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Enigmatic 1839-O Specimen Dime
by Heritage

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 striations.

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 [1] lot 542 where it realized $74,750.00

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