By Dylan Dominguez and Edward Van Orden for PCGS ……
In the world of numismatics, one often hears the enthusiastically exclaimed, “You never know what’s going to come through the door!” We at PCGS are excited at the prospect of this old adage every day, and what better than a newly discovered variety from a long-revered and studied series to fit the bill?
A previously unknown die marriage of the 1800 Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Half Dime was recently submitted to PCGS for grading. Newly designated as Logan McCloskey-5 (LM-5) with “Obverse 3” and “Reverse C”, it becomes the 12th-known die marriage in the series (1800-1803, 1805) and the first new die marriage discovered in almost 30 years. It also represents the only unique coin by die marriage within the entire Bust Half Dime series, surpassing in rarity the 1800 LM-4 (two to three known); the 1801 LM-1 (five known, most with problems); the 1833 LM-5 (seven known); and even the famous 1802 (35-40 known), which shares the same reverse!
The first thorough investigation into Flowing Hair and Draped Bust Half Dimes was published by Harold P. Newlin in 1883. His die study, A Classification of the Early Half-Dimes of the United States, identified 24 different die marriages, eight of which carry a Heraldic Eagle reverse. In 1931, Daniel W. Valentine published his foundational The United States Half Dimes; however, no additional Heraldic Eagle die marriages were mentioned.
That would change in 1984 when Jules Reiver’s Variety Identification Manual for United States Half Dimes 1794-1837 described the first new Heraldic Eagle die pairings (1800 LM-2 and 1801 LM-1) to be discovered in over a century. Today’s standard reference, Federal Half Dimes (1998) by Russell J. Logan and John W. McCloskey, published by the John Reich Collectors Society, introduced an additional die marriage, the 1800 LM-4, bringing the number of Heraldic Eagle die pairings to 11 – a total that would stand, until this discovery, for almost 30 years.
The unique 1800 LM-5 represents another milestone in the study of the Heraldic Eagle Half Dime.
Creating dies was a costly undertaking. In the interests of economy, undated reverse dies were often used until they failed, sometimes over many years. They were even used across denominations (as Ed Price, who discovered the 1800 LM-4 in 1994, demonstrated with his complete collections of Draped Bust Dimes and Quarter Eagles, which feature many common reverses.) The 1800 LM-4 “Reverse B” is found with a die crack developing through the shield while the next coin in the series, the 1801 LM-1, was struck with “Reverse C” in its perfect state. Considering the time and cost to produce new dies, one could reasonably suppose that “Reverse B” was used to strike the 1800 LM-4 until it failed, and “Reverse C” was brought into service to strike the first 1801 coins (LM-1).
What makes the new 1800 LM-5 discovery important is that it is also paired with “Reverse C” in its perfect state. Here is the “missing link” in the emission sequence. What the 1800 LM-5 demonstrates is a natural progression wherein “Reverse B” likely failed late in 1800 and was replaced with “Reverse C” to strike additional 1800-dated coins before going on to strike the first 1801 Half Dimes. To find the first specimen of this die marriage more than two centuries after it was created is perhaps a testament to just how few 1800 “Reverse C” Half Dimes were made, let alone exist, making this unique coin even more fascinating to ponder.
And what better way to discover this monumental new variety than to cherry-pick it? An eagle-eyed numismatist familiar with the diagnostics of “Reverse C” initially thought he had found the legendary 1802(!) until further investigation revealed the 1800 “Obverse 3”. Should this collector keep the coin and aspire to complete a set of federal half dimes by die marriage, he will be the only person able to do so!
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