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    Description

    1796 Draped Bust Dime, JR-6, MS68
    First Year of Denomination, Two-Year Type
    Single-Finest-Certified 18th Century Silver Coin

    1796 10C JR-6, R.3, MS68 PCGS. CAC. This magnificent 1796 Draped Bust dime is not just the finest-certified 1796 dime seen by either of the leading grading services, it is the highest-graded United States silver or gold coin of any denomination with a pre-1800 date. The technical quality and eye appeal of this spectacular MS68 specimen are unmatched by any other regular-Issue silver or gold coin of this era, an especially important consideration for series specialists and Registry Set enthusiasts alike. In addition, the 1796 has always been a favorite date with type collectors, because it represents the first year of the denomination and the first date of a two-year design type. Heritage Auctions is privileged to offer this landmark rarity in its first auction appearance in 26 years.

    The disme was one of the original denominations authorized for coinage by the Mint Act of 1792. The name disme was borrowed from a French translation of a 1585-dated mathematical treatise on decimal fractions by Simon Stevin van Brugghe entitled La Disme. The denomination was pronounced "deeme" in French, but both spelling and pronunciation were quickly Anglicized to "dime" in this country.

    Although the denomination was authorized in 1792, and ten cent patterns were struck in both copper and silver composition that year, no business-strike dimes were struck until 1796. Apparently, the smaller denomination copper coins and half dimes were more important for everyday purchases, and the eagle, half eagle, half dollar, and dollar coins were more desirable for large transactions, so the Mint concentrated its limited resources on producing those issues during the first four years of its existence. The middle-denomination dimes and quarters and the smallest gold piece, the quarter eagle, were not coined until 1796, the first year in which all the denominations authorized by the Mint Act were actually produced. Some prominent collectors, like John Whitney, "Mr. 1796," have formed memorable collections over the years specializing in the coinage of 1796.

    In actuality, the striking of dimes, quarters, and quarter eagles in 1796 may have had more to do with the necessity of keeping valuable Mint employees busy than with any real demand for the coinage. Deposits of gold and silver were very small in this period, and many influential legislators were in favor of abolishing the Mint, as it was a borderline cost-effective enterprise in those days. It required just as much time and labor to produce a dime as it did a dollar, but only used one tenth the amount of silver. Mint Director Elias Boudinot could keep the presses running much longer and avoid laying off valuable personnel by using the small deposits of silver to coin dimes instead of dollars. Like David Rittenhouse before him, Boudinot often made deposits on his own account to keep the Mint's supply of silver from dwindling to nothing during this period. He most likely specified that he wanted his silver coined into small denomination coins, and recycled the deposits as quickly as he could. Silver dollar coinage was much smaller in 1796 than 1795, and it dropped off to just 7,776 pieces in 1797.

    Several designs had been tried on U.S. copper and silver coinage by 1796, all garnering mixed reviews from the general public. The Draped Bust, Small Eagle design had debuted on the dollar, half dollar, and half dime the year before, and this design was featured on the dime for its first two years. The reverse was changed to the Heraldic Eagle motif in 1798, creating a popular short-lived design type. The bust of Liberty on the obverse was reportedly designed by famous artist Gilbert Stuart, from a portrait of Mrs. Anne Willing Bingham, a wealthy Philadelphia socialite.

    Only 22,135 Draped Bust dimes were struck in 1796, with six different die varieties for the date. This coin represents the JR-6 variety, easily recognized by the prominent die crack through the date and the wreath showing no outer berry between D in UNITED and the first S in STATES. The JR-6 is the second most available variety of the date in absolute terms, but most high-grade 1796 dimes are of the more common JR-1 variety. This was the only use of both obverse and reverse dies and both dies show extensive die cracks in later states.

    Although the 1796 is a scarce issue, a surprising number of very high-quality examples have survived over the years. As the first year of the denomination it had significant novelty appeal and its relatively small face value made it easy for people to set aside a nice coin as a memento or keepsake. These high-quality pieces, including the present coin, became family heirlooms, and were carefully preserved for several generations in this manner before being passed on to coin collectors when the hobby became popular in the 1850s.

    The 1796 dime was a popular issue with collectors from the very start of the hobby. Specimens began appearing at auction as early as lot 262 of the A.C. Kline Sale (Moses Thomas & Sons, 6/1855). When B. Max Mehl cataloged a nice specimen of the 1796 JR-6 in lot 299 of the James H. Manning Collection in May of 1921 he described it as follows:

    "1796 First year of issue. Bust of Liberty facing right, LIBERTY above, date below, seven stars before and eight behind bust; Reverse small eagle on clouds beneath a wreath; around UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Milled edge. Variety with die break through 179 of date; and star just touches curl. Reverse, leaf under T of STATES. Extremely fine, nearly uncirculated, with considerable original mint luster. Rare and valuable so choice."



    The lot sold for $15, a high price at that time, when the average worker made $920 per year and a new car cost $525. Recent auction appearances include the stunning Bareford-Hayes-Whitney-Price JR-1 MS67 PCGS coin that realized $881,250 in lot 30229 of the Eugene Gardner Collection (Heritage, 6/2014).

    While Draped Bust dimes in general, and 1796 examples in particular, have always been avidly collected, the study of die varieties lagged behind the other silver series in the 19th century. John W. Haseltine and John Colvin Randall covered die varieties of the early quarters, half dollars, and dollars admirably in their 1881 Type Table and Harold P. Newlin wrote the first treatise on half dime varieties in 1883, but no standard reference for early dime varieties was available to collectors until well into the 20th century. Probably the first collector to study the varieties of this series was John M. Clapp, who began making notes on the different characteristics of the dimes he purchased at the auction of the Nicholas Petry Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 5/1893). Clapp was an avid student of varieties in other series as well. He was the first researcher to make the now-famous 1825/4 half eagle widely known, although the issue had been mentioned in auction descriptions as early as 1864.

    By 1912, Henry Chapman was able to identify four different varieties of 1796 dime, including the JR-6, in his catalog of the George Earle Collection. Likewise, Howard Rounds Newcomb exhibited four different varieties of the 1796 at the 1914 ANS Exhibition. F.C.C. Boyd also did some work on this subject in the first half of the 20th century, but it was only when Abe Kosoff sold Boyd's World's Greatest Collection, Part V in May of 1945 that any attempt to scientifically classify and assign nomenclature to the different Draped Bust dime varieties was attempted. Kosoff assigned K numbers to 80 different Bust dime die varieties in Boyd's collection, but many of his varieties were just different die states of the same variety. He listed 12 die varieties for the 1796 date alone, while only six are recognized today. His pioneering work on the subject was reprinted in 1964 and it was the only reference collectors had to rely on before the masterful Early United States Dimes 1796-1837 was authored by David Davis, Russell J. Logan, Allen Lovejoy, John W. McCloskey, and William Subjack in 1984. The book was published by the John Reich Collectors Society and has served as the standard reference for the series ever since.

    The present coin is a breathtaking MS68 example that was last offered publicly in lot 409 of the FUN Sale (Mid-American Rare Coin Auctions, 1/1988), where it was described as:

    "An awesome example of this date, with creamy, lustrous surfaces and bright golden color on the obverse. The strike on both sides is superb, with every detail full and bold. The reverse is toned to a delicate sea-green color at the peripheries. Some weakness in the denticles is noted on the upper obverse and lower reverse. Altogether, this is one of the finest examples known of this date and rivals the Superb piece which was sold by Stack's in their 1981 sale of the Bareford collection. This piece is a top-notch, world-class coin that will be the highlight of anyone's collection."



    The Mid-American catalogers clearly recognized the quality of the present coin in their description. The Bareford coin they compared it to is the same specimen that recently set the record for prices realized for this issue at $881,250. That coin is the more common JR-1 variety and was recently certified as MS67, a full grade point below this piece. This MS68 example was examined by John Kraljevich a few years ago, and he compared this piece to some other high-quality 1796 dimes:

    "While there may be as many as a couple dozen survivors of the date in unworn condition, the number of true gems is relatively small. The present specimen has been graded MS-68 by PCGS - the highest grade that has ever been assigned to a silver U.S. coin from before 1800.

    "Unlike some coins of that magnificent state of preservation, this piece has never been whispered of as a specimen or presentation coin. It is not prooflike, though the strike is extraordinarily bold at centers, especially on the reverse. Significantly, this is just a regular-strike specimen of the first U.S. dime issue that some unknown - not a VIP, not an official - decided to put aside and save. And they did so in the most careful way. The surfaces are frosty and full of lustre. Gentle and attractive toning graces both sides, with gold shades clinging to the obverse stars and fainter tones of pastel blue, rose, and light gold. Two heavy obverse die cracks define this die marriage and die state, a testament to the difficulty the Mint had properly forging even small dies. A tiny piece of the die has fallen away inside the top of the 7. Despite its die state, the detail is incredibly crisp on both sides - it is a finely made example of the type.

    "The Ed Price Collection, acclaimed as the finest collection of dimes ever assembled, contains the Bareford-Whitney specimen of this variety. While it has been called "tied for finest known," that example is graded just MS-64 PL by NGC (Note: this coin is graded MS67 PCGS today). The lovely prooflike Eliasberg coin was called an "incredible gem" and "possibly finest known," but it has never been assigned to the same numerical level as this coin. This example is the single finest surviving example of the first American dime and the finest quality 18th century U.S. silver coin of any denomination!"



    The present coin possesses unsurpassed technical quality, eye appeal, and historic significance. It is the single-finest example seen by PCGS since they began grading coins 28 years ago. It is featured in PCGSCoinFacts.com. Below the photos of this MS68 1796 Dime, Ron Howard, the dean of PCGS coin graders, says, "My favorite regular-issue U.S. coin is the coin (this 1796 Dime) PCGS graded MS 68. It is, in my opinion, unmatchable for its combination of originality, preservation, and historic numismatic significance." This coin has been off the market since our consignor purchased it privately in 1998 and may not become available for a similar period of time once this lot is sold. When coins of this caliber are sold the prices realized often seem incredible to the casual observer, but any seasoned numismatic dealer or scholar can confirm that these are the very coins that will enjoy the most appreciation and demand from the next generation of sophisticated and serious collectors. The discerning collector should bid accordingly. Population: 1 in 68, 0 finer (6/14).
    Ex: FUN Sale (Mid-American Rare Coins, 1/1988), lot 409. (NGC ID# 236B, Variety PCGS# 38747, Base PCGS# 4461)

    Weight: 2.70 grams

    Metal: 89.24% Silver, 10.76% Copper


    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

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    Auction Dates
    August, 2014
    5th-9th Tuesday-Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 24
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