundred Dollars which sum he deposited in Bullion or Specie for the purpose—Mr. E. thinks that Gen. W. distributed them as presents--some were sent to Europe but the greater number of them he believes, were given to acquaintances in Virginia--No more of them coined except those of Gen. W.—they were never used as currency." While this document is in part enlightening, at the same time it also shrouds some of the facts about this initial issue in a deeper cloak of mystery. Washington's magnanimity is called into question first of all. If the Eckfeldt-McClintock remembrance is to be believed, then the half dismes of 1792 were in effect a private coinage produced under the auspices of the United States government, and distributed solely through one source: President Washington. However, not everything in this document can be taken at face value. If these coins were only given away to friends and sent overseas, then we would expect a much higher incidence of Uncirculated pieces to exist today.

Current estimates are that only 20 or so Uncirculated examples are believed extant today, and as collectors and dealers well know, this issue is usually only located in VG-VF condition. Thus, the grade distribution of the coins themselves clearly contradicts Eckfeldt's assertion that they were never used as currency. Perhaps he never received one in circulation, but they obviously were spent over a long period of years. Another discrepancy between the historical record and popular legend is that these coins were presented to George and Martha Washington in a ceremony in the basement of John Harper's cellar, where they were produced, at the corner of Cherry and 5th Streets (prior to the opening of the Mint). What seems to have actually happened is that Thomas Jefferson received 1,500 pieces on July 13. Presumably, he then delivered the coins to President Washington, who distributed them to friends and neighbors, and sent some to Europe. Half dismes were struck again in 1794 and the denomination continued until it was discontinued in 1873. According to Walter Breen, Mint records until about 1835-36 often spelled the denomination as it was on the coins in 1792. Only in 1837 were the coins called "half dimes." He speculates that the word "disme" must have originally rhymed with "steam;" there is no record of when people began to rhyme the word with "time."

Apparently a single set of dies was used to produce these coins, which were designed and engraved by British medalist, William Russell Birch, rather than Robert Birch, who was associated with the Mint in the early years and has previously been credited with the coin's design. As a rule, 1792 half dismes are found in low grade, poorly struck, and with numerous planchet flaws. This is a spectacular, fully struck coin. All of Liberty's hair details are fully defined, and the eagle's plumage is equally well brought up. From the details on this piece, it is obvious that special care was taken to strike this coin at least twice. Care was also taken to polish the surfaces as each side displays heavy die striations in the fields and across the central device on the obverse. Both obverse and reverse display speckled orange-crimson and lilac coloration with bright reflectivity around the peripheral lettering on the obverse. There is only one surface flaw that we see: a shallow, vertical scratch in the left obverse field.

This coin bears the grade Specimen-67, and is accompanied by a one-page letter from David Hall, founder of PCGS, in which he states in part: "The Starr 1792 Half Disme is so extraordinary in the sharpness of its strike and the reflectiveness of its surfaces that PCGS has designated the coin as a Specimen striking. It is the only 1792 Half Disme to receive this designation from PCGS. The coin is so exceptional that I believe it could very well be the first 1792 Half Disme struck, and thereby the first U.S. coin ever struck. It is certainly one of the most important coins PCGS has ever handled."

As a final note, Steve Ivy, Chairman of Heritage, was recently asked whether, considering all the high quality coins that Heritage sees, one coin especially stood apart from the rest. Without any hesitation, he mentioned this piece.

This coin bears a pre-auction estimate of $1,500,000, and will be open for bidding around April 8 at

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Website Tips: Population Guide

A very quick way to measure a coin's rarity is to look at how many coins of a particular date have been graded by the major grading services. Three figures are key as a rule of thumb in determining rarity:

  1. The population of a coin in a particular grade, which shows how difficult the coin might be to replace exactly,
  2. The population of a coin in all higher grades, which shows how difficult a coin might be to upgrade, and
  3. The population of a coin in all grades, which shows how difficult a coin might be to find at all.

The first two figures above are often written in shorthand. For example, a coin with a population of 100/4 has 100 known in the same grade and four known in higher grades. A coin with a population of 1/0 is the finest known to the grading service that certified it.

One of the features that has long been available on is population reports. PCGS and NGC keep track of every coin they grade, and Heritage is fortunate enough to bring you this information, in condensed form, on the web page for every US coin.

As an example, the table you see here covers an 1890-CC dollar, graded MS63 (in this case by NGC). Under the header "Population", you can see that the PCGS Population Report shows 2124 1890-CC dollars with an MS63 grade, and that NGC Census figures show 1002 similar coins. Under "Population of Higher Grade", PCGS shows 1,722 such pieces in MS64 and higher, while NGC shows 734. Finally, the total number of 1890-CC dollars graded in all grades is shown in the column "Total Population" -- 6,306 by PCGS, and 3,065 by NGC. These figures show that the 1890-CC dollar is not a particularly rare coin, and that MS63 is a very typical grade for it to be found. In addition to the population figures, there is a listing for a coin's mintage.

Please take into account that population figures listed on coins in Heritage auctions only cover coins with similar designations. In other words, the figures above do not take Prooflike and Deep Mirror Prooflike coins into account at all, and similar restrictions are in place on other series (and all proof coins), so in some cases you may need to do a bit of additional research to find out the true rarity of a coin.

While population figures may be a rule of thumb guide to a coin's rarity, they are not necessaruily a guide to a coin's value; some coins are particularly popular and might bring prices far in excess of another piece with similar figures. Total populations will usually vary from the number of coins actually available because of resubmissions, and some coins with low populations may simply not be valuable enough to be submitted.

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Numismatic Glossary:

Orange-peel surfaces: Dimpled fields seen on many Proof gold coins, and some Mint State gold dollars and $3 gold coins.

Wood-grain toning A toning pattern seen on some 19th and early 20th copper coins where parts of the coin will turn dark in a pattern reminiscent of the lines in wood.

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Help Wanted: Numismatist

Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Texas is seeking a talented numismatist for our sales department. Duties include assisting dealers and collectors and auction consignors in person and by telephone, evaluating prospective purchases, in Dallas and shows and conventions. Salary commensurate with numismatic skills and sales experience.

Please contact Paul Minshull at with your background and experience.

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Around Heritage Auctions

Heritage Goes to Atlantique City

On March 25 & 26, 2006 Heritage Auction Galleries will be represented by some of their top experts at Atlantique City, widely known as the World's Largest Indoor Antique & Collectible Show, at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Heritage will provide experts in the fields of Americana, Autographs, Coins, Comics, Currency, Movie Posters, Music & Entertainment, Sports, and Decorative and Fine Arts, all of whom will be available to provide consultations and free appraisals, and will also be accepting consignments as well as offering cash advances and outright purchases.

According to Heritage Americana Director, Tom Slater, "This is an opportunity for Heritage to show its strength in all collectible areas. Heritage has hired the best in all of its divisions. Atlantique City is the perfect venue to highlight our capabilities."

Heritage has taken the prestigious entry booth 1440, which had previously been occupied by a single vendor for the past 35 years, and will also maintain a greeter booth outside the main exhibitor floor to distribute free tickets to those registered for item appraisals. This booth will be used to pre-screen items and schedule additional appraisals.

Collectors and dealers are encouraged to visit Heritage Auction Galleries online, where they may schedule a free appraisal appointment and submit images for a pre-screening appraisal of their collectibles. Appointments will be confirmed by email.

For more information about Heritage's auctions, and a complete record of prices realized, along with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, please visit

Prospective consignors and sellers of vintage or collectible material should contact Heritage at 1-800-872-6467.

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Coin Club Outreach Program

In a move to help strengthen the coin hobby and increase membership in America's coin clubs, Heritage has created the Coin Club Outreach program.

The Coin Club Outreach program features a speaker's bureau to deliver presentations at coin club meetings, promotional items to be offered to clubs to help generate revenue and enlist new members, and access to the Heritage website and mailing list of over 150,000 active coin and currency enthusiasts. Anyone interested in scheduling a speaker for a coin club or other collector group is invited to contact:

David Lisot, Director
Heritage Coin Club Outreach
1-800-872-6467 ext. 303

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Heritage Interactive
Instant Quiz

NEW: Instant quizzes and polls twice a week at!

Answer these quick questions and see how you stack up against your peers.

1. The last Draped Bust Half Dime was minted in 1805. What was the next date Half Dimes were minted?

2. The British Royal Mint made One-Third Farthing coins until 1913. Where were they intended to circularte?
       South Africa

Last week's questions:

1. What was the last date the US minted one dollar gold pieces?
Correct Answer: 1922 (18%).

2. What is the date of the coin pictured in this Pan and Zoom closeup?

Correct Answer: 1890 (27%).

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Is It Time To Sell?

The Atlanta ANA Advantage

Heritage delivers for you all of the advantages needed to achieve top market prices in our 34th Official ANA Auction...

  • The hottest rare coin market ever
  • A numismatic venue of tradition — Atlanta
  • The incredible demand of motivated ANA visitors
  • Demand from 220,000+ registered bidder-members on our website
  • Our exclusive Permanent Auction Archives enshrine your collection
  • Marketing your consignment to the world
  • Our exclusive Interactive Internet bidding systems to maximize prices
  • Award-winning catalogers and the best images on the web or in print
  • The most experienced ANA auctioneer

Only Heritage, the world's numismatic auction leader, delivers all of these advantages, making this a truly exceptional selling opportunity. This was the same decision made by the consignor of the magnificent Duke's Creek Collection of Dahlonega Gold. Great anchor collections like this ensure that the attention of the numismatic world will be focused on Atlanta and on your coins.

To participate in this auction, please call our Consignor Hotline today: 1-800-872-6467, ext. 222

2006 April Atlanta, GA (ANA) Signature Auction
Sale on April 7 to April 9, 2006
Consignment Deadline: February 23, 2006

Leo Frese
Director of Consignments
1-800-US-COINS ext. 222 (24 hour voice mail)

Interested in Selling?
What's My Coin Worth?
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Current Auctions


Rare Coins
Closes Tue. Feb. 21
at 10:00 PM
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Rare Coins
Closes Sun. Feb. 19
from noon to 10:00 PM
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Rare Currency
Closes Tues. Feb. 21
at 10:00 PM
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Rare Coins
Location: Palm Beach, FL
Auction: 2006 March Palm Beach, FL Signature Auction #412
Auction Dates: March 2-3, 2006
Note: Internet Absentee Bidding Ends at 10 PM CT the night before the floor session of any particular lot.
Browse Lots by Category

Rare Coins
Location: Palm Beach, FL
Auction: 2006 March Palm Beach, FL Online Session #413
Auction Dates: March 6, 2006
Note: Internet Absentee Bidding Ends between 6 PM and 10 PM CT.
Browse Lots by Category
Paintings, Silver, Art Glass and Antiques and more...
Closes Sunday, February 26, 2006 at 5:00 PM
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Sports cards, autographs, collectibles, and more...
Closes Sunday, February 26, 2006 at 10:00 PM
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Movie posters, lobby cards and more...
Closes Sunday, February 19, 2006 at 10:00 PM
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Comics, comic art and more...
Closes Sunday, February 19, 2006 at 10:00 PM
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