Choice AU 1792 Half Disme, Judd-7
1792 H10C Half Disme, Judd-7, Pollock-7, R.4, AU55 PCGS. The
1792 half disme is a coveted and historic American numismatic
treasure, probably among the most-desired U.S. issues outside of
the 1804 silver dollar -- the difference in the two issues is that
the 1792 half disme is actually obtainable for many
collectors, although adding affordable might be a
Storied U.S. Mint First Circulation Issue
Unlike the 15 examples of the 1804 silver dollar known, the 1792 half dismes survive in the amount of possibly 100 or so pieces. The combined PCGS and NGC population reports currently total 121 submissions, undoubtedly including duplicates.
Even though the 1792 half disme is designated with a Judd pattern reference number, there is little doubt that, unlike the other 1792-dated coins which appear to have been struck in far fewer numbers, the 1792 silver half dismes were intended to circulate, as President Washington's famous numismatic comment to Congress in November 1792 (before the U.S. Mint officially opened) points out: "There has been a small beginning in the coinage of half dismes; the want of small change in circulation calling first attention to them."
Frank Stewart (1873-1948), the owner of Frank H. Stewart Electric Co., a Philadelphia electric-supply company in the early 20th century, is crucial as the preserver of much of the surviving history of the first U.S. Mint or "Ye Olde Mint," as the sign on the Philadelphia main building read for many years. Stewart is the central figure in The Secret History of the First U.S. Mint by Joel Orosz and Leonard Augsburger, subtitled "How Frank H. Stewart Destroyed -- and Then Saved -- a National Treasure." Stewart tried and failed to preserve some of the original, dilapidated Mint buildings before leveling them to expand his burgeoning business.
We cannot recommend strongly enough the work of Orosz and Augsburger to those interested in the early Mint or the 1792 half dismes and other early Mint products. It would be a severe injustice to try to synopsize or encapsulate their work -- a long, intricate, and fascinating read, and a model of impeccable original research -- for our purposes here. It must suffice to say that Stewart considered the 1792 half dismes key to the history of the first U.S. Mint -- so crucial that Stewart not only obtained two examples for the Old Mint Collection, he also made them the central subject of a painting he commissioned, Washington Inspecting the First Money Coined by the United States, by John Ward Dunsmore.
The authors write:
"A coin of such distinctiveness must be of abiding interest to numismatists, and this observation is amply borne out in the marketplace. Every one of the surviving half dismes, no matter how dismal their state of preservation, is eagerly sought by collectors. Adding to the allure of these diminutive pieces of silver is the assertion by chief coiner Adam Eckfeldt, as recorded in a memorandum by Philadelphia numismatist John A. McAllister Jr., that President George Washington deposited silver 'Bullion or Coin' in the amount of $100, from which the coins were struck. The McAllister memorandum lacks independent corroboration; thus, there is no way of knowing whether the 'Martha Washington half disme,' as it was known even before McAllister's memorandum surfaced, truly owes its provenance to the first president or to someone else entirely."
Many of the other facts surrounding the 1792 half dismes have evaporated in the mists of time, including conclusive evidence of who designed them, exactly how many were produced, and the circumstances of their distribution. But an examination of the surviving populations shows that the survivors are bifurcated in grade: Many low-grade circulated survivors exist -- clearly coins that circulated for a good while -- and yet some notable high-grade Uncirculated specimens survive, coins that appear to have taken a far different route to the present day.
For example, the Dr. Judd Gem Uncirculated example, later sold in Auction '80 (Paramount, 8/1980), lot 592, and as part of the Jimmy Hayes Collection (Stack's, 10/1985), lot 3, reportedly had a pedigree that Dr. Judd had traced back to the collection of first Mint Director David Rittenhouse.
Orosz and Augsburger have documented that "Rittenhouse at one time had owned a significant number of the half dismes," perhaps eight or nine, according to a letter Stewart received in 1915 from Dr. George S. Gerhard, a distant relation of Rittenhouse through his daughter Elizabeth. A few other pieces may have been handed down through Adam Eckfeldt, the aforementioned chief coiner.
A roster we developed for the former Floyd T. Starr Specimen-67 PCGS coin in our Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2006), lot 1860 -- a coin that realized $1,322,500 -- showed some 27 separate examples of the 1792 half disme from Gem Uncirculated to AU. But notice in the certified population reports that there are clusters of examples around VF or so, AU58, and MS64. Clearly, these are coins that have seen more than one pathway from then to now.
It is always a privilege at Heritage to be able to offer multiple examples in a single sale of so historic an issue. The present Choice AU PCGS coin is an especially attractive example whose surfaces are toned in deep shades of gray, sea-green, and rose. The high points are lighter silver color, especially on the point of the bust and the eagle's breast. The center of Liberty's cheek displays faint, crisscrossing planchet adjustment marks, but none of the often-seen planchet flaws appear on either side. The strike is slightly soft in the centers, on Liberty's hair and the breast feathers. No pedigree markers appear, save for a minor horizontal mark above the eagle's head. Population: 7 in 55, 22 finer (9/12).(Registry values: P9) (NGC ID# 946T, PCGS# 11020)
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