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    Historic, Original, and Meticulously Preserved
    1792 Half Disme, Judd-7, MS63

    1792 H10C Half Disme, Judd-7, Pollock-7, R.4, MS63 PCGS. Vast amounts of myth, lore, and legend surround this early U.S. issue, struck before the first U.S. Mint in Philadelphia was completed. The 1792 half disme (correctly pronounced as the French would, "deem" rather than "dime" or "diz-me"), is listed as Number 18 in Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth's The 100 Greatest U.S. Coins. (In a bit of cognitive dissonance, it is opposite Number 17, the double thick Ultra High Relief double eagle pattern that is the diameter of a ten dollar gold piece--about as different as two coins can get.)
    The authors delve into the question of whether the 1792 half dismes should be considered "pattern" coins or not:

    "Generally, Pattern coins are struck in extremely limited quantities (usually fewer than a dozen pieces) just to test how a design will appear in coin form. A mintage of 1,500 pieces suggests that the 1792 Half Disme was much more than just a Pattern, but because they were struck outside the U.S. Mint, because no other Half Dimes were made until 1794, and because the 1792 Half Dismes were not monetized through official channels (as were 'real' coins later on), most numismatists consider them to be Patterns. Some experts consider them quasi-official coins, and a smaller group considers them to be one of the first 'real' coins made by our U.S. government. Perhaps the best test is that these did indeed circulate as coins, and in December 1792, in his message to Congress, President Washington specifically stated that they had been made as regular coinage. Thus, it is only logical that most known pieces show signs of extensive wear.
    "Another way to approach the question is to point out the existence of a unique 1792 Half Disme struck in pure copper. Such a piece indicates that the dies were first tested on a blank of base metal, the designs and striking qualities were approved, and a production run of 1,500 Half Dismes began. If the copper piece were the Pattern (or a Die Trial), how can the silver versions that followed be anything other than 'real' coins?"

    The comments from Garrett and Guth are interesting in numerous ways. While trying to please all comers, they simultaneously manage to come down squarely in the camp of that "smaller group" that "considers them to be one of the first 'real' coins" made by the fledgling government. In addition, while Garrett and Guth note that most survivors show extensive wear--which is true--it is also recorded that President George Washington handed out numerous examples as souvenirs. The certified population (which is probably the top end of surviving examples) shows that there are quite a few Mint State pieces known--evidence that the original recipients mostly cherished these historic numismatic presents from our nation's first president.
    Judging by the record prices that these incredibly popular 1792 half dismes have brought in recent years, it appears that not a "smaller group," but rather legions of collectors agree with Garrett and Guth that these pieces were "regular" U.S. coinage. Witness the incredible sum of $1,322,500 that the phenomenal Floyd Starr specimen, graded Specimen 67 by PCGS, brought in Heritage's CSNS Signature Auction (4/2006, lot 1860), listed in the 2008 Guide Book as the #16 top U.S. coin price realized. (Subsequent sales in 2007 have now altered those auction rankings.)
    The PCGS online Population Report has a section on "Patterns, Experimental Pieces, and Die Trials" (in which are listed many of the other 1792 issues, much more widely considered true patterns). However, the "Bust Half Dime (1792)" is listed just before other circulation strike types in the half dime series. If one clicks that category, the Starr coin will be listed separately as a Specimen strike, and under Mint State pieces PCGS currently shows three coins graded in MS63, with 11 better (finest an MS67). NGC online Census Report (which lists "Early Half Dimes 1792-1837" under circulation strikes) shows two pieces graded MS63, with seven finer (finest an MS68) (11/07).
    The present MS63-graded PCGS example is thus one of five coins so graded at both services. Such coins are regularly bringing sums well into the six figures, further testament in this cataloger's opinion to the coins' status as the first official circulation issue of the United States.
    This coin likely was one of those presentation pieces from President Washington, as it has been carefully and meticulously maintained. The silver-gray surfaces offer lovely underlying luster and deep, mottled violet, golden, and russet toning. A few small planchet flaws, often seen on these coins, are observed in the upper right obverse field, and there are light adjustment marks, as made, on Liberty's cheek. A couple of peripheral letters show strike weakness--the tops of NCE on the obverse, (E)R(I) and the A and M in the denomination. But the overall strike quality is quite pleasing, with good articulation in Liberty's hair and most of the eagle's feathers save in the immediate center. A tiny verdigris spot in the lower loop of B in LIB will identify this coin in the future. But the overall indelible impression that this memorable coin creates is one of evident originality, extreme quality and historical significance, and rarity--qualities too seldom offered in today's active numismatic marketplace.
    From The Madison Collection.(Registry values: P9) (NGC ID# D93T, PCGS# 11020)

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

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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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