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    1802 Half Dime, Sharply Defined AU53
    The Second Finest Known, V-1, LM-1
    A Classic American Rarity
    The Eliasberg Specimen

    1802 H10C V-1, LM-1, R.5, AU53 PCGS Secure. CAC. The 1802 half dime in this lot is one of the more memorable pieces of Americana that we have had the pleasure of offering. It is one of only 40 or 50 examples thought to have survived to the present day. The majority of these are in the lower levels of preservation and/or have been impaired in one way or another. This particular coin is the second finest known, and once resided in the cabinet of the legendary Louis Eliasberg, Sr., the only numismatist to have assembled a complete collection of United States coinage.

    Numismatic researcher Davis Davis, in his 30-page chapter titled "History of the 1802 Half Dime" that was included in the 1998 reference of Russell Logan's and John McCloskey's Federal Half Dimes 1792-1837, listed 167 appearances of this issue for the nearly 140-year period between 1859 and 1998, an average of about one appearance per year. This underscores the infrequent opportunity of acquiring this numismatic rarity, especially at this grade level and with this pleasing surface condition.

    Relatively few 1802 half dimes have apparently survived the ravages of time. In order to determine just how rare these coins in fact are, that is, how many have survived to the present day and the grade distribution of surviving specimens, we are using Davis's study as a base upon which to compile a preliminary population census of this important issue. To date we have documented 31 separate specimens, 13 of which are in the Poor to Very Good level of preservation, nine in Fine and Very Fine, and nine in Extremely Fine and About Uncirculated. None are currently known in mint condition. Twenty-three of the documented 31 examples (74 percent) exhibit one or more impairments. More detailed results of our research will be published in the near future.

    A brief review of the numismatic background of the 1802 half dime is presented below. More background detail will appear in our upcoming publication titled Numismatic Background and Census of 1802 Half Dimes.

    Mintage Estimates
    The Guide Book of United States Coins (the Red Book), through the 1980 edition, listed 13,010 half dimes struck in fiscal year 1802. It is now known that all the half dimes manufactured that year were not necessarily dated 1802. A number likely bore the date 1801 and possibly 1803. Subsequent Red Book editions listed 1802-dated half dimes having a mintage of 3,060 pieces, a figure cited by Walter Breen in his article titled "Silver Coinage of the Philadelphia Mint, 1796-1916," published in The Coin Collectors Journal, Volume 159, 1958. The November 2012 Stack's Bowers catalog, featuring the Walter H. Childs 1802 half dime, presents a lower production figure for this issue:

    "Based on the known survival rate of 3 to 5 percent of silver coins of this early Federal era, the probable mintage of the 1802 half dime is in the 500 to 1,200 pieces range, with the balance reported struck for the years either dated 1801 or 1803."

    We suggest an even lower mintage of about 1,000 pieces. A four or five percent survival rate would then put the extant population in the 40 to 50 range, more or less in line with current estimates.

    Die Marriage Diagnostics
    Only one die pair was used to strike all known 1802 half dimes. D.W. Valentine in his 1931 reference titled The United States Half Dimes describes this marriage as V-1, and Russell Logan and John McCloskey (1998) list it as LM-1. The latter authors also describe an obverse and a reverse die state. These diagnostics, which are significant in authenticating genuine 1802 half dimes, will be listed in our forthcoming publication.

    Strike Variability
    All known 1802 half dimes exhibit variations in design detail. Slight weakness is visible on the stars along the left obverse border, and some of the drapery lines are not sharply defined. The reverse, on the other hand, illustrates pronounced areas of weakness, along with some sharply defined design elements. Some of these include:

    · Absence of the left part of cloud 4, and weakness in the remainder of the cloud.
    · Absence of three of the 13 stars above the eagle.
    · Absence of URIB on the scroll (though these letters show weakly on some XF and AU examples).
    · Boldness of UNUM on most coins grading VG and finer.
    · Weakness on the central horizontal stripes on the upper shield.

    Virtually all known 1802 half dimes display these strike irregularities and consequently need to be considered when grading examples of this issue.

    Rarity Estimates
    Modern-day numismatists differ on the estimated number of 1802 half dimes that have survived to the present day. Walter Breen, in his 1988 Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, cites coin dealer James G. MacAllister who in 1935 claimed "he could trace 35, mostly in the Poor to VG range." Breen goes on to say: "Nobody has attempted a more recent comprehensive head count, but the probable number is somewhere between 35 and 45." Logan and McCloskey (1998), on the other hand, are doubtful of Breen's estimate. Their contention is that "not more than 35 genuine specimens of this date could be traced today." The emphasis that these authors place on genuine examples is significant, opining that "modern numismatists are cognizant of counterfeit pieces made during the 19th century by altering the date of other Heraldic Eagle half dimes." Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth in their 2015 reference 100 Greatest U.S. Coins estimate that 40 or 50 1802 half dimes have survived. Numismatic researcher and author Greg Reynolds, on the other hand, says of this issue in a recent (2012) post: "I am not convinced that even thirty-one survive."

    The Heritage Auctions database, developed in 1993 to show offerings of U.S. coins by major American auction companies (some coins that were auctioned prior to 1993 are also listed on the database), reports 36 1802 half dime appearances. We have determined that 21 of these are distinctly separate examples. The PCGS website estimates that 35 1802 half dimes are extant. This service lists 12 submissions grading from AG3 to AU55 (the two AU55 pieces reported actually represent the same coin) . NGC shows two submissions, both AU50.

    Description of the Eliasberg Coin
    Attractive cobalt-blue, lavender, and soft golden-gray toning adorns both sides. The design elements are sharply defined for the issue, showing only the expected weakness in the areas alluded to above. Liberty's hair is especially strong as are the right-side stars and dentils. The horizontal and vertical shield lines, the eagle's wing and tail feathers, and the stars are better defined than typically seen; even star 4 reveals a modicum of detail. The surfaces of each side are remarkably clean. A minute, as-made planchet void beneath Liberty's chin, a faint linear mark on the chin, and a nearly imperceptible diagonal (\) pinscratch on the upper shield are mentioned solely for identification purposes. This is a beautiful, impairment-free coin that will form the centerpiece of an early half dime collection.
    Ex: U.S. Coin Co. (4/1917), lot 215; Empire Collection (Stack's, 11/1957), lot 628; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection (Bowers and Merena, 5/1996), lot 903. .
    Note: Davis lists this coin pedigreeing to the William M. Freisner Collection (Edouard Frossard, 6/1894), lot 478, that sold to J.M. Clapp, 1942, to Eliasberg. This is likely incorrect as the Frossard description states: "Very good. Circulated while in slightly bent condition rubbing off two stars to left ... three nicks on breast." In other words, the more worn and impaired Freisner piece sold to Clapp does not match the present Eliasberg example. (NGC ID# 2328, Variety PCGS# 38607, Base PCGS# 4268)

    Weight: 1.35 grams

    Metal: 89.24% Silver, 10.76% Copper

    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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