The curious case of a Gem 1792 Pattern half disme
- Published: Jan 24, 2017, 8 AM
Market Analysis from the February 2017 monthly issue of Coin World:
Major auctions like Heritage’s January Florida United Numismatists convention sales are useful for the broad indicators they provide for the rare coin market, along with the many individual stories and lessons that single lots provide.
The most expensive coin in Heritage’s various FUN auctions was a 1792 half disme pattern, listed as Judd 7 in Dr. J. Hewitt Judd’s reference to the series, that brought $493,500. The classic pattern issue, considered the first coin struck under the auspices of the U.S. Mint and the first to circulate as a national coinage, was housed in a recent Professional Coin Grading Service slab where it was graded Mint State 66.
As Heritage wrote in its lot description, “It is not a stretch to say that the 1792 half disme is probably the single most important American coin issue, if not the most famed or celebrated.”
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Often-repeated rumors that Liberty was modeled after Martha Washington and that the mintage, a reported 1,500 pieces, was struck from silver from George Washington’s silverware have been disproved by researchers. Thankfully for collectors today, a decent number were saved at the time of issue and estimates of examples that remain range from 200 to 300 coins. Of these, the offered example is one of the finest known.
Yet, missing from the lengthy catalog description was the coin’s provenance — a curious omission, because it was one of the top lots in the auction and the patterns of 1792 are a well-studied series.
Turns out, it was formerly in an older, green-label PCGS MS-65 slab and had been sold three years earlier at Heritage’s 2014 FUN auction where it realized $528,750 as part of The Klamath Mountain Collection, Part II.
The PCGS slab that the coin was formerly housed in had a pale green perforated insert of a type that was used in late 1989. That the coin was since upgraded is not surprising, because in the first years of third-party grading, graders were particularly conservative with early U.S. issues. The hobby’s understanding of these 18th century U.S. coins has increased in the past few decades, and market grading standards have shifted accordingly.
Still, that a coin could move up in grade and then move down in price is a reminder that the rare coin market is smart, and even though the 2017 lot description left out the coin’s provenance, it is easily traced online.
The availability of high quality numismatic resources online with digital images makes it easy for collectors to do due diligence.
Tobias Meyer, formerly head of Sotheby’s contemporary art department, once said, “The best art is the most expensive because the market is so smart.” As the curious sale of the 1792 half disme shows, the coin market is similarly smart.
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