Some coins stand out from other dates around them as especially tough and perhaps even unusually hard to explain. That could be said of the 1846 half dime.
The half dime had an unusual history. Everyone seemed to talk about needing half dimes for commercial transactions, but for a long time no one did anything about the situation. The half dime for many years had sporadic and sometimes very low mintages. In fact, it took until 1829 before any half dime even topped 100,000 pieces, and that came after no production since 1805 when less than 16,000 were produced.
Starting with the 1829 mintage, the half dime seemed to have totals that were making up for lost time. All of the sudden half dime mintages tended to be regular, and consistently above 1 million pieces. The situation was helped even further when the new facility in New Orleans opened as it too started to contribute fairly large yearly totals.
In the midst of this frenzy of half dime production came the 1846 with a mintage of just 27,000. In 1845 there had been a mintage of 1,564,000 and in 1847 there would be a mintage of 1,274,000. The 1846 did not fit nicely into that pattern.
With such a low mintage, the fate of the 1846 half dime would prove to be interesting. Of course, back in 1846 there were not email updates on mintage totals. That said, the fact that the 1846 half dime was from Philadelphia would be a plus as the saving of coins around Philadelphia was far better than it was around the branch mints of the day. There had been a historic culture of collecting coins in the Philadelphia area, and that should have seen some examples of the 1846 discovered and saved even though it was almost certainly in short supply based on its mintage.
Today we see that the 1846 half dime is not a readily available date with its current price of $410 in G-4. That price is up from $225 back in 1998. In MS-60, the $11,500 price is hard to compare as it was not even priced in that grade in 1998. However, the AU-50 price of $3,600 is up from $3,000, so it would be safe to assume that there has been some MS-65 price increase.
The grading services can supply us with some indication as to the 1846 numbers today. Numismatic Guaranty Corporation reports a total of 20 graded with a single Mint State coin: an MS-62. At Professional Coin Grading Service, the number graded is 38 with a couple reaching Mint State.
At both grading services there have also been a couple examples of the 1846 graded in proof. The proof mintage is unknown, although it has been estimated at 20 pieces. Based on the number graded and the fact that proofs usually had a good chance of survival, the 20 figure seems correct or even slightly high.
The numbers are surprising. Certainly the 1846 had a low mintage and that would factor into the small numbers, but the very small totals, especially in Mint State, make the 1846 even more interesting as it goes against the trend of saving normally seen with issues from Philadelphia, where totals of close to 100 Mint State examples are not at all unusual for the 1840s.
The 1846 half dime appears to be priced well below what we might expect. Part of that is a very small number of collectors, but with the extremely small supplies in Mint State and a date that is well known as a low-mintage date, the 1846 would seem like a date worth watching in the future.