A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #95
Contrary to popular belief, not all U.S. five cent coins are nickels. Actually, nickels are traditionally 25% nickel and 75% copper. Three Cent Nickels were struck in 1865 before five cent nickels were introduced in 1866. Half Dimes are silver five cent coins. In the near future, I will write articles on inexpensive half dimes, as these are easy to find and fun to collect. The topic here is expensive, early half dimes that were auctioned on January 4, 2012, at the Heritage FUN auction in Orlando. Plus, an extended discussion of the 1802 half dime sold in this auction is provided. The 1802 is a very famous rarity.
I. What are Half Dimes?
Other than the 1792 “half disme” issue, which requires a separate discussion, the first U.S. coins of the half dime denomination were minted in 1794. Half dimes were last minted in 1873.
From 1796 to 1964, dimes were 90% silver or approximately 90% silver. Half dimes generally weighed half as much dimes, with half as much silver content. Half dimes never contained any nickel, and dimes did not contain any nickel until 1965. Currently produced dimes dime do contain some nickel. All U.S. half dimes are silver coins.
Like corresponding half dollars and silver dollars, half dimes of the Flowing Hair type were minted in 1794 and 1795. Furthermore, Draped Bust, Small Eagle type Half Dimes, Dimes and Half Dollars were all minted only in 1796 and 1797. Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Half Dimes date from 1800 to 1805, and then half dimes were not produced again until 1829. Capped Bust Half Dimes were struck from 1829 to 1837.
Liberty Seated Half Dimes started in 1837 and ended in 1873. There are five types (or subtypes) of Liberty Seated Half Dimes. The present discussion relates to a small number of particularly important pre-1835 half dimes.
More collectors are familiar with Capped Bust Half Dimes than with even earlier issues. So, I start with coverage of a few of these.
II. Proof 1829 Half Dime
Proof Capped Bust Half Dimes of all dates combined are rare. Before the late 1850s, Proof U.S coins were minted in very small quantities, when they were made at all. The 1829 that is PCGS certified Proof-67, and CAC approved, is a leader of the pack.
John Albanese remembers first seeing this coin “years ago,” long before it was submitted to the CAC. It is “totally original” and “unquestionably a Proof. Some 1829 half dimes that people think are Proofs are really just prooflike,” Albanese notes. John is the founder and the president of the CAC.
This 1829 realized $103,500. Yes, it “brought a strong price, and worth every penny of it,” John declares “It is probably the best [bust] half dime in Proof that I have ever seen, at least I can’t recall seeing a better one,” Albanese continues.
This half dime has wonderful, vivid natural toning. The green and orange-russet shades are especially appealing, along with the cool touches of blue.
This coin’s mirrors are complete. A key difference between a Proof and a business strike is the relationship of the design elements (devices) to the fields (relatively flat areas). This coin more than satisfies the requisite criteria and has powerful Proof characteristics. I enjoyed viewing it.
III. ‘MS-67’ Capped Bust Half Dimes
An 1831 and an 1832 are each PCGS graded MS-67 and each has a CAC sticker. The 1831 brought $9775 and the 1832 went for $12,650.
The $23,000 result for an 1834 is more interesting. It is PCGS graded MS-67+ and has a CAC sticker. It is of a curious variety. The PCGS refers to it as the 1834 with “3/inv 3,” 3 over inverted three. As the Heritage cataloguer says, however, it is really a normal 3 over “an upside down” three. A numeral three was punched upside down into an obverse die, by mistake, and then a normal 3 was punched over the upside down three.
As a magnifying glass is needed to identify or even notice this ‘3/3,’ I tend to regard it as a minor variety. It is not listed in the Numismedia.com guide. Although this variety is itemized in the PCGS price guide, it is not a component of PCGS Registry Sets of Capped Bust Half Dimes “with Major Varieties.” It is, however, listed in a popular guide book about U.S. coins.
The new collector-owner of this 1834-3/3 was seeking it because it is listed in this guide book. An expert consultant for this collector revealed that this coin is now part of a “private collection of Capped Bust Half Dimes by [Guide Book] variety. I would probably have still recommended this coin if it was PCGS graded 68,” he adds. “It has amazing luster and eye appeal. It has never been dipped. It has its original skin. This coin sold for a premium because of its variety and its originality,” this consultant concludes. He and the collector-buyer both wish to remain anonymous. An incredible collection of bust half dimes has been assembled.
IV. Flowing Hair Half Dimes
There was an NGC graded MS-64 1794 half dime in the Jan. 2012 FUN auction. I did not see it. I have seen a considerable number of certified MS-64 Flowing Hair Half Dimes. Moreover, I apologize to half dime enthusiasts for not placing the half dimes in the FUN auction near the top of my list of priorities. I did see a few, including an 1802, and I discussed several with experts who did view them.
Jim McGuigan found this NGC graded MS-64 1794 to be “accurately graded.” McGuigan is a long time specialist in pre-1840 U.S. coins. It sold for $37,375, a fair to strong price. The PCGS price guide values a PCGS graded MS-64 1794 at $41,500. Other price guides attach higher values to certified MS-64 1794 half dimes, and I suspect that the PCGS value, in this case, is more consistent with real market conditions. The $37,375 result for this coin is in or very near the retail price range.
I am almost certain that this exact same NGC graded MS-64 1794 was auctioned by Spectrum-B&M during March 2007, in Baltimore. If it is the same coin, it then brought $33,350.
The next coin was a 1795 Flowing Hair Half Dime that is PCGS graded MS-64 and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. Jim McGuigan did not like the color of this coin. I did not see this one either. The $20,125 auction result is a fair market price.
V. 1800 LIBEKTY Half Dime
A famous variety of 1800 Draped Bust Half Dimes is curious as the ‘R’ in LIBERTY looks like a ‘K’! There is more than one possible explanation for this outcome. Since this difference is noticeable without a magnifying glass and is regarded as very significant by many collectors, 1800 ‘LIBEKTY’ half dimes are often collected as if these are distinct ‘dates.’
In another words, collectors seeking to assemble sets of Draped Bust Half Dimes often acquire two 1800 half dimes, one with a normal ‘LIBERTY’ and one of this ‘LIBEKTY’ variety. In my view, one 1800 half dime is sufficient for a set.
The fact that the ‘R’ has a missing part is interesting, though not of tremendous importance, in my opinion. While the 1800 ‘LIBEKTY’ variety will be and should be sought by those collectors who are focused on subtle varieties, I suggest that collectors building sets of half dimes ‘by date’ ignore it.
The 1800 ‘LIBEKTY’ coins are scarcer than the 1800 half dimes with normal letters, especially in “mint state” grades. The ‘LIBEKTY’ half dime in this auction is NGC graded MS-63 and has a CAC sticker.
The $20,700 result is moderate. In August 2011, Stack’s-Bowers Galleries (SBG) auctioned the Eliasberg-Clapp 1800, which was then consigned by noted collector Richard Jewell. It brought $17,250. While the Eliasberg-Clapp coin is also NGC graded MS-63, I wonder if it would qualify for a CAC sticker.
VI. 1802 Half Dime
The 1802 half dime that Heritage auctioned on Jan. 4, 2012 is PCGS graded ‘Good-06.’ Although the 1870-S Liberty Seated Half Dime is rarer, being unique, the 1802 Draped Bust Half Dime is much more famous. It was a favorite of 19th century collectors, and 1802 half dimes have commanded attention at auctions for more than 125 years. More people collect bust half dimes ‘by date’ than Liberty Seated Half Dimes ‘by date.’
(I maintain that the term date does not only refer to a year. There often are multiple dates of the same type, denomination and year, including coins struck at different mint locations and/or very apparent, widely recognized varieties.)
a) Rarity of 1802 Half Dimes
Years ago, David Davis reported that thirty-five different 1802 half dimes have been identified. I am not convinced that that even thirty-one survive.
Often, rare coins are deliberately modified. Sometimes, the pedigree of a deliberately modified coin cannot be identified and it is incorrectly counted as an additional coin in a roster. Moreover, before the 2000s, images in most (not all) auction catalogues were not very clear and often not reliable for pedigree research. If the same coin is shot by two different photographers, shot by the same photographer with two different cameras, or shot under different lighting conditions, then it may appear to be two different coins in published pictures. Even the same photograph will look different if it is reproduced in different manners. Pedigree research, especially with old auction catalogues, is very difficult and is subject to errors.
In 2007, I tentatively hypothesized the PCGS and the NGC had graded only eight to ten DIFFERENT 1802 half dimes. There were multiple submissions of some of the same coins. It is generally agreed, however, that many 1802 half dimes are not gradable; these have problems that are too severe to qualify for numerical grades.
b) Sharpness and Quality of this 1802
“I have seen ones that are a lot worse” than this PCGS graded ‘Good-06’ 1802 half dime, Matt Kleinsteuber remarks. “[Several] of the 1802s I have seen were repaired,” Matt adds. Kleinsteuber is the lead grader and trader with NFC coins.
About this 1802, Matt Kleinsteuber says, “front VG-08, back Good-04, Good-06 okay; the lack of detail on the back is mostly due to striking.” I agree with Matt in that the much of the missing detail on the reverse is due to the fact that areas of the reverse were very weakly struck when the coin was made. McGuigan, too, accepts this point. “Such weakness on the reverse is frequently seen on Draped Bust Half Dimes,” Jim emphasizes.
There has been some discussion among experts as to whether this coin should have received a numerical grade. At the FUN Convention, two collectors, who I respect, pointed to the inconsistencies in the level of detail and color on the reverse as circumstantial evidence that this coin has serious problems. I carefully examined this coin and I contend that they are wrong. The same kinds of variations in color and inconsistencies in detail are found on many other AG-03 to Fine-12 Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Half Dimes.
One expert dealer strongly maintains that this 1802 half dime is “not gradable” because of “porosity.” I, too, noticed some exposure to water, though I would not employ the term “porosity.” This coin probably spent time in people’s pockets during very rainy days. It certainly came into contact with water, which reacted with its copper content.
All half dimes (and dimes) contain some copper. Numerous, heavily circulated silver coins from the 19th century show evidence of exposure to water. Most are still gradable. I really believe that many Draped Bust silver coins of other dates that the PCGS has graded have surfaces with textures that are similar to, or inferior than, the surfaces of this 1802 half dime.
I did not find any evidence that this coin has severe problems. Therefore, I concluded that is coin is gradable, though I found it very difficult to grade it.
c) Irregular Reverses
Admittedly, I have not spent a great deal of time inspecting half dimes that grade less than Fine-12, or even less than AU-55. So, I searched the Heritage auction archives for other Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Half Dimes that have been PCGS graded from AG-03 to VG-10.
Almost immediately, I found three examples of coins that had irregular patterns of detail, including small smooth patches almost devoid of detail, and seemingly uneven wear, which are similar to the characteristics of the reverse on this 1802 half dime. Indeed, while viewing images of these three and several other circulated Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Half Dimes that are PCGS graded, I realized that the characteristics of the reverse of this 1802 are not unusual for similar grade coins of the Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Half Dime type.
I focused some attention on a PCGS graded, and CAC approved, Good-04 1800 half dime that Heritage auctioned in Dec. 2010 for $1495. I note how the eagle’s right wing, from the viewer’s perspective, seems to be worn almost smooth, while the eagle’s left wing has much detail. The eagle’s right claw is gone and the adjacent area is devoid of detail, while the eagle’s left claw is well defined and all of the arrows are visible. On the left periphery, there is an almost blank area, which spreads to the D in UNITED. Areas that lack detail are not confined to one part of the reverse, or even to one half.
On the 1802 dime being discussed here, there are similar areas that are mostly blank, yet do not seem to be worn down. These blank or somewhat blank small areas are characteristic of well circulated half dimes of this type.
I note, in particular, a PCGS graded 1801 Half Dime that is PCGS graded VG-10. It was auctioned by Heritage one year ago, in Feb. 2011, for $1725. While, as expected, its reverse is sharper in some sections than the just mentioned Good-04 1800, its reverse is characterized by several small areas where most or all detail, which would exist on an ideal coin of this type, is not present.
A $575 PCGS graded AG-03 1800 in that same Feb. 2011 auction provides even more evidence that inconsistent patterns of detail, areas of non-present detail that do not seem to be worn down, and an uneven overall appearance are all normal characteristics of Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Half Dimes that grade from AG-03 to VG-10.
According to PCGS standards, this 1802 half dime is gradable. Many of the experts, including myself, in the viewing section for Platinum Night sessions are just not accustomed to viewing silver coins that grade less than EF-40. Some experts, who were there, view only coins that grade 64 and higher. While this 1802 half dime may be upsetting to people who exclusively focus on very high quality coins, it does not have serious problems.
It is also true that this coin has been subjected to much scrutiny because it is an 1802 half dime. If it was a PCGS graded ‘Good-06’ 1801 half dime, then many collectors and dealers would just accept it without much thought. I would, though, be more comfortable with this 1802 half dime if it was graded Good-04, rather than Good-06.
d) Price Realized
This 1802 sold for $57,500, which is generally regarded as a very strong price. I was expecting a price in the range of $35,000 to $42,500.
“While I didn’t love this particular coin, I love the date,” John Brush states. “I was shocked by the price realized. The consignor should be thrilled,” John figures. “Of course it is very difficult to find this date in affordable grades and I believe that the buyer will surely enjoy having an example in his or her collection.” John Brush is vice president of David Lawrence Rare Coins.
It is fair for Brush to assume that a collector-buyer would be enthusiastic about obtaining an 1802 half dime. After all, except for the 1802, a set of bust half dimes ‘by date’ is not difficult to assemble, relative to other sets of pre-1860 U.S. coinage. Many collectors dream of acquiring any 1802 half dime to complete their respective sets.
©2012 Greg Reynolds