US Coins

'Typical problems' no barrier for 1802 half dime

A recently released book by the late Dr. Jon P. Amato (1940–2017) focuses on a single issue: the 1802 Draped Bust half dime. The issue is without a doubt the key early half dime, but as the book’s introduction points out, “Despite its notoriety as a classic numismatic rarity, less is known about the 1802 half dime’s mintage and survival rate as compared with many other rare American coins.” The “Red Book” used to list the mintage as 13,010, but now lists it as 3,060 since it is unclear if all of the half dimes struck in 1802 were dated that year. All of the known examples were struck from a single die pair, and Amato identified 32 distinct coins from studying auction catalogs and dealer fixed-price lists from the 19th century onwards. 

Here’s another of three 1802 half dimes sold at auction since 2014:

The Lot:

1802 Draped Bust half dime, PCGS Good Details, Damage

The Price:


The Story:

This example sold for $39,950 at Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ auction at the June 23 Baltimore Expo, where the description stated that it was once housed in a Professional Coin Grading Service About Good 3 holder, though it is now in a PCGS Good Details, Damaged, slab. It has a nearly full date and a better obverse than reverse, as is typically seen.

1808-quarter-eagle-1793-chain-cent-leadDesign failures, desirable rarities, or both: Inside Coin World Other topics include how to value unique collectibles, and an outline of the history of what "paper money" is printed on, from mulberry bark to plastics.

As for the damage, the description states, “The stated qualifier concerns several prominent scrapes and digs around the peripheries, most notable on the obverse before the date and over the left reverse.” Amato observes that these problems are typical, writing, “Many 1802 half dimes, even some higher-grade pieces, exhibit impairments such as deep scratches, heavy dents, porous surfaces, and deep gouges, or were bent or harshly cleaned.”

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Regarding the issue in general, the cataloger of the first D. Brent Pogue auction observed, “Beyond its status as the key date among all issues of the denomination, the 1802 half dime is a classic, the object of many collectors’ quests, and an epic destination unto itself.” The offered coin is listed as the Dr. Gabriel de Freitas Specimen on page 42 of Amato’s book, where the name is derived from its 1995 offering at Superior Galleries where it sold for $7,700. For comparison, back in 1956 it brought just $185.

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