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    Problem-Free Very Fine 1792 Half Disme

    1792 H10C Half Disme, Judd-7, Pollock-7, R.4, VF20 PCGS. The 1792 half disme story has been repeated, retold, elaborated, and embellished modern numismatists, even those with access to the latest "information," in many cases cannot separate fact from fiction. One of the most popular myths--or is it conjecture, or unsupported fact?--is that Martha Washington was the model for the obverse of the 1792 half disme. Our starting point, the website (everyone knows, do they not, that "facts" are true?), notes: "The 1792 pattern issue is also known as the Martha Washington half disme. According to some sources, it may be Martha Washington, the wife of our first president, who was the model for the Birch 1792 half disme." (Emphasis ours.) The text footnote cites Bowers' The History of United States Coinage As Illustrated by the Garrett Collection, which says: "Most famous of the 1792 pattern pieces are the Birch cents. Produced in several variations, the obverse depicts a female head, said by some to be Martha Washington, facing to the right. Surrounding is the inscription LIBERTY PARENT OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY. The date 1792 is below the portrait." (Emphasis ours.) After conjecture over Birch's identity, Bowers notes that "Alexander Vattemare and James Ross Snowden both associated Robert Birch with the early pattern issues."
    In James Ross Snowden's 1860 A Description of Ancient and Modern Coins in the Cabinet Collection at the Mint of the United States (one of the many pleasures of cataloging coins at Heritage is access to an excellent research library), Snowden writes of the 1792 half disme, "A female head, emblematic of Liberty, facing to the left. This is popularly supposed to represent the features of Martha Washington, who is said to have sat to the artist while he was designing it."
    Unfortunately, Snowden neither cites any specific source, nor names the identity of the unknown artist "Birch," if indeed he knew who either was. There we have it, a typical example of mysterious unnamed sources, half-truths, and conjecture that end up as numismatic "fact." The various "Birch" patterns all show some thematic similarities and differences, yet we are still left with a dead end when it comes to an original source for who cited Martha Washington as the model for any of the coinage. If indeed she posed for some or all of the coinage, that would make the pieces the "first First Spouse" coinage.
    This example of the nation's first regular-issue silver coinage is noteworthy as a problem-free, midgrade representative of this issue. Most examples found in circulated condition--and that includes most examples known--are plagued with problems of one kind or another. They are repaired, show environmental damage in the form of corrosion or pitting, are damaged, scratched, show graffiti, or are even holed.
    The present example shows beautiful original patina in shades of aqua and orange, deepening to charcoal-gray in a couple of places. There are a few light contact marks consistent with circulation, but the only singular distraction is a straight scrape from above Liberty's ear, through the hair and to the P in PAR. The eagle's breast and the highpoints of Liberty's hair are somewhat weakly struck, as usually seen, but there is much pleasing detail remaining. An affordable and (worth repeating!) problem-free example of this most historic U.S. coinage issue. Population: 5 in 20, 57 finer (12/07).(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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    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2008
    9th-12th Wednesday-Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 10
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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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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