1802 Half Dime, V-1, LM-1, AU50
1802 H10C AU50 PCGS. V-1, LM-1, R.5. One of the most
desirable coins in high grade in the Gardner Collection, the 1802
half dime is a signal rarity, a "trophy coin" for even the most
advanced numismatist and an issue unknown in Mint State. The
surfaces of this AU50 PCGS example, the Plate Coin on PCGS'
CoinFacts website, are pale lavender with copper-rose patina
around the device edges and scattered accents of pastel blue. For
pedigree purposes, we note a thin, horizontal scratch across
Liberty's cheek, and a diagonal one running through the eagle's
left (facing) wing, down through the horizontal shield stripes at
upper left, and crossing through the vertical stripes to the lower
right of the shield. Although some of the dentilation is weak, much
of it remains pleasingly bold. The majority of Liberty's tresses
are well-brought up overall, but some strike softness appears in
Liberty's lower curls and the corresponding area on the reverse,
namely stars 2, 3, and 8 above the eagle's head.
A Signal Rarity in American Numismatics
Possibly Only Two Known Finer
Variety: V-1, LM-1, R.5. Sole die pair known -- or needed -- for the small reported mintage of 3,060 half dimes. The 1 in the date is free from the curl but close, and the 8 is the largest of the four digits. The 0 is oval rather than round, and the top of the 2 is tilted to the left and grazes the lower drapery. On the reverse (carried over from striking both the LM-1 and LM-2 die marriages of 1801, and used after the 1802 to strike the LM-1 and LM-2 of 1803), the bottom of the M in AMERICA is slightly higher than A. A leaf tip is centered under I(CA), and a leaf joins the center of C(A). The three rightmost arrows are all of equal height. Die State: The die line seen here under the B in LIBERTY and extending to the hair below E is seen on all high-grade examples we know of. The reverse shows a noticeable rim cud beginning to form above the E in UNITED, bulging downward to encroach on the top of that letter.
Population Data (5/14): The 1802 half dime is one that is unknown in Mint State, although there are a couple (at least) of AU coins that in earlier times have been described as such. Given the importance of condition to this issue, we list the exact grades of all examples certified at PCGS and NGC:
PCGS. One each in AG3, Good 6, Very Good 8, Very Good 10, VF30, VF35, XF40, XF45, AU50 (the present piece), and two in AU55. Duplications are certainly possible. The average grade of all these submissions at PCGS is VF30.6.
NGC. Shows, curiously, only two submissions, both in AU50.
Heritage Commentary: The 1802 half dime is a classic rarity at the forefront of U.S. numismatics, an issue seldom seen at auction in any grade, much less the AU50 level of this PCGS-certified example.
The presence or absence of an 1802 half dime has long been one of the key measures against which the finest collections of American coins are judged. The voting contributors to Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth's 100 Greatest U.S. Coins ranked the issue at number 61. The authors note concerning the issue:
"The story of the 1802 Half Dime is the classic story of attrition. Here's a coin that started out with a very low mintage, most of which was decimated over time as coins were lost or destroyed through various silver melts. The first appearance of an 1802 Half Dime at public auction was not until 1859 (even then, the condition of the coin was listed as 'Poor'). By 1863, only three 1802 Half Dimes were known to exist. However, once the spotlight focused on this rarity, more examples began to appear. Today, the total population has risen to approximately 40-50 different examples. Certainly, a few others may exist in as-yet-undiscovered collections, but the rate that new discoveries are being made has slowed dramatically."
Even though David Davis has provided a roster of "The Fourteen Worst 1802 Half Dimes" on page 38 of the Logan-McCloskey half dime reference, no recent attempts at a more-complete roster have been attempted. Since most survivors of the issue are in quite low grades and the rarity has been known since the late 1850s, any attempt at a complete listing would end in futility and exasperation.
In any case, this coin is certainly among the top few finest known of the issue, and its presence in the Gardner Collection provides mutual distinction to both. Although we do not have the pleasure of knowing Mr. Gardner personally, his constant striving to obtain the very finest examples in the series he focused on comes through loud and clear via the quality of this collection. This piece is a prime example. Opportunity knocks loudly here, one that will not soon repeat.
Provenance: Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2009), lot 2186.(Registry values: P10) (NGC ID# 2328, PCGS# 4268)
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