Near-Mint 1792 Half Disme, Judd-7
    Classic American Numismatic Rarity

    1792 H10C Half Disme, Judd-7, Pollock-7, R.4, AU58 PCGS. The 1792 half disme is a classic American rarity, the first in any lineup of the most important coins ever issued by the United States. To put it another way, the 1792 half disme must be considered the premier issue in what could be called the Who's Who of American Numismatics. Acquisition of one of these national treasures is a crowning achievement for any numismatist, investor, or dedicated collector.
    Although President George Washington took an understandably active interest in U.S. coinage, there is no substantiation for the mid-19th century bromide that the pieces were struck from Martha Washington's table silver. Ample evidence does point to Washington's provision of $100 in coin or silver bullion for production of the silver half dismes. The generally accepted mintage is 1,500 pieces or so; the difference is explainable by the amount of silver scrap that would be left over after silver planchets were produced.
    The silver half dismes are a regular issue that President Washington clearly intended to be a circulating issue, despite their traditional listing as Judd-7 in the Judd pattern coin reference. George Washington discussed the coins in his "State of the Union" address of November 6, 1792, showing that they were struck prior to that date. As most survivors are in low grade or are damaged, or both, we can assume that the half dismes actually circulated at the time of issue. Had they been intended as pattern coins, most survivors would probably be in much higher grade. The majority of survivors from the other 1792 coinage issues are in relatively high grade, suggesting that they had been preserved as keepsakes. The wording of Washington's November address, "There has been a small beginning in the coinage of half dimes, the want of small coins in circulation calling the first attention to them," along with the physical evidence of low-grade survivors, provides considerable evidence that the coins were, in fact, intended for circulation.
    While there are many low-grade survivors, a few high-grade pieces, Uncirculated or nearly so such as the present example, also are known. (President Washington personally distributed numerous examples, whose owners likely retained them, for the most part, due to their historical significance. Dr. Judd reportedly traced the pedigree of one Uncirculated piece directly back to David Rittenhouse, first Mint director.)
    The obverse features a Flowing Hair portrait of Liberty, with the peripheral legend LIB. PAR. Of SCIENCE & INDUSTRY, 1792 below portrait. The reverse depicts an eagle in flight with UNI. STATES OF AMERICA around, HALF DISME below. The coins share distinct similarities with the so-called Birch pattern cents, made by a Birch whose identity remains unconfirmed; evidence suggests British engraver-miniaturist William Russell Birch. The average grade of 1792 half dismes certified at NGC and PCGS (the upper echelon of surviving specimens) is in the XF range, indicating limited circulation before being snatched up as souvenirs of the burgeoning nation's first official coinage--or perhaps Washington even carried pocket pieces for distribution. According to most accounts the coins were struck in the cellar of John Harper in Philadelphia, Sixth and Cherry streets, before the Mint facilities were completed.
    The present piece is just a whisper of light wear away from a Mint State grade, visible on the high points of Liberty's hair curls around the ear. The strike is exceptionally bold but somewhat off-center, with the result that the denticulation on the obverse is thickest at noon and essentially absent at 6 o'clock. Both sides show a deep layer of gray-blue patina, with underlying glints of green and reddish hues observed on both sides. This is a coin for which some forthright collector must "seize the day," as opportunities for its acquisition are fleeting. Population: 8 in 58, 14 finer (3/09)
    From The Joseph C. Thomas Collection.(Registry values: P9) (NGC ID# 946T, PCGS# 11020)

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

    View all of [The Joseph C. Thomas Collection, Part Two ]

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    Numismatic Background and Census of 1802 Half Dimes: A Classic American Rarity
    This 64-page book cites mintage and rarity estimates by prominent numismatists and documents the currently known 1802 half dime appearances. Each of the 32 documented examples includes an enlarged obverse/reverse photograph, the author's assigned grade, the provenance of each coin, auction prices realized or dealer fixed asking price, and a unique serial number for each specimen that will facilitate retrieval for research, cataloging, or price-information purposes. Reserve your copy of this remarkable volume for just $29.95 today.
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