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Coin Profile: 1802 Half Dime, a Landmark Rarity

In all of U.S. numismatics there are only a handful of regular issue coins that can compare in absolute rarity to the 1802 half dime. For any numismatic observer, it is the measure of a great collection. The presence of an 1802 half dime is the benchmark used to judge whether a collector has a true grasp of rarity or whether he is merely an accumulator.

To underscore the absolute rarity of this date, the present appearance is only the 11th time we have handled an 1802 half dime since our first auction in 1976. Over that same period of time, we have sold several dozen 1794 silver dollars and even more 1796-97 half dollars.

When the first specimen was sold in 1863, only three pieces were known. Twenty years later, when Harold Newlin published his monograph on the half dime series in 1883, he knew of only 16 specimens. That “16 known” figure stood until the 1930s when James G. Macallister claimed he could trace 35 pieces. No one else has attempted a more recent census, but Breen claimed that 35-45 coins were extant today.

What is significant about the 1802 other than its absolute rarity is its extreme rarity in high grade. None are known in Mint State, only two, including the coin Heritage is featuring in our upcoming 2011 August Chicago Signature US Coin & Platinum Night Auction, are believed to grade as high as AU, five more are XF, four others are in VF, and the remaining two or three dozen are low grade with a particularly heavy concentration in the Fair to VG range. The rarity of the 1802 is further emphasized by the fact that deceptive electrotype counterfeits are known.

This AU50 piece is deeply toned in shades of cobalt-blue.  The striking details are a bit irregular; this apparently is a trademark of the date, as evidenced by the Valentine and Breen plate coins. The profile of Liberty is machine doubled and there are several shallow pinscratches in the right obverse field as well as an oval-shaped planchet void on the breast of Liberty. On the reverse, a long, shallow scratch runs diagonally across the shield.

This piece has been held in major collections for more than a hundred years, and we are extremely pleased to be able to offer such an important and impressively pedigreed example of this major rarity in U.S. numismatics.

Ex: W. Elliot Woodward Sale (10/1884); James B. Wilson Collection (Thomas Elder, 10/1908); H.O. Granberg Collection; William Cutler Atwater (B. Max Mehl, 6/1946), lot 1126; unknown dealer intermediaries in the late 1940s; anonymous New Jersey collector until 1991; 1998 FUN Sale (Heritage, 1/1998), lot 6631; Philadelphia 2000 Sale (Heritage, 8/2000), lot 6815; Long Beach Signature Sale (Heritage (6/2001), lot 7960.(Registry values: P10) (#4268)

To be sold in Chicago at the 2011 Heritage Platinum Night sale as lot 7065

Heritage Auctions
Heritage Auctions
Heritage Auction Galleries is one of the world's largest collectibles auctioneers. Besides offering rare and valuable U.S. and world coins and currency, Heritage offers ancient coins, exonumia, antiques, comic books, sports memorabilia, and many other collectibles. The firm is based in Dallas, Texas.

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