Found! Rare 1795 Half Dime
By: Neil Schwartz
Like so many other enthusiasts I have spoken with over the years, I’d wanted to try metal detecting ever since I was a young boy. I finally purchased my first detector on April 1, 2001. It was a simple “beep and dig” detector, but it worked well enough to get me hooked on a hobby that has become a big part of my life.
Ten years and five detectors later, I have changed my emphasis away from the equipment, focusing on research instead. The cold, wet winter of 2010-11 gave me a good opportunity to spend time looking for potential “hotspots” that are likely to produce better finds. Needless to say, this strategy has worked. Last year started off strong for me. My first find after the thaw in the Northeast was a beautiful, intact Colonial cufflink. Oddly enough, I had ended 2010 with another complete Colonial cufflink, with a different design. These two cufflinks were found within 200' of each other.
For a short time I classified my cufflinks as possibly my best finds ever, but a few weeks later they were upstaged by my true “find of a lifetime.”
It was the start of a typical detecting outing, a Saturday morning in March with the sun shining brightly and a warm breeze blowing. I was with a couple of my detecting buddies, Dale Andrews and Jim Toogood. Jim’s friend Matt, who was new to detecting, came along as well to learn from some of us because of our experience searching for Colonial coins and relics. In the past we have all dug many large cents, Colonial coins, Spanish silver, and an array of artifacts from the soils of southern New Jersey.
On this particular day we started out at a site that looked as if it had a lot of potential. It’s a young forest now, but not long ago farmland dominated the landscape. Getting through the thick underbrush was not easy, and after about an hour, with only one encrusted nickel to show for all of our efforts, we decided to try another site, a farm field up the road. Within a few minutes of detecting this new site, I got a fairly deep signal and dug an old gold-plated signet ring. My first thought that maybe my luck was beginning to change, but I never would have expected what was soon to come.
A few yards away from the spot where the ring was found I got another, similar sounding deep signal that jumped from the ring range to the coin range on my White’s V3i, with a depth reading of 9.5". It is the type of signal that is a welcome addition to my collection. At that moment in time I was hoping for a nice flat button, or perhaps if I was really lucky this day, it might be an early military button.
I dug a deep plug, flipped it over, and swept the coil over it. I could only hear the steady hum of the threshold. The target was still in the hole. I pinpointed the bottom and edges of the hole and got the beep of a small target below the hole bottom. Taking my Lesche recovery tool out of its holster, I carefully dug out another chunk of dirt and placed it next to the plug. I pinpointed the spot in the hole where the target had previously been, but the pinpointer was silent. I had successfully removed the item from the hole.
Picking up my detector again, I swept the pile of dirt and saw a small silver coin as the coil passed over it. This time the VDI was locked on 53... a nice mid-range signal! My first thought was Spanish silver, but when I picked up the small shiny disk, some of the dirt fell off, exposing stars and the word LIBERTY. Could it really be what I was seeing? This was no Spanish silver, and it was no Seated Liberty coin either! I yelled so loudly that the others could hear me from 100 yards away! I looked at the coin again, thinking that perhaps my eyes were playing tricks on me, but there it was- a find of a lifetime!
As the others approached, I looked up and said, “This is big. I think I just found a 1795 Flowing Hair half dime.”
Jim looked closely at the coin and confirmed my suspicion. “1795,” he said. “You did it!”
Unfortunately, my detecting day was cut short by personal obligations. I was too worried about damaging the coin to continue anyway, so I left the others, who went on to dig some wonderful old coppers, mostly King George I and II’s. As soon as possible, I e-mailed a friend who is an early U.S. and Colonial coin expert. He was able to get me a tentative ID on the variety, later confirmed by a friend of his who specializes in early U.S. silver coins, stating the following:
“That is, indeed, an LM-3, in mid to late die state, with the diagnostic obverse die crack. It is currently listed as an R5. It looks to be in extremely good shape for having been in the ground for such a long time. It appears to be at least AU, although it is difficult to grade any coin from a picture.”
Later that week, when I had come back down to earth, I finally had a chance to examine my other finds from that morning. I hadn’t noticed at the time, but that crusty old nickel from the wooded site turned out to be my first Shield nickel. Had I realized this at the time, I might never have moved from there to the field. Sometimes things just have a way of working out.
The half dime was one of the original denominations introduced almost as soon as the United States coinage system began. The Flowing Hair design was actually only struck in 1795, although numerous varieties are dated 1794.
This past fall the coin was submitted for conservation and details grading. It came back with an XF Details grade. Needless to say, this 1795 Flowing Hair half dime is a find of a lifetime. I doubt I will ever be able to top it, but I will keep my eyes on the display and my ears between the headphones as I search for the elusive 1792 half Disme.
Marc, the spelling above ( half Disme) is correct... it's not Dime.