Record Price Set by Half Disme - Numismatic News

Numismatic News
Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A record price of $1.5 million has been set by a private treaty sale of a rainbow-toned 1792 half disme, graded NGC MS-68.

Sale of the coin was announced July 5 by Rare Coin Wholesalers of Dana Point, Calif.  The coin was purchased by the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation of Sunnyvale, Calif.

The foundation supports research and publications about early American money, and will be releasing a book this summer with new information about early U.S. coinage.

The previous record price for a 1792 half disme was $1,322,500 for one graded PCGS SP-67 that was sold in April 2006 by Heritage Auction Galleries.

“Based on weight it’s the world’s most valuable piece of silver.  It’s equivalent to more than $34 million per ounce,” said Steven L. Contursi, president of Rare Coin Wholesalers.

“This extraordinary coin was struck in the basement of a Philadelphia saw-maker’s shop in July 1792 when the Mint was not yet operational,” explained Martin Logies, president of the foundation.

Because of its exceptionally sharp details and immaculately preserved condition, Logies and research colleague, Karl Moulton, believe this particular coin was part of a group originally owned by the first U.S. Mint Director, David Rittenhouse.

“A small number of high-grade specimens were passed down through the Rittenhouse family for generations, and finally were dispersed very early in the 1900s.  This particular one, the finest of that group, was retained by the family for an additional period, until it was consigned to the 1919 official American Numismatic Association convention auction, conducted by Henry Chapman,” Logies said.

In August the foundation will release copies of a new reference book by Moulton, Henry Voigt and Others Involved with America’s Early Coinage. Noted author and researcher, Q. David Bowers, wrote the foreword.

Copies of the 242-page, hardbound book will be available at the ANA Milwaukee convention.

The book disputes earlier reports that President Washington personally provided the silver used for striking the coins.  Records indicate that on July 11, 1792, Jefferson reimbursed Rittenhouse $75 for the silver bullion the Mint director advanced on his own for processing planchets that would be used in the coining.

Two days later, July 13, 1792, Jefferson picked up the newly struck coins that Washington had authorized four days earlier on July 9.  Less than 400 surviving examples are known today from the1,500 recorded struck.

The 1792 half disme is a tiny, early American silver coin with a big historical connection.  Authorized by President George Washington 215 years ago this month, it is slightly smaller than a modern dime and weighs less than one-23rd of an ounce.

Logies says the foundation plans to display the coin around the country starting with the upcoming ANA World’s Fair of Money Aug. 8-12 in Milwaukee, Wis.

“Many 19th century collectors referred to the coin’s design as the ‘Martha Washington half disme’ because the portrait resembles the President’s wife.”

The obverse epicts the portrait of a symbolic female representation of Liberty, the legend, LIB. (liberty) PAR. (parent) OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY, and the year, 1792.  The reverse has the denomination, HALF DISME, and the words, UNI (united) STATES OF AMERICA surrounding an eagle.

The coin’s diameter is 17.5 millimeters; the weight is 20.8 grains; 89.24 percent fine silver with a silver content of 18.5625 grains or 0.03867 troy ounces.

Over the centuries the untouched silver surface has toned to deep blue with touches of purple and light red, apparently from storage for years in a Wayte Raymond cardboard album in the mid 20th century.

Moulton’s research indicates the provenance of this specific 1792 half disme as:
• David Rittenhouse, first Director of the United States Mint;
• In the possession of the Rittenhouse family until sold at the October 1919 ANA convention auction conducted by Henry Chapman;
• Collector George L. Tilden whose collection was sold at auction by Thomas Lindsay Elder in June1921;
• A private collector (who apparently stored the coin in a Wayte Raymond album);
• A unnamed museum in New England that sold the coin at a Stack’s auction in October 1988;
• Dealer Jay Parino;
• The anonymous “Knoxville Collection” from 1988 to 2003;
• A private collector from 2003 to January 2007;
• Dealer Steve Contursi, January – July 2007;
• Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation.