A classic early American rarity, the rainbow-toned 1792 half disme, graded NGC MS-68, will be exhibited during the first two days of the Long Beach (California) Coin, Stamp & Collectibles Expo on Thursday and Friday, February 3 and 4, 2011.
This historic coin is the finest known surviving 1792 half disme and was acquired in 2007 by the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation of Sunnyvale, California for a record $1.5 million. It will be displayed courtesy of Stack's-Bowers Numismatics at Expo booth 502 in the Long Beach Convention Center, 100 S. Pine Ave.
Slightly smaller than a modern dime, the half disme weighs less than one-23rd of an ounce. Although it's a tiny silver coin, it has a big historical connection: It was authorized by President George Washington.
"This extraordinary coin was struck in the basement of a Philadelphia saw-maker’s shop in July 1792 when the Mint was not yet operational, but it is considered the very first circulating issue of the United States Mint," explained Martin Logies, a director and curator of the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation that supports research and publications about early American money.
"This is an early American numismatic treasure. All of us at Stack's-Bowers are delighted to showcase this coin for thousands of collectors and dealers to see in person at the upcoming Long Beach Expo," said Chris Napolitano, President of Stack's-Bowers Numismatics.
The half dismes were the first coins authorized by President Washington under the Mint Act of 1792.
"Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson personally received them on behalf of President Washington. Many 19th century collectors referred to the coin's design as the 'Martha Washington half disme' because the portrait resembles the President's wife," Logies explained.
"However, recent research disputes the legend that President Washington personally provided the silver used for striking the coins. Records indicate that on July 11, 1792, Jefferson reimbursed Rittenhouse $75 for the silver bullion the Mint Director advanced on his own for processing planchets that would be used in the coining."
Two days later, July 13, 1792, Jefferson picked up the newly-struck coins that Washington had authorized four days earlier on July 9. Less than 400 surviving examples are known today from the1,500 recorded struck.
The obverse depicts the portrait of a symbolic female representation of Liberty, the legend, LIB. (liberty) PAR. (parent) OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY, and the year, 1792. The reverse has the denomination, HALF DISME, and the words, UNI (united) STATES OF AMERICA surrounding an eagle.
The 1792 half disme is ranked number 12 in the book, 100 Greatest U.S. Coins, by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.
Disme (pronounced "deem") is an early spelling of the word dime. The coin's diameter is 17.5 millimeters; the weight is 20.8 grains; 89.24 percent fine silver with a silver content of 18.5625 grains or 0.03867 troy ounces.
Over the centuries the untouched silver surface of this coin has toned to deep blue with touches of purple and light red, apparently from storage for years in a Wayte Raymond cardboard album in the mid 20th century.
Because of its exceptionally sharp details and immaculately preserved condition, Logies and research colleague, Karl Moulton, believe this particular coin was part of a group originally owned by the first United States Mint Director, David Rittenhouse.
“A small number of high-grade specimens were passed down through the Rittenhouse family for generations, and finally were dispersed very early in the 1900's. This particular one, the finest of that group, was retained by the family for an additional period, until it was consigned to the 1919 official ANA convention auction, conducted by Henry Chapman,” Logies said.
Moulton’s research indicates the provenance of this specific 1792 half disme as:
• David Rittenhouse, first Director of the United States Mint;
• Sold at the October 1919 ANA convention auction conducted by Henry Chapman;
• Collector George L. Tilden whose collection was sold at auction by Thomas Lindsay Elder in June1921;
• Private collector (who apparently stored the coin in a Wayte Raymond album);
• Un-named museum in New England that sold the coin at a Stack's (now Stack's-Bowers Numismatics) auction in October 1988;
• Dealer Jay Parino;
• The anonymous "Knoxville Collection" from 1988 to 2003;
• Private collector from 2003 to January 2007;
• Dealer Steve Contursi, January 2007 – July 2007;
• Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation, 2007 to date.