**Some
Thoughts on Proof Bust Silver Coinage**
**Part One - Half Dimes and
Dimes**
By Doug Winter - RareGoldCoins.com
Proof gold coinage has been called the “caviar
of numismatics” - and with good reason. Everyone
loves a nice Proof gold coin and there is no
denying the rarity of these issues. But compared
to Proof Bust silver coins, most Proof gold is
common. I would contend that Proof Bust silver
coinage is one of the most fascinating—and
undervalued—areas in all of numismatics.
The earliest known Proof silver coins (at least
those that are universally regarded as having
been unquestionably struck as Proofs) date to
around 1820. From the early part of the 1820’s
until 1837 (when the Capped Bust design was
replaced), Proof silver coins were struck in
limited quantities. Generally speaking, mintages
were around ten to twenty pieces per year. In
most cases, official mintage figures were not
accurately recorded and rarity estimates today
are somewhat speculative. It is clear to state,
however, that all Proof Bust silver is, at the
very least, quite rare.
The intention of this article is to give the
beginning and intermediate collector an overview
of Proof Bust coinage by focusing on each of the
denominations that were produced in the Proof
format. In addition, at the end of this article,
I will discuss some pertinent points about these
coins that I think are important for all
collectors to consider.
I. Bust Half Dimes
There are a few 1794 half dimes known that have
been categorized by NGC as Specimen strikings
but the first true Proofs were made in 1829. The
1829 has a reported mintage of thirty pieces and
it is the most obtainable issue of this type as
a Proof by a fairly large margin. I think there
are around ten to fifteen known including a few
really superb Gems. The best of these is a
single example graded PR67 by PCGS; the single
finest Proof Bust Half Dime of any date graded
by PCGS.
The 1830 has a reported mintage of ten and it is
extremely rare with an estimated four or five
known. An example graded PR65 by PCGS was
recently sold as Lot 1039 in the Heritage 12/08
auction for a strong $50,025. If I’m not
mistaken, this is the most that a PR65 Bust Half
Dime has ever brought at auction.
The 1831 is another extremely rare issue. I
think it is comparable in rarity to the 1831 or
perhaps it is just a touch less rare.
The 1832 and the 1833 both have reported
mintages of ten Proofs but neither may exist.
There have been examples sold at auction as
“Proofs” but these were actually reflective
business strikes.
The 1834 is probably the second most available
date in Proof with as many as ten or so in
existence. PCGS has graded two in PR65 and two
in PR66 but I have not personally seen a nice
example in many years.
The 1835 is a mysterious issue. Ten Proofs were
reportedly struck but neither PCGS nor NGC have
ever certified an example. Given the fact that
Proofs of this year exist for other silver
denominations, I would not be surprised if a few
exist.
1836 is an extremely rare year with just three
to five Proofs known including an amazing PR66
certified by PCGS. No Proof 1837 Bust half dimes
are known or rumored to exist.
Overall, the Bust Half Dime series is extremely
rare in Proof. Only four dates (the 1829, 1830,
1831 and 1834) are even collectible and just one
(the 1829) is seen with any degree of
regularity. Until recently, Proof Bust half
dimes were very reasonably priced given their
rarity but this appears to have changed a few
years ago. Still, the $40,000-50,000 that it
would now take to purchase a PCGS Gem Proof
example is still probably good value considering
their true rarity.
These coins tend to be very difficult to
determine Proof status. Unlike Dimes and
Quarters which often “look Proof,” very few
Proof Half Dimes of this era have unquestionable
status. See the end of this article for some
buying tips.
II. Bust Dimes
The Large Size Bust Dimes of 1809 to 1828 are
extremely rare as Proofs. It is likely that no
more than five to ten Proofs were struck most
years and, in some cases, the actual number
could well be less. Coinage of Proofs began in
1820.
The existence of Proof 1820 Dimes is
controversial but at least one has been
certified by NGC. There are an estimated two or
three known 1821 Proof Dimes known including a
Gem from the Garrett collection.
It is believed that three 1822 Proof Dimes are
known. Two have been graded PR66 by PCGS. No
Proof 1823 Dimes are believed to exist while
three 1824/2’s are known. The finest Proof
1824/2 is the remarkable Bareford/Menjou coin
that is currently in an NGC PR67. Many
specialists regard this as the single finest
known Proof early dime.
There are two or three Proof 1825 Dimes known.
The 1827 is the most available Proof of this
type with as many as five or six known from an
estimated mintage of ten. Interestingly, at
least one is known that is from a Proof-only die
pair. There are more Gems in existence of this
year than of the other early Proofs as well. No
1828 Large Date Proofs are known.
In 1828, the design of the Dime was changed. The
1828 Small Date exists in Proof but it is
extremely rare. It has been stated that as many
as five Proofs are known but I believe that this
is inaccurate and that there are only three.
1829 saw a larger mintage of Proofs with an
estimated ten or so struck. At least five or so
exist and it is interesting that of the twelve
different die varieties known for this date at
least three exist in a Proof format.
Proof 1830 Dimes are extremely rare. I believe
that there are three or four known including one
or two Gems. The 1831 is the most obtainable
Proof Bust Dime. There are as many as ten to
twelve known and I have seen at least six of
these coins including three Gems.
There is just a single Proof 1832 Dime known and
it is a PCGS PR64 that I sold to a Louisiana
specialist around a decade ago. At one time it
was believed that 1833 Dimes were unknown in
Proof but PCGS has graded two and NGC has graded
four, making it likely that at least two or
three distinct examples exist. The finest known
is a PCGS PR66 that recently sold for $149,500
in the Heritage 2008 ANA sale.
1834 is among the more available early dimes in
Proof. There are as many as seven or eight known
including examples in three different die
varieties. This includes a piece in the famous
King of Siam Proof Set and as many as two superb
Gems graded PR67 by PCGS. All 1835 Proof Dimes
appear to be struck from the same die pair
(JR-4) and this date is one of the more
available of this design in Proof. I believe
that there are around eight or so known with at
least half of these grading in the PR63 to PR64
range. I know of at least two Gems including a
PCGS PR67CAM which is unquestionably the finest
known.
Proof 1836 Dimes are extremely rare. All are
from the JR-2 dies and it is doubtful if more
than three are known. None are Gems. The final
year of issue for this type is the 1837 and this
is a controversial year as far as Proofs go. The
authors of the book “Early United States Dimes,
1796-1837” believe that at least two Proofs are
known but neither PCGS nor NGC have yet to grade
one. I believe that they exist but that they
have not traded via public auction since the
early 1980’s.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article,
I have some buying tips for collectors who are
interested in purchasing Proof bust coinage.
These tips are based on having bought many of
these coins myself and having looked at most of
the major offerings that have appeared at public
auction since the mid-1980’s.
1. When it comes to Proof bust coins, pedigree
is exceedingly important. With some research,
you can determine what a coin sold for before it
was slabbed by PCGS or NGC. As an example, if an
1831 Dime that was called a “Proof” sold for a
seemingly low figure when it was offered for
sale as a raw coin in the 1980’s or 1990’s, this
is a strong red flag. For collectors of Proof
bust coins, important old-time collections such
as Eliasberg, Pittman and Norweb are the Holy
Grail. If a coin from one of these collections
was cataloged as a Proof and it brought the
right level, I’d consider this a strong
endorsement for the coin’s status as a Proof.
2. My first rule of determining if a coin is or
isn’t as Proof is as follows: if it doesn’t look
like a Proof it isn’t. I tend to go with my gut
instinct and if I have to convince myself that a
coin is a Proof, that’s not a good sign.
3. Just because PCGS or NGC calls it a Proof
does not mean absolutely for certain that it is.
I have seen a number of coins that these
services have called Proof that I do not agree
with.
4. Learn which varieties are known in Proof. If
a coin is the wrong variety then it probably is
not a Proof. Buy the standard references for
each series and learn the characteristics of the
varieties that have known Proofs.
5. Make a trip to the Smithsonian when it
reopens and look at their early Proofs. Or go to
the ANA Museum and look at Harry Bass’ early
gold Proofs. These are true Proofs and you can
get a good idea of what the base line is for
comparative purposes. |