Enigmatic 1839-O Specimen Dime
This is truly an
enigmatic coin. It is much easier to state what
we do not know about this apparently unique
striking than what we do know. It is not
mentioned in the Greer reference (1992) on
Seated dimes. It is also only obliquely
mentioned in the 1977 Breen proof Encyclopedia:
“WGC:675. Unseen, die variety data lacking,
unconfirmed.” The fact that Walter Breen never
saw this piece in his 40+ years as the
preeminent numismatic scholar in America tells
us this coin must have been in very strong
collector hands for many years.
What is known about this piece is the above
reference from Kosoff’s 1945 “World’s Greatest
Collection.” The dimes were listed by mint.
Under NEW ORLEANS MINT (1838-1909), lot 675
simply reads: “1839. K.1. Perfect die. Proof.”
It brought $19 on an estimate of $22.50.
Examination of the coin itself speaks volumes.
The devices are fully defined on each side.
While this might be considered a given on a
proof (Specimen) coin, in 1839 it was not always
the case. Perhaps the most interesting part of
the coin are the fields. Deeply mirrored
throughout, they show evidence of extensive die
polishing. This is less obvious on the obverse,
but the reverse displays numerous heavy die
While many branch mint proofs were struck for a
special occasion, that does not appear to be the
case with this piece. The only notable design
element is the Large O mintmark, hardly a cause
for commemoration with a special coin. The 103
die pairing is a common one, and this piece is
certainly not among the first struck. It shows a
die crack from Liberty’s head to star 8 to the
cap and from stars 9 through 11.
On the lower reverse two faint cracks can be
seen to the right of the ribbon. This is
consistent, however, with other branch mint
proofs examined. Branch mint personnel were not
familiar with the proofing process. When asked,
they produced coins they thought resembled their
Philadelphia counterparts. Close examination,
such as that done by today’s numismatists, can
discern these differences, but at the time of
manufacture what was important was intent.
Did the New Orleans Mint intend to produce a
special coin? Clearly they did. It is obvious
from proofs struck in the Philadelphia Mint
during this same time period that they would
have polished away the die cracks. But quality
control in New Orleans never approached that in
the mother mint, and it appears that die cracks
were only a problem when it impaired the further
use of that die.
This coin recently Sold in Heritage’s Dallas
Signature Sale - Oct 24, 2008 as  lot 542
where it realized $74,750.00