It was a beautiful Friday afternoon in the nation’s capital, but I was stuck in the office. I was trying to finish a document for the client and was waiting for someone to review my work. Since my mind was on the sunny, wooded scene outside my office window, I did not want to start something new. I called up my browser and started to surf the Internet. I wanted to read anything that did not involve technology or the government. My attention turned to numismatics.
During my search, I stumbled across an article in The Columbus Dispatch that reported the auction sale of a rare, uncirculated 1792 half disme for $1.15 million ($1,322,500 with 15-percent buyer’s premium) to an anonymous collector. The auction was held at the Central States Numismatic Society (CSNS) 67th Annual Convention in Columbus, Ohio by Heritage Auctions Galleries.
Although I am not a fan of the press these high-priced sales generate, I was intrigued by the date of this coin. If I remembered the history of the US Mint correctly, I thought the first half dismes were minted in 1794 following the first mintage of half cents and large cents in 1793. With a little time on my hands I started searching for more information. After trying unsuccessfully to find more information at my usual starting point, CoinFacts.com, I found the auction listing on the Heritage online catalog. [I found other sites that will be included in the Numismatic Links pages]
According to Heritage, the coin was graded SP67 (Specimen 67) by PCGS and “[d]espite opinions to the contrary, this issue is the first circulating American coin struck under authority of the Mint Act of April 1792.” I learned that 1,500-2,000 of these coins were minted for the new government by John Harper using the equivalent of $100 worth of silver reported to have been provided by George Washington. While there has been some controversy whether these were real or authorized coinage, the information in the Heritage listing provides strong evidence that these coins were accepted by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson as legal tender.
In addition to the summary of the coin’s history, the listing also provides a list of 28 distinctive examples (plus some potential duplicates) of this coin from previous auctions or sales. This is why I love numismatics. The combination of history and the interesting designs makes the story of this coin a fascinating read. I hope the new collector enjoys this new prize!