1792 Half Disme, Judd-7, MS65
1792 H10C Half Disme, Judd-7, Pollock-7, R.4, MS65 PCGS.
Ownership of a 1792 half disme in any grade is among the top
accomplishments that any advanced collector of numismatic Americana
can hope to achieve. It is not a stretch to say that the 1792 half
disme is probably the single most important American coin issue, if
not the most famed or celebrated. Fame and celebrity are reserved
for 1933 double eagles, 1913 Liberty nickels, 1894-S dimes, 1804
dollars, and the like. Nonetheless, these doughty little silver
pieces possess immense historical importance.
Among the Few Finest Survivors
A Coin of Immense Historical Importance
They are, simply put, the first national coinage issue of a fledgling America. They are the first coins struck under the auspices of the United States Mint (although not yet in the Mint facilities, which were unready for coinage until March 1793), and the first coins to circulate as American national coinage. Their preeminence is such that President George Washington called attention to them in his address to Congress on November 6, 1792:
"In execution of the authority given by the legislature, measures have been taken for engaging some artists from abroad to aid in the establishment of our Mint. Others have been employed at home. Provisions have been made for the requisite buildings, and these are now putting into proper condition for the purposes of the establishment. 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."
This passage not only points up the immense historicity of the 1792 half dismes, but also establishes that they were, in fact, circulation coinage, not patterns for a coinage. They were also struck to the estimated extent of 1,500 pieces, too large a production to be considered patterns. Many of the 200-300 surviving pieces show extensive wear, although there are a few marvelous high-grade examples extant today as well, including a handful that apparently derive directly from David Rittenhouse, first director of the U.S. Mint.
Many advanced collectors will be interested in capturing the present example, certified MS65 PCGS in an early blue-label holder. This piece lies at the lower end of the Condition Census for the issue as published on PCGS' CoinFacts website and in the roster below; interestingly, this is the sole MS65 example listed at PCGS, with two (including a possible duplication) in MS66 (one of which is the Rittenhouse-Judd-Hayes coin), one in MS67 (the Pittman coin), and one in MS68 (the Rittenhouse-Knoxville Collection-Cardinal Collection coin). There is also the J.C. Morgenthau-Floyd T. Starr-Greensboro Collection example graded Specimen 67 by PCGS, the only such certified.
David Akers specifically mentions the present GNA/Mid-American coin in his cataloging of the John Jay Pittman Collection 1792 half disme (Akers, 10/1997), lot 423, as noted currently graded MS67 PCGS and listed in the roster that follows. Akers writes:
"JJP purchased this coin at the 1948 ANA Convention in Boston, Massachusetts, from Malcolm O.E. Chell-Frost for $100, although he notes Chell-Frost was originally asking $150. On JJP's coin envelope he notes, 'Dr. Judd says this specimen better than his. He formerly thought his was best known.' I had the privilege of selling the Dr. Judd coin in Auction '80 and I feel that the two specimens are comparable, with perhaps just a slight edge to this piece. Two other outstanding examples of this issue, both Gem quality, are the Floyd Starr specimen (Stack's, 10/92, Lot 4) and the Mid-American specimen sold in the 1987 GNA sale, Lot 721. All four of these examples are legitimate contenders for the honor of 'finest known', and possibly there are others I am not aware of, but this is the 1792 Half Disme I would personally choose as the finest."
To be crystal-clear, this is Akers speaking about the Pittman coin, but for Akers to mention the present offering, the Judd and the Floyd T. Starr 1792 half dismes in the same breath puts this piece into heady company indeed. In any case, the crucial point is that the present Gem PCGS 1792 half disme is among the few finest survivors of the issue, and collectors may have to wait some considerable time to bid on a comparable example.
This piece is struck in medal turn. The surface colors are spectacular but subtle in coloration, with lustrous silver-gray the predominant color, with intermingled red and blue-gray in the central portion of the obverse. The fields are bright on both sides beneath the overlying patina, the surfaces satiny and nearly semiprooflike from the apparent die polishing. This die preparation has also effaced some of the tail feathers on the eagle's lower tail area, a phenomenon seen to one degree or another on many other examples. A small, near-vertical die crack in the lower-right reverse proceeds from the top corner of the E in DISME to the underside of the eagle's right (facing) lower wing feathers. (This die crack is similar in size and position to the one that appears on the roster below on the MS63 NGC example that we offered in late 2005.) The dies are slightly misaligned, so that there is full dentilation on the obverse, yet the dentils are absent at the right and lower reverse from 2:30 to 7 o'clock. (This phenomenon also appears frequently on these pieces.) Some minor planchet adjustment marks appear on the lower obverse, crisscrossing the lower bust diagonally and into the left field area. Planchet adjustment marks occur on the reverse on the eagle's breast, between FL in HALF, and overlapping the E of DISME.
The strike on this piece is remarkably strong amid Liberty's hair details throughout the obverse, atop, in back of, in front of, and at the rear of the profile. The eagle's wing and neck feathers, save for the aforementioned areas affected by die lapping, are equally bold and sculpted. Some of the peripheral letter tops are weak on each side, although these features are likely due to the die state as well as the strike. There are simply no mentionable abrasions or post-Mint distractions on either side; the grade seems completely appropriate if a touch conservative, given the excellent near-semiprooflike luster, extremely attractive coloration, and lack of drawbacks. The coin remains housed in its old green label holder.
Numismatic researchers Joel Orosz, Len Augsburger, and Pete Smith penned a guest column in Coin World (September 6, 2013), calling for numismatists to send in their examples of 1792 half dismes for study. The gist of the small article was that they are working on a hypothesis that the coins were struck not in either July or October, but rather in July and October, two different striking periods with a sufficient interval between to allow some rust to form on the reverse die, producing tiny pits of die rust on the coins. The authors write that they have identified four different die states for the reverse, with substates for states 1 through 3 and a single state for 4. They intend, after further testing their hypothesis, to write a book titled 1792: Birth of a Nation's Coinage, under the auspices of Heritage Auctions.
It goes without saying that any advanced numismatist, particularly potential bidders for this lot, will anticipate their findings with great eagerness.
Roster of High-Grade 1792 Half Dismes
We believe the following roster represents distinct individual specimens, although some duplication may exist. This roster is based primarily on a comparison of plates in the various catalogs. Plate matching of older, poor-quality photographs can be quite difficult.
--MS68 PCGS. David Rittenhouse; Rittenhouse family; ANA Convention sale (Henry Chapman, 10/1919), lot 56; George L. Tilden; Lindsey Collection (Thomas L. Elder, 6/1921), lot 2029; private collector; unnamed New England museum; Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 10/1988), lot 536; unknown intermediaries; Jay Parrino; "Knoxville Collection" (early 1990s-2003); private collector (2003-1/2007); Steve Contursi (1/2007-7/2007); Cardinal Collection, acquired for $1,500,000; Americana Sale (Stack's, 1/2013), lot 13093, brought $1,145,625 as MS68 NGC, then crossed to an MS68 PCGS holder. This piece was exhibited in August 2013 at the Rosemont ANA World's Fair of Money show along with: the original document, signed by Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, appointing David Rittenhouse as first Mint director; and a silver candlestick formerly owned by Martha Washington (the owner joked that it was one "not melted down" to produce the 1792 half dismes, referring to the old bromide).
--Specimen 67 PCGS. Virgil Brand; Selections From a Great American Collection (J.C. Morgenthau, 10/1933), lot 77; Floyd T. Starr, purchased on 10/26/1933, via James Macallister; Starr Collection (Stack's, 10/1992), lot 4; Baltimore Auction (Superior, 7/1993), lot 137; Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2006), lot 1860; Greensboro Collection, Part II / FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2013), lot 5570, realized $1,410,000..
--MS67 PCGS. Malcolm O.E. Chell-Frost; purchased by John Jay Pittman at the 1948 ANA Convention for $100); John Jay Pittman Collection (David Akers (10/1997), lot 423; Clifford Mishler.
--MS66 PCGS. Dr. J. Hewitt Judd; Auction '80 (Paramount, 8/1980), lot 592; Congressman Jimmy Hayes; Hayes Collection (Stack's, 10/1985), lot 3; Chicago ANA (Stack's Bowers, 8/2013), lot 4043, brought $793,125. Former plate coin in both the Guide Book and the Judd pattern reference. Dr. Judd reportedly traced the pedigree of this example back to David Rittenhouse, first director of the U.S. Mint. Certified in a first-generation old green holder.
--MS66 NGC. Col. James W. Ellsworth (3/1923); John Work Garrett; Garrett Collection-Johns Hopkins University, Part IV (Bowers and Ruddy, 3/1981), lot 2351; Jascha Heifetz Collection (Superior, 10/1989), lot 891; Father Flanagan Boys' Home (Superior, 5/1990), lot 3550; Seymour Finkelstein Collection (Stack's, 10/1995), lot 267; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 8/2004), lot 1383. This coin was graded Choice AU by Bowers and Ruddy in the Garrett sale, later certified by PCGS as MS63, and most recently graded MS66 by NGC.
--MS65 PCGS. GNA Sale (Mid-American, 5/1987), lot 721; Chalkley-Ryer Collection (Superior, 1/1990), lot 2354; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2014), lot 5176, brought $528,750. The present coin.
--MS64 PCGS. Bartlett Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 11/1979), lot 2359; Greenwald-Jackson Collections (Bowers and Merena, 9/1995), lot 1177; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 1/2005), lot 327; Baltimore Auction (Stack's Bowers, 3/2013), lot 2025, brought $470,000; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 6/2015), lot 3839.
--MS64 PCGS. Liberty Collection / FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2013), lot 5569, realized $528,750.
--MS64 PCGS. San Francisco Signature (Heritage, 7/2005), lot 10144; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2009), brought in; Larry Hanks 8/2010; D. Brent Pogue Collection (Stack's Bowers, 5/2015), lot 1001.
--MS64 PCGS. Richard B. Winsor (S.H. & H. Chapman, 12/1895), lot 733; J.M Clapp; Clapp Estate (1942); Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; Eliasberg Estate (Bowers and Merena, 5/1996), lot 883; Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2015), lot 4961.
--MS64 PCGS. Pre-Long Beach Auction (Ira and Larry Goldberg, 1/2004), lot 1271.
--MS64 PCGS. Winter Collection (Stack's, 1/1992), lot 477; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 1/2002), lot 345; ANA Convention Sale (Bowers and Merena, 7/2003), lot 565. Graded Gem Unc by Stack's, and AU58 PCGS when sold by Bowers and Merena in January 2002.
--MS63 PCGS. ANA Convention Auction (Heritage, 8/1995) lot 5941.
--MS63 NGC. 10th Long Beach Exposition (Pacific Coast Auction Galleries, 6/1988), lot 25; Dallas Signature (Heritage, 11/2005), lot 2055.
--MS63 NGC. Ex: Bowers and Ruddy (Rare Coin Review #23, Summer 1975), offered at $9,950; Bowers and Ruddy (Rare Coin Review #25, Spring 1976), offered at $9,500; Bowers and Ruddy (Rare Coin Review #27, Winter 1976-1977), offered at $8,950; Bowers and Ruddy (Rare Coin Review #28, Spring 1977), offered at $8,500; Aubrey and Adeline Bebee Auction (Bowers and Merena, 8/1987), lot 1498, realized $14,300; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 6/2005), lot 5684, not sold; Bergstrom & Husky Collections (Stack's, 6/2008), lot 2007, realized $402,500; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2015), lot 4051, realized $305.500.
--Gem Unc. Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 10/1988), lot 536.
--Mint State. Elliot Landau Collection (New Netherlands, 12/1958), lot 344; William J. Wild; Alan Weinberg in 1981.
The following citations are for coins which may or may not be included in the roster above.
--Metro Sale (Stack's, 5/1956), lot 215.
--Wolfson Collection (Stack's, 5/1963), lot 415.
--DiBello Collection (Stack's, 5/1970), lot 90.
--Thomas Cleneay Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 12/1890) lot 1627; John Story Jenks (Henry Chapman, 12/1921), lot 5568.
--Sale 444 (J.C. Morgenthau, 6/1942) lot 26; Spring Sale (Stack's, 4/1978), lot 417.
--Butterfield (1/1995), lot 2185.
--Mickley Collection (W.E. Woodward, 10/1867), lot 2133; S.S. Crosby.
--Roach Collection (B. Max Mehl, 2/1944), lot 2661.
--Atwater Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1946), lot 1115.(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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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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