The total recorded mintage for the 1802 half dime is a mere 3,060 pieces, with only a single die variety known. From this number, there are currently 35 recorded examples known to exist in all grades, or slightly over 1% of the original mintage. Within the grand scope of early United States coinage, this is an average number, somewhat on the low side. It was not until the 1850’s that collectors came to realize the rarity of this particular issue. At the time only a handful were known in all grades, although some more have turned up since then.
In 1863, the issue attracted significant attention when a piece described to be in “very good condition” sold for a sum of $340. The same year, the finest known 1794 dollar had sold for a lower price of $285. This comparison shows that the rarity of the 1802 half dime had come to be understood by this time when numismatics had become more popular in the United States.
An interesting observation which can be made when studying this issue is that the current roster of higher grade examples often have pedigrees dating back to the 19th century. This illustrates that these pieces were cherished early on and carefully preserved throughout the years. Once in a great while, an unrecorded specimen might be discovered in the ground, a dealers junk box (this actually has happened with some low end examples), or in a family’s holdings. These discoveries have mostly occurred for examples in low grade or damaged condition, making it unlikely that the current condition census for this issue will be altered much for the decades to come.