News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #243

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds….

Most people have never heard of half dimes, which are much different from five cent nickels. Actually, nickels are typically 25% nickel and 75% copper. Three Cent Nickels were struck in 1865 before five cent nickels were introduced in 1866. U.S. Half Dimes do not contain any nickel. They are silver coins that weighed half as much as corresponding dimes. Even those collectors who are familiar with half dimes often forget that the 1805 is truly very rare. After all, the 1802 is very famous, and the offering of an 1805 half dime does not seem to ever make much noise.

The prominent, Pittman Collection 1805 half dime will be offered on Friday, Oct. 10, by Stack’s-Bowers (SBG) at the Millennium Broadway Hotel in New York. This Stack’s-Bowers auction contains a wide variety of U.S. coins and will be held in conjunction with a coin show that is open to the general public from Oct. 9 to 11.

pittman1805This 1805 half dime is PCGS graded Almost Uncirculated-53 and has a sticker of approval from CAC. For decades, it was in the epic collection of John Pittman and was auctioned, along with Pittman’s other half dimes and dimes, in Oct. 1997 by the firm of David Akers.

Lower grade 1805 Half Dimes are not nearly as expensive as the Pittman piece. Considering that these are truly very rare U.S. coins from the beginning of the 19th century, 1805 half dimes may be good values at current market levels. Their overall rarity is largely unnoticed.

The PCGS and the NGC together have graded less than ninety 1805 half dimes, probably about seventy-five different coins. For reasons discussed herein, there are quite a few non-gradable 1805 half dimes and a few non-certified 1805 half dimes that would graded if submitted to PCGS or NGC in 2014. I hypothesize that between 115 and 175 exist, 145 is a fair estimate. Clearly, this issue is very rare, though, when these do appear, collectors do not hear much about 1805 half dimes. Indeed, responses to my inquiries suggest that few specialists in bust silver coins have thought much about 1805 half dimes.

I. What are Half Dimes?

Although 1792 “half disme” patterns are famous and have frequently been ‘in the news,’  the first U.S. coins of the half dime denomination were minted in 1794. Curiously, there were half dimes before there were dimes. Indeed, U.S. Dimes were not minted until 1796. Half dimes were last minted in 1873. Business strike silver dimes were last dated 1964. All U.S. half dimes are 90% silver or about 90% silver.

Technically, Draped Bust Half Dimes were specified to be 1485 of 1664 parts silver, about 89.24%, and two-thirds of an inch in diameter. Later half dimes were five-eighths (5/8) of an inch in diameter. The metric system was not really used at the time and recently published metric measurements for half dimes are misleading from an historical perspective.

1794halfdimeThe specified diameter of dimes remained the same from 1837 to 1964, seven tenths (0.7) of an inch. Therefore, the diameter of a half dime is more than half the diameter of a dime. Half dimes are extremely thin. They tended to become bent and this is one reason why so many survivors are non-gradable, though some that have been ‘straightened out’ have been assigned numerical grades, perhaps erroneously.

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 Half Dimes, like Draped Bust, Small Eagle Dimes and Half Dollars, were 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.

The series of Liberty Seated Half Dimes started in 1837 and ended in 1873. There are five types (or subtypes) of Liberty Seated Half Dimes. The rarest half dime is the 1870-S, which is unique.

The second rarest is the 1802, which is of the same design type as the 1805. If the 1802 is ignored, a set of bust half dimes ‘by date’ is not very difficult to assemble, in comparison to assembling sets of other types of pre-1840 U.S. coinage.

II. Non-Gradable Bust Half Dimes

An 1805 that is non-gradable, because of serious problems, may be a consideration for a budget-minded collector. More than a few have traded for less than $1000 each. A non-gradable 1805 could probably be found for less than $500, though it might not be decent.

Recently, on Sept. 2, Heritage sold an NGC graded AG-03 1805 for $728.50.

EDITORS NOTE: The 1805 pictured below, which was graded by NGC and sold by Heritage at Auction on September 2nd, is in fact a Dime and NOT a half Dime. One of CoinWeek’s astute readers identified it as a JR-2 Bust Dime.  This would be clear to anyone really looking at the coin and not just the holder. The coin if far larger in the holder than a Half Dime would be. As an instructional lesson, this just goes to show that mistakes are made, at all levels, from the grading services, the auction company, the coin buyer , the writer of this auction review and yes, even CoinWeek the publisher. It is almost comical that everyone seemed to miss this.

This is the lowest price that comes to mind for an 1805 half dime that has received a numerical grade from PCGS or NGC. For many, specific, early U.S. coins, expert opinions differ as to whether numerical grades are merited. Coins that failed to receive numerical grades from PCGS or NGC in the 1980s or 1990s have since received numerical grades from PCGS or NGC. Quite a few early U.S. coins, however, are clearly non-gradable.

1804h10cag3Some non-gradable, early U.S. coins have been ‘holed and plugged.’ Others have been chemically modified to a severe extent. Quite a few have been polished or surgically doctored. Corrosion is a common problem as well.

Certainly, some non-gradable early coins are much more desirable than others of the same type and date. Those non-gradable coins that have naturally retoned after being badly scratched or chemically cleaned may be appealing.

As a percentage of the total number of survivors, the number of non-gradable 1805 half dimes in existence is relatively large, forty to one hundred coins, quite possibly a majority of survivors. Later in the 19th century, collectors made a point of saving these, as, after 1857, many collectors sought to complete sets of early half dimes. During that era, the low face value of half dimes made them relatively more affordable than collecting quarters, half dollars or silver dollars. Circulated, early half dimes were then favorites of beginning and budget-minded collectors.

During the second half of the 19th century, circulated representatives of moderately rare silver coins were often available for slight premiums over face value or sometimes for face value. Most extremely rare U.S. coins, in contrast, were worth amounts that were then considered substantial by collectors.

A coin is rare if fewer than 500 are known and extremely rare if fewer than 100 are around, including all die varieties of the same date and type. Though not quite extremely rare, 1805 half dimes are clearly very rare. Advanced collectors in the middle of the 19th century tended to seek Draped Bust Half Dimes that graded above VF-30, by current standards. Non-gradable coins were then demanded by many beginners.

Indeed, in terms of history and rarity, circulated, bust half dimes were easy and inexpensive to collect during the second half of the 19th century. Other than Three Cent Silvers, which were surely considered ‘modern’ from the 1850s to the 1870s  and were readily available from the Philadelphia Mint, half dimes are the U.S. silver coins with the lowest face value and the least silver in each. When people are just getting started collecting coins, they often seek to spend relatively small amounts. Besides, many kids collect coins.

So, it is unsurprising that bust half dimes were especially popular among budget-minded collectors in the 19th century. While non-gradable Liberty Seated coins and non-gradable bust half dollars were often melted, a larger percentage of non-gradable Draped Bust Half Dimes were saved. I am referring to coins then that are referred to as non-gradable now. Most of these would have had readily apparent problems and would have been spent, stored as bullion, or melted by non-collectors.

Collectors in the 19th century pulled gradable and non-gradable, Draped Bust Half Dimes from change, from bullion accumulations, and from bank holdings. Furthermore, as 1805 half dimes  are very rare, they were much less likely than other circulated silver coins to be melted. A main point is that there are a significant number of non-gradable, rare, Draped Bust Half Dimes available to collectors now.

III. Very Fine to Extremely Fine Grades

Many collectors do not realize that there exist just a small number of VF-20 to EF-45 grade, 1805 half dimes, though it is not unusual for two to appear in coin auctions during one year. In Aug. 2010, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded Very Fine-20 1805 for $3737.50. In Feb. 2014, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded VF-25 coin that might possibly be inferior to the just mentioned PCGS graded VF-20 1805, for $3290. In April 2009, when markets for rare coins were bottoming, a PCGS graded VF-30 1805 brought $4600.

In Jan. 2012, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded VF-35 1805 for $7475. In May 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded EF-40 1805 for $8812.50. Around three months later, this same firm auctioned a PCGS graded EF-45 coin for $9400. Generally, PCGS or NGC certified, VF-20 to EF-45 grade 1805 half dimes may retail for prices from $3000 to $11,000, depending upon the characteristics of the individual coins.

IV. The Pittman 1805

In 2012, after he had just examined it again, Jim McGuigan related that the Pittman 1805 has the sharpness of an “AU-55+” grade coin, though its “net” grade is “AU-50” due to “light obverse scratches.” This interpretation seems fair enough. McGuigan emphasizes that it is “original.” I like the natural toning, which is a little more colorful than that found on other, circulated Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Half Dimes. As is typical for coins of this type, there are noticeable mint-caused imperfections in addition to marks from mishandling.

John Pittman, a legendary collector, paid $88 when he bought this half dime from a sale by the Bullowa firm in 1952. In Oct. 1997, it sold for $14,300, a strong price at the time. Before Heritage auctioned the Pittman 1805 in July 2005, it had been graded as AU-53 by PCGS, though CAC was not founded until Oct. 2007. In 2005, this coin brought $18,400. Since then, it has not sold in four different auctions, possibly because the consignor set unreasonable reserves.

V. Higher Grade 1805 Half Dimes

The Pittman 1805 is certainly among the finest known 1805 half dimes. It is the only piece that is PCGS graded as AU-53. Three are PCGS graded AU-55 and four are PCGS graded AU-58. NGC has graded two as AU-55 and two as AU-58. Certainly, there are not eleven different 1805 half dimes that are PCGS or NGC graded AU-55 or AU-58. Are there as many as six different?

1805h10cau55stacksOnly one 1805 half dime is fairly PCGS or NGC graded above AU-58. I believe that a past listing of one grading “MS-60” is an error.

Reportedly, the coin that is NGC graded MS-65 was earlier auctioned by the firm of Lester Merkin in 1968. Is this the 1805 that is in the Pogue Collection? Stack’s-Bowers will auction the Pogue Collection in multiple sales over more than two years, beginning in May 2015. The Pogue Collection contains many finest known representatives of pre-1840 U.S. coin issues. The second finest known 1805 may be one of those that is certified as grading AU-58.

The PCGS graded AU-58 1805 that Heritage sold in Jan. 2007 for $46,000 is the same as the coin that brought $34,000 in April 2009 and $32,200 in Feb. 2010. It is unlikely that this coin would be approved if it was submitted to CAC.

The Stack’s auction of July 30, 2009, in Los Angeles, featured an extensive offering of Draped Bust Half Dimes, including the just mentioned PCGS graded AU-58 1805 that sold in three different Heritage auctions. The Pittman piece was included as well, though it did not yet have a CAC sticker. Additionally, there was a PCGS graded AU-55 1805 dime in that event, which did not sell.

On the PCGS CoinFacts site, there are pictured another PCGS graded AU-55 1805 and a PCGS graded AU-58 1805 that is clearly different from the just mentioned one that was in at least four auctions since 2007. This PCGS graded AU-58 1805, which was not recently in an auction, that is apparent on the PCGS web site is part of Simpson’s registry set of bust half dimes.

In Nov. 2008, Stack’s auctioned a PCGS graded AU-55 1805 that is different from the PCGS graded AU-55 1805 that is currently pictured on PCGS CoinFacts and is different from the PCGS graded AU-55 1805 that Stack’s offered on July 30, 2009. Therefore, at least three different 1805 half dimes are or have been PCGS graded AU-55.

The Ed Price Collection 1805 was NGC graded AU-58 when it was auctioned by Heritage in Jan. 2006 for $34,500. I have never seen the Price 1805 and know little about it.

In sum, the highly certified 1805 half dimes, of which I am aware, are, as follows: 1) The finest known is the NGC graded MS-65 coin. 2) The second finest might be the Simpson Collection, PCGS AU-58 coin, which is CAC approved. 3) PCGS graded AU-58 coin that has been in at least four different auctions since 2007; Although I do not know whether this coin has ever been sent to CAC, it has not been CAC approved and my guess is that it would not be, if submitted. 4) I cannot say much about the Ed Price Collection 1805, which is NGC graded AU-58. If this coin is in the same NGC holder that it was in before 2006, it has not not been CAC approved, though it might never have been submitted. 5) I have a vague recollection of the PCGS graded AU-55 coin that Stack’s auctioned in Nov. 2008; I do not know whether this coin is CAC approved. I would not be surprised if it is the sole AU-55 grade 1805 half dime that is CAC approved. 6) I did not recognize the PCGS graded AU-55 coin that is currently pictured on PCGS CoinFacts; It is not CAC approved. 7) I do not know the pedigree of the PCGS graded AU-55 coin that Stack’s offered on July 30, 2009. I also do not know whether this coin has been approved by CAC. 8) The Pittman Collection 1805, PCGS and CAC graded AU-53, has a documented history.

This listing is not a condition ranking. Moreover, I am not assuming that the first seven are superior to the Pittman coin. Draped Bust Heraldic Eagle Half Dimes have more imperfections, on average, than most other types of classic U.S. coins, even more than coins in other early series. Like most classic U.S. coins, these really need to be viewed in actuality to be fairly discussed and evaluated. It is recommended that each interested collector hire an expert to examine highly certified, Draped Bust Half Dimes, before deciding to buy any of them.

©2014 Greg Reynolds

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