Capped Bust Large Size Dimes 1809-1828

The first few years of the 19th century saw tremendous expansion for the fledgling United States. The Louisiana Purchase added 828,000 square miles to the nation, effectively doubling its size. Shortly after that the exploratory expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark proved the feasibility of an overland route to the Far West, encouraging western settlement and commerce. The country was expanding in population, also. The new democracy attracted thousands of immigrants from all over Europe, many of whom were fleeing the Napoleonic Wars.
It was March of 1807 before the fourth mint director, Robert Patterson, finally hired the German-born John Reich as second engraver. Born in Fuerth, Bavaria in 1768, this talented die cutter arrived in America as an indentured laborer and settled in Philadelphia about 1800. Reich sought employment at the Mint in 1801. Though he was unable to secure a permanent position at that time, an unidentified officer of the institution recognized his talents and generously purchased his freedom.
While the infant Mint had suffered since 1792 from a shortage of qualified engravers and mechanics (and Reich was certainly qualified), Patterson’s predecessor, Elias Boudinot, preferred delaying an offer of a permanent position to Reich until, as he wrote in a letter to President Thomas Jefferson, “. . . I have good evidence of his character.” A more likely reason was Boudinot’s reluctance to offend the aging and professionally mediocre Chief Engraver Robert Scot.
At that time the dime was still unfamiliar to most Americans. The Act of April, 1792, creating the decimal dollar, made a key component “dismes or tenths . . . a disme being a tenth part of a dollar.” However, the quarter dollar fit more easily into popular usage, as it was equal to the Spanish two-reales coin, or “two bits.” Its half was the Spanish silver real, equal to 12-1/2 cents. The high-silver content two-reales coins were legal tender.
Also in wide circulation but not a legal tender was a Spanish coin of inferior silver alloy struck in the 1700’s. Though called two reales, it was known throughout the former colonies as a pistareen. A dime was really half a pistareen, but the new ten-cent pieces were vastly outnumbered by the widely preferred silver one-real coins, however worn they might be. Reich began work as second engraver to Scot, receiving a salary of $600 per year. From 1807 to 1817 he performed most of the chief engraver’s work without receiving the salary or prestige of the higher post. Coming aboard on April 1, he was cutting dies for his first Capped Bust coins, the 1807 half dollars, by April 2. Only after getting the half dollar, half eagle, cent and quarter eagle out of the way did Reich tackle the dime.
This era was one favoring Rubenesque beauty, as a glance at Scot’s dowdy Draped Bust obverse will show. As she first appeared on the 1809 Capped Bust dime Reich’s Liberty was, if anything, a trifle more streamlined than her predecessor. Fifty years later, U.S. Mint writer William Ewing DuBois would claim that the model for all these rather stout, ample-bosomed Liberties was a woman he called “Reich’s fat German mistress.”
The reverse bore an American eagle with head turned left, holding three arrows symbolizing strength, and an olive branch representing peace. On its breast is the Union Shield composed of six horizontal lines indicating blue, with 13 stripes below, six of these made of three vertical lines each indicating red. Such lines were an 18th century engraver’s standardized method of showing colors in black-and-white engravings; blue representing dominion, red signifying force, with white denoting purity. Encircling the top of the eagle is the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and a scroll with the incuse motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. Beneath the eagle is the denomination 10 C.
Reich prepared a single, steel punch of his Liberty bust, impressing it into each working die by blows of a small hammer. He then impressed each star by eye, seven on Liberty’s left, six on her right, placing the date in the space below the bust. Although known as “Large Size,” these dimes should more properly be called the “Open Collar” type. They were struck without a restraining collar, giving them a broad, low-rimmed look. Averaging 1.1 millimeters smaller in diameter than the preceding Draped Bust dime, this type is only large in relation to its smaller successor issued from 1828 onward. In reality, diameters vary widely over the years.
Capped Bust dime production was not continuous, with only three dates struck while Reich was in Mint employ. Dimes were issued dated 1809, 1811, 1814, 1820 through 1825 and 1827. Large quantities were struck only in 1820, 1821 and 1827. In all, over five million pieces were minted. All dates are available, with the low mintage 1809, 1811 and 1822 being the scarcest, though all are known in gem uncirculated condition. An unknown number of proofs, actually presentation pieces, exist for the years 1820 and later. Type collectors will have no problem finding premium examples; it’s mainly the variety collector who faces challenges with this series. Although variety collecting today has fewer adherents than in the past, Bust dime devotees are still quite numerous.
Die variety identification of early dimes started late. Most die varieties are identified by the position of the date, the spacing and alignment of stars, the size of 10 C. and the exact position of letters above the ends of the motto scroll. Most other denominations were carefully charted by die variety decades before any serious work was done with dimes. Popular coin books gave only major varieties such as large and small dates. The denomination finally received its in-depth study in 1984: Early United States Dimes 1796-1837, compiled by five students of the series and published by the John Reich Collectors Society. When grading this series, take into account that weak strikes are common. On the obverse, wear will first show on the drapery at the front of the bust, the hair at the forehead and above the ear and the shoulder clasp. On the reverse, check the eagle’s claws, neck, and wings.
Weary of working for his meager salary, Reich resigned on March 31, 1817, exactly ten years after beginning employment at the Mint. In 1828 Chief Engraver William Kneass introduced the close collar coining method as part of the Mint’s quest for technological improvement and uniformity. The Capped Bust design was adapted to this new process, and the Small Size Capped Bust dime was born. It would be issued until 1837, when Christian Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty dime was unveiled.

SPECIFICATIONS:
Diameter: 18.8 millimeters (varies)
Weight: 2.70 grams
Composition: .8924 Silver, .1076 Copper.
Edge: Reeded
Net Weight: .07734 ounce pure silver

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Alexander, David T., DeLorey, Thomas K., and Reed, P. Bradley, Coin World Comprehensive Catalog & Encyclopedia of United States Coins, World Almanac-Pharos Books, New York, 1990. Breen, Walter, Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York, 1988. Davis, David J.; Logan, Russell J.; Lovejoy, Allen F.; McCloskey, John W.; Subjack, William L., Early United States Dimes, 1796-1837, John Reich Collectors Society, Ypsilanti, MI, 1984. Morris, Richard B., Encyclopedia of American History, 5th Edition, Harper & Row, New York, 1976. Taxay, Don, The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Arco Publishing Co., New York, 1966.

Draped Bust/Small Eagle Dimes 1796-1797

Although the dime is an essential part of the decimal coinage system, it was one of the last coins issued by the United States Mint when operations first began. By the time it made its debut in 1796, as the Draped Bust/Small Eagle dime, the Mint had already been making copper cents and half cents for three years; silver dollars, half dollars and half dimes for two years; and even two gold coins—the eagle and half eagle—for a year. The only other coins delayed, like the dime, until 1796, were the quarter dollar and quarter eagle.
It’s not as though the dime was an afterthought. Actually, Thomas Jefferson had called for such a coin as far back as 1783 as part of a proposed decimal system. He was joined in his advocacy by Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and the man who would become the first mint director, eminent scientist David Rittenhouse. The decimal system was gradually gaining acceptance for use with calculations, but it had not yet been used for any nation’s monetary structure. The founding fathers believed that not only was decimal coinage an efficient, workable method for commerce, but it also symbolized a break from the Old World.
Hamilton, the nation’s first treasury secretary, bolstered this view in 1791 in his formal report to Congress, outlining a plan for a national mint and coinage. He recommended the issuance of coins in six denominations—including a silver piece “which shall be, in weight and value, one tenth part of a silver unit or dollar.” He suggested that the dollar be called the “unit,” with its tenth part being known as simply a “tenth.”
These names never took hold, but the basic Mint Act of April 2, 1792, did include provision for both a silver dollar and a coin one-tenth thereof to be called a “disme.” The term disme—pronounced the same as “dime” and later anglicized to be spelled the same—is French for “decimal.” It first gained wide usage in 1585 when Dutch mathematician Simon Stevin published a pamphlet (later translated into French, and then into English) as Disme: the art of tenths, or, Decimall arithmeticke.
The word “disme” never appeared on a regular-issue United States coin. But in 1792, before the start of official federal coinage, about 1,500 half dismes and a handful of dismes were struck bearing the statement of value in this now strange-seeming phraseology. Although these are authorized U.S. issues, they are generally regarded as patterns or provisional pieces. Only three 1792 dismes are known today in silver—with about fifteen others struck in copper.
After that tentative start, four years would pass before the Mint produced the first ten-cent coins intended for circulation. The dime (or disme) remained on the back burner. The dollar, perceived as the most prestigious coin of the new silver issues, was made first. Then, when production problems forced the Mint to stop making dollars, it turned instead to half dollars and half dimes.
Why no dimes? Numismatic researcher R.W. Julian largely attributes the delay to lack of public demand for this small silver coin, whether from merchants and their customers or from bullion depositors. Commercial needs were met adequately by the large numbers of Spanish reales then in circulation: The one-real coin, worth one “bit.” or 12-1/2 cents, provided a convenient and readily available means to pay for small purchases. Meanwhile, depositors who left silver bullion with the Mint seeking silver coinage in return, much preferred large coins—especially silver dollars—to small ones like the dime.
By the time that production of dimes finally began the Mint had already modified the original designs of the other silver coins, so the dime denomination missed an entire cycle. The first regular issue silver coins had featured the so-called Flowing Hair portrait of Miss Liberty, but by 1796 this likeness had given way to a more sedate Draped Bust portrait—and that’s the one that appeared on the very first dimes.
The Draped Bust/Small Eagle design by Mint Chief Engraver Robert Scot features a buxom portrait of Liberty, her flowing hair tied by a ribbon and her neckline covered with drapery, encircled by stars at the sides. The inscription LIBERTY appears above and the date below.The reverse depicts a small, spread-winged eagle perched upon clouds and surrounded by palm and olive branches. Encircling this is the motto UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The coin carries no statement of value—curiously, the Mint Act of 1792 required that only the copper cent and half-cent be inscribed with denominations.
Pieces dated 1796 have fifteen stars—one for each state in the Union then. In 1797 some dimes were struck with sixteen stars (reflecting Tennessee’s admission as the 16th state) and some with thirteen, symbolizing the thirteen original states. Such dies were prepared after the Mint abandoned the idea of adding an extra star for each new state.
Legend has it that Liberty’s portrait was based on a drawing of Philadelphia socialite Ann Willing Bingham, one of the most beautiful women of her time. The drawing was prepared by portraitist Gilbert Stuart—reportedly at the urging of President George Washington himself, who felt the early coins were in need of artistic improvement. Stuart’s sketch was translated to plaster by artist John Eckstein, and the dies were then executed by Scot.
This first regular issue dime was minted for only two years. In 1798 the small, naturalistic eagle gave way to a larger heraldic version, creating a brand new type. During this brief run, the Mint produced a total of 47,396 pieces. Although Mint records show a slightly higher output in 1797, the late Walter Breen, a noted numismatic scholar, speculated that some dimes made in 1797 may have been dated 1796. Dimes dated 1797 are rarer across the grade spectrum than the first-year pieces, and particularly so in Mint State.
At least several dozen uncirculated 1796s exist—a few with prooflike surfaces, possibly made as presentation pieces for VIPs. The famed collector, Colonel E.H.R. Green, son of “The Witch of Wall Street,” fabulously wealthy Hetty Green, possessed a small hoard of uncirculated 1796s, all of which were dispersed after his death in 1936.
There are only three basic varieties in the series: the 1796, the 1797 with sixteen stars and the 1797 with thirteen stars. Thus, some collectors pursue complete sets, despite the high cost of each component. Many, however, treat this as a type coin and acquire just one specimen to represent the series. When grading this design, wear will first show on Liberty’s bust, shoulder and the hair above the ear and at the forehead. On the reverse, check the eagle’s head and wing tops.

SPECIFICATIONS:
Diameter: 19 millimeters
Weight: 2.70 grams
Composition: .8924 silver, .1076 copper
Edge: Reeded
Net Weight: .07747 ounce pure silver

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Bowers, Q. David, United States Coins by Design Types, Bowers and Merena Galleries, Wolfeboro, NH, 1986. Breen, Walter, Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York, 1988. Davis, David J.; Logan, Russell J.; Lovejoy, Allen F.; McCloskey, John W.; Subjack, William L., Early United States Dimes, 1796-1837, John Reich Collectors Society, Ypsilanti, MI, 1984. Taxay, Don, The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing Co. Inc., New York, 1966. Yeoman, R.S., A Guide Book of United States Coins, 48th Edition. Western Publishing Co., Racine, WI, 1994

Seated Liberty/Legend Obverse Half Dimes 1860-1873

The half dime was the first denomination struck when the United States Mint was established in 1792. It was a lynchpin of the decimal coinage system envisioned by Jefferson and Hamilton, a system based on a method invented in Europe two centuries earlier. Decimal coinage was revolutionary, a departure from all other currencies then in use. The new U.S. dollar, unlike the familiar Spanish dollar with its eight parts, or bits, was divided into tenths and hundredths. Above the copper cents and half cents, the half dime was the smallest denomination. It was also the smallest silver coin minted until the introduction of the silver three-cent piece in 1851.
Prior to the Civil War, half dimes circulated alongside many odd foreign coins. Spanish coins in particular were square pegs trying to fit in the round holes of the decimal system. The Spanish real (bit) and half real (half bit) circulated as twelve and six cents, respectively. Very worn pieces were colloquially called the levy, a corruption of “eleven pence” and fip (“five-and-a-half pence”)—terms dating back to colonial times. When sold for bullion at the mint, these worn pieces were discounted, valued only at a dime and half dime, respectively.
Technology, primarily the steam press, made coins easier to manufacture beginning in the 1830s. In 1837 the portrait and eagle designs used on the earlier half dimes, including the preceding Capped Bust type, gave way to the beautiful and scientifically constructed Seated Liberty and wreath design by Christian Gobrecht. The eagle never again appeared on the half dime. When the Seated Liberty quarter was introduced in 1838, with its thirteen stars surrounding Liberty, the tradition of design uniformity among coins of the same metal won out over art, and the clean, uncluttered half dime and dime received the stars. In 1840 artist Robert Ball Hughes reworked the figure of Liberty. He added drapery at the elbow, placed the shield in an upright position and made other minor alterations. Many observers feel the sum of his efforts only succeeded in “fattening and flattening” Gobrecht’s sleek design.
The California Gold Rush spawned the discovery of huge amounts of the precious metal, causing the value of silver to rise in terms of gold and resulting in widespread exporting and melting of silver coins. By 1853 the government was forced to reduce the amount of silver in coins to prevent them from being melted. Arrowheads pointing outward were added to either side of the date on the half dimes from 1853 through ‘55, signifying the change in weight. They were removed for the coinage of 1856 and subsequent years.
The design was again tampered with in 1859, when Engraver James B. Longacre’s assistant, Anthony C. Paquet, created a new version notable for its hollow stars surrounding the Liberty figure. Some pieces were made in 1859 and 1860 combining this obverse with the new reverse wreath of later issues. Lacking the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, these “coins without a country” are really fantasy pieces, being neither patterns nor coins intended for circulation.
In 1860 Longacre redesigned the Seated Liberty half dime for the last time. Known as the Legend Obverse type, it retained the seated Liberty figure holding a staff topped with a Liberty cap. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA replaced the thirteen stars that had surrounded Liberty on previous versions. The simple reverse wreath was discarded and replaced by an elaborate one made up of sprigs of corn, wheat, oak and maple and tied with a bow at the bottom (this Cereal Wreath motif by Paquet was also used on the Seated Liberty and Barber dimes). The denomination HALF DIME appears within the wreath.
Besides the Philadelphia Mint (no mintmark), this coin type was minted in New Orleans in 1860 (O) and in San Francisco (S) from 1863 through 1873. The mintmark is found below the bow, except on the San Francisco issues of 1870 through early 1872, where it appears within the wreath. Although 15,573,280 Legend half dimes (including 10,040 proofs) were minted in the fourteen years that this type was current, the effects of civil war, bullion melts and use as jewelry items ravaged the issues from the 1860s. Still, several small hoards have been uncovered that yielded a few uncirculated specimens from this period. Other uncirculated specimens have surfaced in original Mint-assembled proof sets. Whether this occurred due to indifference or carelessness by Mint employees remains unclear. The dates found most frequently in uncirculated condition are the Philadelphia Mint issues from 1860 through 1862 and both the Philadelphia and San Francisco Mint half dimes from 1871 through the end of the series in 1873.
Unquestionably, 1870-S is the rarest and most fascinating Legend half dime. When construction started on the second San Francisco Mint in 1870, coins minted specifically to commemorate the occasion were placed inside the cornerstone. Only one 1870-S half dime was supposed to exist (and the mint building still stands), but in 1978 a duplicate specimen surfaced. The coin’s display at the 1978 convention of the American Numismatic Association caused quite a stir. It subsequently sold for a six-figure price.
When grading this design, look carefully at the surfaces of the fields to check for hairlines, evidence of cleaning, removal of solder or retooling of the design elements. Half dimes were heavily used in jewelry during the 1870s and ‘80s and were popular as tie tacks, cuff links, buttons and pins. The obverse will first show wear on Liberty’s kneecap and breast. On the reverse, check the bow of the ribbon and the leaves in the wreath.
Although it is possible to assemble a complete uncirculated set of Legend half dimes by date and mintmark (sans the 1870-S), few collectors try. This design is more popularly collected as part of a type set of 19th century issues that might include the major varieties of the Gobrecht design. A small but interesting collection could be a Legend half dime from each mint. This would include the only New Orleans coin, 1860-O, a Philadelphia issue and one from San Francisco. The set could be expanded by including examples of both mintmark positions of the San Francisco coins.
The Coinage Act of 1873 changed the weights of the dime, quarter dollar and half dollar to conform with metric standards. The new law, which went into effect April 1, also ended the production of several denominations, including the half dime, as these were no longer listed among the authorized issues. The need for a five-cent coin was filled by the copper-nickel piece, which had been in production since 1866 and remains current even today.

SPECIFICATIONS:
Diameter: 15.5 millimeters
Weight: 1.24 grams
Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper
Edge: Reeded
Net Weight: .0358 ounce pure silver

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Blythe, Al, The Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Half Dimes, DLRC Press, Virginia Beach, VA, 1992. Bowers, Q. David, United States Coins by Design Types, An Action Guide for the Collector and Investor, Bowers and Merena, Wolfeboro, NH, 1986. Breen, Walter, Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York, 1988. Taxay, Don, The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Arco Publishing Co., New York, 1966.

Seated Liberty/Arrows Half Dimes 1853-1855

When John Marshall discovered a few nuggets of gold on the American River in northern California in 1848 no one could have predicted just how much precious metal lay waiting to be found and how widespread the effects of his discovery really would be. But gold soon flooded the monetary markets of the world, and this overabundance of the metal caused its price to fall, which in turn had the effect of raising the price of silver as reckoned in gold dollars. As the price of silver rose relative to gold, the intrinsic value of United States silver coins increased above their face value. Soon, U.S. silver coins were melted when found, and by 1851 they were no longer found.
This lack of fractional silver coinage created chaos among merchants and bankers who were forced to make change with silver three-cent pieces, heavily worn dimes and half dimes and the ubiquitous Spanish silver pieces. As the voice of the people, Congress quickly responded to the complaints of the merchant class, and bills were introduced and fiercely debated for two years before action was finally taken to solve the problem.
Many in Congress were genuinely concerned about debasement of the country’s silver coinage, the solution most commonly suggested to remedy the situation. The idea of a fiduciary coinage was a new concept at the time, and it was several decades until most Congressmen were comfortable with the idea that a coin need not contain a full measure of precious metal to be a valid circulating medium. In the 1850s many inside and outside of Congress considered the idea of fiduciary coinage to be basically dishonest. Perhaps the most ill-informed opponent of fiduciary coinage was future President Andrew Johnson, who called the bill introduced to reduce the silver content of the half dime, dime, quarter and half dollar “the merest quackery” and “charlatanism.” However, after two years of postponements and three consecutive days of debate, the bill authorizing a weight reduction of 6.9% in these silver coins was signed into law February 21, 1853.
Much depended on the new coins entering the channels of commerce as quickly as possible. Officials agreed that the new, lower weight coins should have some distinctive design or mark that would enable the general populace to easily distinguish them from the earlier coinage that contained a greater amount of silver. Even Congress recognized the need for the new coins to have a modified design, and the following month a law was passed that authorized the Mint to temporarily employ such artists as would be needed to alter the dies for the coins affected.
But Chief Engraver James B. Longacre knew that the press of time would not allow any drastic redesigning or the hiring and training of outside artisans. All there was time to do was hand punch arrowheads on either side of the date and add a “glory” of rays on the reverse dies of the quarter and half dollar. Longacre added arrows to 78 new obverse dies for 1853 half dimes, eighteen for the New Orleans Mint and just two for San Francisco. The San Francisco dies were shipped there just in case they could be used, but the branch mint failed to begin coining operations until the next year.
More than 13 million Arrows half dimes were struck in Philadelphia in 1853, more than half the total output of 25,060,020 for the three years that arrows were used. Only Philadelphia and New Orleans produced this subtype, and the New Orleans pieces are significantly scarcer than their Philadelphia counterparts. Proofs were struck in all three years but are of the utmost rarity.
Arrows half dimes are easily collected in all but the highest grades. There are no real “stoppers” in the three-year set, but the New Orleans coins are considerably more elusive and expensive than those from the Philadelphia Mint. For decades coin dealers would not stock low grade Arrows half dimes because they were considered so common. This disdain carried over to higher grade coins as well, and it has only been in recent years that type collectors have elevated this series to respectability due to the need for gem coins for type sets.
As one might expect, the wholesale removal of all pre-1853 silver coins did create several rarities, and in the half dime series the 1853-O No Arrows issue is a significant rarity that has sometimes been counterfeited by altering an 1858-O coin. The italic numeral 5 typical of the 1853 logotype makes this alteration an easy one to detect. In 1856, after three years with arrows on either side of the date, the half dime was returned to its pre-1853 design. The weight reduction effected in 1853 was continued, and this coin type remained unchanged until 1860. With only this minor change in design, the grading parameters for Arrows half dimes remain the same as for the earlier issues. On the obverse, check the high points of the breast and knee for wear; on the reverse, the ribbon bow and tips of the leaves.
The Mint Act of 1853 achieved what Congress and the Mint set out to do; it reduced the amount of silver in the subsidiary coinage to a level where it was not profitable to melt, hoard or export these denominations, and small change circulated once again. The Act also established a fiduciary coinage in the United States for the first time. However, the profit the Mint made on the production of these coins (or seignorage as it is known) was minimal, and rising silver prices through the remainder of the 1850s made the Mint’s profits less and less.
By the time of the Civil War, so little was made on the production of silver coins that it looked as if melting and exporting would resume if the silver price continued to climb. Hoarding did indeed occur, but not because of rising silver prices. Rather, all silver coins were hoarded during the Civil War simply because the coins had precious metal in them, irrespective of the amount or its value. This is how great the public’s uncertainty was regarding the outcome of the War. The issue of fiduciary coinage would be debated for the next century, but it was the Arrows coinage of 1853-55 that fired the opening shot in the controversy that was not fully resolved until all precious metal was finally removed from circulating coinage in 1970.

SPECIFICATIONS:
Diameter: 15.5 millimeters
Weight: 1.24 grams
Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper
Edge: Reeded
Net Weight: .035 ounce pure silver

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Blythe, Al, The Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Half Dimes, DLRC Press, Virginia Beach, VA, 1992. Breen, Walter, Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York, 1988. Carothers, Neil, Fractional Money. A History of the Small Coins and Fractional Paper Currencv of the United States, John Wiley & Sons, London, 1930. Taxay, Don, The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Arco Publishing, New York, 1966.

Seated Liberty/Stars Obverse Half Dimes 1838-1859

During the first third of the 19th century, the average American saw few of his country’s gold or silver coins, if any at all. Strangely enough, in relation to the size of the rapidly expanding nation, not many coins were made. A combination of factors, including Congress’ ill-founded 15-to-1 silver/gold ratio, questionable Mint procedures, fluctuating gold prices and the large domestic supply of Spanish silver pieces, all served to limit the number of U.S. coins in circulation.
By the early 1830s, with Latin-American revolutionary chaos subsiding, Mexican silver exports jumped. This fact, combined with Congress’ new 16-to-1 silver/gold ratio, U.S. coinage flourished. Mintages ballooned dramatically, and the introduction of steam powered coining presses in 1836 only enhanced the Mint’s production capacity. While the ratio change—which favored silver—should have driven those coins from circulation, what actually occurred was an increase in the number of silver coins struck, particularly the smaller issues. Apparently Mexican mine owners found it profitable enough to sell their ore to the convenient and silver-hungry American market, despite the lower price. The U.S. was only too happy to turn their bullion into coins.
Changes were also taking place among Mint personnel: the new director, Robert M. Patterson, hired the exceptionally talented Christian Gobrecht as second engraver to Chief Engraver William Kneass. Gobrecht, a follower of the neoclassical style, was instructed to completely redesign the coinage using the English figure of Britannia as a model. Working from sketches made by Titian Peale and Thomas Sully, Gobrecht fashioned a majestic image of Liberty. In 1836 his Seated Liberty design was first used on silver dollars, the quasi-pattern “Gobrecht” issues. By the next year, working dies were ready, and production of the new half dimes began.
Only the No Stars half dimes (and dimes) of 1837-38 accurately reflect Gobrecht’s original concept. Liberty is seated on a large rock, holding a staff topped with a Liberty cap. The figure sits alone in the field with only the date below, imparting a cameo, medal-like appearance to the coin. The reverse—essentially the same on all half dimes from 1837 to 1859—features the denomination HALF DIME encircled by a laurel wreath, in turn surrounded by UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
In 1838 thirteen stars were arranged around the image of Liberty, creating the Stars Obverse type, with each star hand-punched into a previous No Stars die. Collectors refer to the coins of 1838-1840—slightly different in appearance than later issues—as the “No Drapery” variety, and these are often included in type sets as a separate design.
In 1840 Robert Ball Hughes made the first of many modifications to come. He added an extra fold of drapery behind Liberty’s elbow and, unfortunately, “fattened” the overall design. Thirteen years later, to combat widespread melting of silver coins following the California Gold Rush, Chief Engraver James B. Longacre added arrowheads on either side of the date, denoting a slight weight reduction. The Stars obverse design, without arrows, resumed in 1856 and continued until 1860, when the Legend Obverse design debuted. The last changes were made in 1859, when engraver Anthony Paquet slimmed Liberty’s arms, reduced the size of her cap and enlarged her head. But the most notable difference of Paquet’s revision is the hollow center of each peripheral star. Some type collectors include this minor variety in their sets.
As one of the five major design types of the popular Seated Liberty series, Stars Obverse half dimes are collected by date and mintmark as well as by type. Scarce dates abound, and some are nearly impossible to find, particularly in high grade—most notably 1844-O, 1846, 1849-O and 1853-O No Arrows. Type collectors searching for gem specimens will most frequently encounter the Philadelphia coins of 1857 and 1858.
The series includes two well known oddities, the 1859 and 1860 “transitional” issues. Both were creations of Mint Director James Ross Snowden, whose driving ambition during his tenure was to fill the conspicuous gaps in the Mint’s collection of U.S. coins. He authorized the striking of several “fantasy” pieces, including the Class III 1804 dollars, certain Gobrecht dollar restrikes and the so-called “transitional” half dimes and dimes. These half dimes have the Stars Obverse paired with Anthony Paquet’s Cereal Wreath reverse of 1860. These “coins without a country” (they lack the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) were traded to local collectors for coins missing from the Mint collection. The 1859 is a proof striking and very rare, with only 12-15 pieces known, The 1860 pieces, however, are business strikes, and with an original mintage of 100 coins they occasionally appear for sale.
A tiny number of proofs—totalling fewer than 1,000 pieces—were struck from 1838 through 1859, with 880 issued in 1858 and 1859 alone. Proof specimens before 1856 are rarely seen. Conversely, with a total of 42.7 million pieces minted, business strikes are quite plentiful, at least in lower grades. Only the Philadelphia (no mintmark) and New Orleans (O) Mints produced this design, with the southern branch mint producing fewer coins but ones that saw immediate and heavy use. For that reason Philadelphia issues appear more frequently, especially in the higher grades. New Orleans mintmarks are above the bow knot of the wreath.
Many weak strikes exist within the series, making those issues more difficult to grade. Unfortunately, the addition of peripheral stars in 1838 only added to striking problems. Coins from New Orleans are usually seen with weak strikes, and Philadelphia issues between 1856 and 1858 are often weakly defined on the central drapery and head of Liberty. Higher grade pieces will first show friction on the obverse on Liberty’s knees and bust. On the reverse, wear first appears on the ribbon bow.
By the time Stars Obverse half dimes ended their run, America stood on the brink of civil war. The coming conflagration would see many of the little coins disappear into hoards and melting pots. Production ended in 1859 to make way for the new Legend Obverse design with the Cereal Wreath reverse. However, Christian Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty lived on until Congress ended the denomination 24 years later with legislation that detractors would call the “Crime of ‘73.”
SPECIFICATIONS:
Diameter: 15.5 millimeters
Weight: 1837-53, 1.34 grams 1853-59, 1.24 grams
Composition: .900 part silver, .100 copper
Edge: Reeded
Net Weight. 1837-53, .03877 ounce pure silver 1853-59, .03588 ounce pure silver

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Blythe, Al, The Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Half Dimes, DLRC Press, Virginia Beach, VA, 1992. Bowers, Q. David, United States Coins by Design Types, An Action Guide for the Collector and Investor, Bowers and Merena, Wolfeboro, NH, 1986. Breen, Walter, A Coiner’s Caviar, Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins, 1722-1989, Bowers & Merena Galleries, Wolfeboro, NH, 1989. Breen, Walter, Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York, 1988. Carothers, Neil, Fractional Money, A History of Small Coins and Fractional Paper Currency of the United States, John Wiley & Sons, London, 1930.

Franklin Half Dollars 1948-1963

In 1948, World War II had given way to an uneasy peace—a “Cold War,” as presidential adviser Bernard Baruch so aptly named the new climate of international tension. The year also witnessed the death of baseball legend Babe Ruth, the birth of the State of Israel and, with his presidential election upset of Thomas E. Dewey, a new lease on life in the White House for Harry S Truman.

In 1948, an important change took place in United States coinage as well, when the Franklin half dollar made its debut. Its introduction completed the conversion of U.S. coin designs from allegorical figures to portraits of famous Americans. It also rang down the curtain on an era that many regard as the golden age of U. S. coinage art. The Walking Liberty half dollar, last struck in 1947, was the final precious-metal coin remaining in production from the early 20th-century period that spawned the “Mercury” dime, Standing Liberty quarter and Saint-Gaudens double eagle.

Mint Director Nellie Tayloe Ross had contemplated a coin honoring Benjamin Franklin ever since seeing a U.S. Mint medal prepared in Franklin’s honor in 1933 by John R. Sinnock, the Mint’s chief sculptor-engraver. Evidence suggests that Ross might have made the change in the early 1940s, when the half dollar’s design, used for the statutory minimum of 25 years, became eligible for replacement. Although escalating production demands occasioned by World War II postponed Ross’ plans, she showed her enthusiasm for the project by directing Sinnock to design a Franklin coin on a contingency basis.

It would be hard to fault Director Ross for her choice of Ben Franklin as a U.S. coinage subject. Of all the Founding Fathers, Franklin very likely enjoyed the greatest stature among his contemporaries, not only in this country but also abroad. He was justly renowned as a printer, publisher, author, inventor, scientist and diplomat, and he played a pivotal role in helping the colonies gain their independence by securing vital aid from France.

In a speech at the unveiling of the Franklin half dollar, Ross recalled that people had urged her to place Franklin’s portrait on the cent because he was identified so closely with the maxim “A penny saved is twopence clear” (often misquoted as “A penny saved is a penny earned”). Ross explained her choice of the half dollar: “You will agree, I believe, that the fifty-cent piece, being larger and of silver, lends itself much better to the production of an impressive effect,” she declared.

Sinnock’s portrait of Franklin, modeled after a bust by 18th-century sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon, is bold and clean, contrasting sharply with the subtle, detailed depiction of Miss Liberty on the Walking Liberty coin it replaced. LIBERTY is inscribed above the right-facing portrait, IN GOD WE TRUST below and the date to Franklin’s right. Tucked below Franklin’s shoulder are Sinnock’s initials, JRS.

The Liberty Bell on the reverse made sense as a complement to Franklin, since both have become closely identified not only with the nation’s birth but also with the city of Philadelphia. Three inscriptions are arranged around the bell in the same sans serif style used on the obverse: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is above, HALF DOLLAR below and E PLURIBUS UNUM, in much smaller letters, to the left. To the right of the bell is a puny-looking eagle. This had been required by law on the half dollar since 1792 and was reaffirmed by the Coinage Act of 1873, which mandated the placement of an eagle on every U.S. silver coin larger than the dime. The eagle was added by Gilroy Roberts, who completed work on the coin following Sinnock’s death in 1947.

Understandably, the federal Commission of Fine Arts (an advisory body) took issue with the eagle’s size. Oddly enough, they also disapproved of displaying the crack in the Liberty Bell, arguing that “to show this might lead to puns and to statements derogatory to United States coinage.” Although the Commission recommended a design competition, the Treasury Department approved Sinnock’s models without change.

Years later,  Sinnock was accused of modeling his version of the Liberty Bell, without proper credit, on a sketch by artist John Frederick Lewis. The pilfering first occurred in 1926, when Sinnock apparently used the sketch in fashioning his design for the commemorative half dollar marking the sesquicentennial of U.S. independence. His Franklin half dollar reverse design was patterned, in turn, on that earlier work. Numismatic reference books now credit Lewis belatedly for his role.

Although Franklin half dollar mintages were modest by modern-day standards, the series contains no issues that are particularly rare. The production low point came in 1953, when the Philadelphia Mint struck just under 2.8 million examples; the peak occurred in 1963, when the Denver Mint made just over 67 million. Franklin halves also were minted in San Francisco. On branch-mint issues, the D or S mintmark appears above the bell on the reverse. Total mintage for the series, including proofs, was almost 498 million coins.

Because they are so plentiful, in circulated condition most Franklin halves bring little or no premium above their bullion value. A number of dates are elusive, however, in the higher mint-state grades, especially with fully defined “bell lines” near the Liberty Bell’s bottom. Although the relatively low mintage 1949-D and 1950-D issues are considered “key” dates in the series, some coins with higher mintages, while common in lower grades, also command impressive premiums in Mint State-65 and above. These coins routinely came with weak strikes, and the scarcity of “gems” is compounded by the fact that few were carefully saved. Dates in this category include 1960-D, 1961-P and D and 1962-P and D. Proofs were issued every year from 1950 through 1963 as part of annual proof sets: over 15.8 million were made. Small numbers of proofs were struck with cameo contrast, an attractive frosted surface on the devices contrasted with a polished mirror-like appearance in the fields. These cameo coins can bring substantial premiums over the prices of ordinary proofs without such contrast.

A full set of Franklin halves consists of 35 different business strikes and 14 different proofs. Because it is so compact and easily affordable in less-than-pristine grades, the series is widely collected by date and mint. Those with deeper pockets who love a challenge seek to assemble date-and-mint sets in MS-65 and above or collections of high-grade proof Franklins with deep cameo contrast. Points on the design to first show wear are Franklin’s cheek, shoulder and hair behind the ear and the lettering and lines on the Liberty Bell.

Franklin half dollars were made for just 16 years. The series was cut short at the end of 1963, when John F. Kennedy’s shocking assassination led to the creation of a new half dollar memorializing the martyred president.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Diameter: 30.6 millimeters

Weight: 12.50 grams composition: .900 silver, .100 copper

Edge: Reeded

Net weight: .36169 ounce pure silver

BIBLOGRAPHY: Breen, Walter, Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York, 1988. Ehrmantraut, Jack, Jr., An Analysis of Gem Franklin Half Dollars, Five Seasons Publishers, Hiawatha, IA, 1983. Taxay, Don, The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Arco Publishing Co., New York, 1966. Tomaska, Rick, The Complete Guide to Franklin Half Dollars, DLRC Press, Virginia Beach, VA, 1997. Vermeule, Cornelius, Numismatic Art in America, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1971. Yeoman, R.S., A Guide Book of United States Coins, 47th Edition, Western Publishing Co., Racine, WI, 1993.

Kennedy Half Dollars 1964-

It is said that every American who was alive in 1963 remembers exactly what he or she was doing at the moment they heard the news of  President Kennedy being shot.  Then, just a couple of hours later, came the awful report that he had died.  It’s hard for anyone who was not a witness to those sad days to fully comprehend the sense of loss which overtook the nation.  This grief found expression in the renaming of many civic structures, roadways and even geographical features in honor of the slain leader.  Of all these memorials, however, the United States half dollar bearing Kennedy’s  familiar likeness will almost certainly survive the longest, since coins, being nearly indestructible, have a long track record as the most durable witnesses to  history.

The story of the Kennedy half dollar’s inception is perhaps best told in the words of then Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, the late Gilroy Roberts:  “Shortly after the tragedy of President Kennedy’s death, November 22, 1963, Miss Eva Adams, the Director of the Mint, telephoned me at the Philadelphia Mint and explained that serious consideration was being given to placing President Kennedy’s portrait on a new design U.S. silver coin and that the quarter dollar, half dollar or the one dollar were under discussion.

“A day or so later, about November 27, Miss Adams called again and informed me that the half dollar had been chosen for the new design, that Mrs. Kennedy did not want to replace Washington’s portrait on the quarter dollar.  Also it had been decided to use the profile portrait that appears on our Mint list medal for President Kennedy and the President’s Seal that has been used on the reverse of this and other Mint medals.”

This work was undertaken immediately, Gilroy Roberts sculpting the portrait obverse, while his longtime Assistant Engraver, Frank Gasparro, prepared the reverse model bearing the presidential seal.  Both were amply experienced in these tasks.  Along with the sculpting of various mint medals, Roberts had prepared the models of John R. Sinnock’s design for the Benjamin Franklin half dollar of 1948, following Sinnock’s death the previous year.  Gasparro too was a veteran of numerous medal designs, and  he had most recently created the new reverse which debuted on the Lincoln cent in 1959.  For these two artists, time was of the essence, as the new year loomed ahead, and the Treasury Department did not want to issue any of the existing-type Franklin half dollars dated 1964.  Complicating matters still further was a severe, nationwide shortage of all coins.  Half dollars of one type or the other had to be ready for coining early in the new year to avert a worsening of this shortage.

In the meantime, however, there was a legal hurdle to overcome:  Under existing law, U. S. coin designs could not be changed more often than every 25 years; the Franklin half was then only 15 years old, and its replacement would quite literally require an act of Congress.  Partisan disputes were largely set aside in recognition of the nation’s and the world’s loss, and Congress managed to pass legislation permitting a change in the half dollar’s design with only a few weeks’ debate.  The Act of December 30, 1963 made the Kennedy half dollar a reality.

Using his existing models for JFK’s presidential medal as a guide, Roberts completed his intial rendering of the half dollar within days of its commissioning.  Gasparro, too, worked feverishly, and trial strikes of the Kennedy half were run off and dispatched to Mint Director Adams on December 13.  A few days later, these were viewed by the President’s widow, Jacqueline, and brother, U. S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.  Incorporating some of Mrs. Kennedy’s comments into his revised models, Roberts had additional trial strikes coined.  These were viewed and approved by Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon, who agreed that Mrs. Kennedy’s wishes had been met.

The first Kennedy half dollars made for distribution were proofs coined early in 1964.  By January 30, regular-issue coinage began at the Denver Mint, and the Philadelphia Mint followed suit the week after.  These coins were released to the public amid much fanfare and anticipation on March 24, 1964.  Despite limiting the number of coins they would sell to each individual, banks were quickly denuded of their supplies; few of the coins ever achieved actual circulation.  From its very inception, the Kennedy half dollar became a keepsake, one cherished not only by Americans but by the late President’s many foreign admirers, as well.

The number of Kennedy halves produced during 1964 was enormous in comparison to previous half dollar mintages.  Despite this, the coins continued to disappear as fast as they were issued.  With the nationwide shortage of all coins showing no let-up, Congress enacted a law which permitted freezing the 1964 date on U. S. coins until such time as the crisis passed.  This was done in an effort to discourage hoarding by collectors and speculators, but the real problem lay in methods of distribution and recirculation, rather than being caused by the insignificant actions of hobbyists.

When Congress opted to eliminate silver from the dime and quarter beginning in 1965, it reached a compromise with the half dollar:  Its silver content, while greatly reduced overall, was placed almost entirely at the coin’s surface by bonding three strips of metal, the innermost one being primarily copper.  These “silver-clad” pieces were coined from 1965 through 1970.  Despite these various steps, Kennedy half dollars still failed to circulate to any great extent, and the question of eliminating its silver content altogether was eventually raised.  After protracted debate during 1969-70, a bill was finally passed near the end of 1970 which called for the coining of half dollars in the same composition used since 1965 for the dime and quarter:  two outer layers of copper and nickel bonded to an inner core of pure copper.  From 1971 onward, the Kennedy half dollar would bear the red edge which had already become familiar to Americans who mourned the passing of silver from the nation’s coinage.  Alas, even this concession was not enough to make half dollars reappear in circulation, and today they are known only to coin collectors and gambling casino patrons.

For the nation’s bicentennial in 1976, a special reverse was prepared by Seth G. Huntington which depicted Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, birthplace of the United States.  Huntington’s design had been selected from among numerous entries in a 1973 competition.  Bicentennial halves bearing the dual dates 1776-1976 were coined during 1975 and 1976 in both copper-nickel-clad and silver-clad compositions.  The latter were not released to circulation, but rather were sold at a premium to collectors in both uncirculated and proof editions.

There are no rare date/mint combinations in the Kennedy half dollar series, although some pieces saw limited distribution.  Proofs were coined for collectors in 1964 at the Philadelphia Mint and since 1968 at the San Francisco Mint.  So-called “special mint set” coins were offered in place of true proofs during 1965-67, and these are usually collected in conjunction with the proof sets.  The 1970-D half dollars were struck only to fill that year’s orders for mint sets, pending the change to copper-nickel coinage; the silver-clad, bicentennial halves were likewise coined only for collectors.  In 1987, the Mint announced that no half dollars of that date would be issued for circulation, and this caused a surge in the number of mint sets ordered.  Finally, since 1992, the Mint has offered proof sets of both the conventional copper-nickel coinage and ones in which the dime, quarter and half are .900 fine silver, the composition used in 1964 and earlier years.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Diameter: 30.6 millimeters

Edge: Reeded

Weight: 12.50 grams (silver)

Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper

Net weight: .36169 ounce pure silver

Weight: 11.50 grams (silver-clad)

Composition: .800 silver, .200 copper  bonded to .209 silver, .791 copper

Net weight: .14792 ounce pure silver

Weight: 11.34 grams (copper-nickel-clad)

Composition: .750 copper, .250 nickel   bonded to pure copper

BIBLOGRAPHY:

Breen, Walter, Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York, 1988. Taxay, Don, The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Arco Publishing Co., New York, 1966. Tomaska, Rick Jerry, Cameo and Brilliant Proof Coinage of the 1950 to 1970 Era, R & I  Publications, Encinitas, CA, 1991. Wiles, James, Ph.D, The Kennedy Half Dollar Book, Stanton Printing & Publishing, Savannah, GA, 1998. Yeoman, R.S., A Guide Book of United States Coins, 49th Edition, Western Publishing Co., Racine, WI, 1995.

Seated Liberty/No Stars Half Dimes 1837-1838

1835 started off with a bang. On January 30th, an assailant fired two shots at President Andrew Jackson as he was leaving the House chamber. The shots missed. Ironically, a short time later, Samuel Colt patented his revolver. In early spring, Georgia passed the death penalty for anyone publishing anything that could incite slave rebellions. Abolitionists ranted, while most of the South approved. Lots of tension, lots of change.

Changes also led to the Mint becoming a very busy place. For the first time ever, there was a large amount of silver and gold available for use. New steam technology brought the introduction of modern, state-of-the-art coining presses which could strike coins quickly and efficiently in a close collar. These factors were instrumental in the Mint’s entering the modern era.

Newly appointed Mint Director Robert M. Patterson had strong feelings about his own vision of the emblematic Liberty, and it didn’t include portraits, as on the coinage to date. He favored the rendition of Britannia on the English copper coins and immediately assigned Chief Engraver William Kneass to do a sketch using a similar concept. Kneass’ simple sketch was taken several steps further by the artists Titian Peale and Thomas Sully.

Enter Christian Gobrecht. By 1835 the talented engraver and medallist had worked for the Mint for over a decade, but without an official, permanent position. Among other assignments, he was responsible for many of the device punches that were used on the earlier Capped Bust coins. Finally appointed second engraver after Chief Engraver William Kneass’ debilitating stroke in the summer of ‘35, Gobrecht immediately set to work on bringing Patterson’s ideas and Sully’s painting to life. The result was to grace the coinage for over half a century.

The Sully/Gobrecht Seated Liberty design was adapted for use on half dimes and dimes in 1837. It depicted a robed Liberty seated on a rock, holding in her right hand the Union Shield inscribed with LIBERTY and a staff topped with a Liberty cap in her left. Except for the date, the figure sits alone in clear fields. The reverse features a laurel wreath enclosing the denomination HALF DIME, with the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircling the periphery. As opposed to the later coins issued with obverse stars, the cleanness of the fields gave the coin a powerful, aesthetic impact, often presenting a cameo appearance on higher grade pieces.

On July 25, 1837 the first new half dimes were issued. About 20 or so proofs were struck for presentation to dignitaries and VIP’s. Approximately 12-14 of these are known today, and they can be distinguished from business strikes by particularly bold detail and fully reflective surfaces. Additionally, all true proofs show very clear triple punching on the 8 in the date (this should not be regarded as diagnostic criteria for all proofs, though, since this feature is also seen on early die states of the business strikes).

A total of 1,405,000 Seated Liberty half dimes were struck in 1837. Two distinct varieties are known. The first has a large date with the date in a curved line and a tall peak to the 1 in the date. The second variety has a small date with the date in a straight line and a flat top to the 1 in the date. The Small Date is considerably scarcer than the Large Date, but virtually no premium is accorded to this variety. These 1837 No Stars half dimes, in comparison to other issues of the same era, are much more available in uncirculated grades than one might expect. Apparently, many pieces were saved as first-year-of-issue souvenirs.

In 1838, and for that year only, No Stars half dimes were coined in New Orleans. Some 70,000 pieces were struck, and these represent (along with the similarly dated dimes) the first regular issue silver coins struck at a United States branch mint. The 1838-O half dimes saw heavy circulation and are much rarer than the Philadelphia coins of 1837. Unlike many first-year-of-issue coins, virtually no one saved any pieces as souvenirs. As a result, mint state 1838-O half dimes are extremely rare and almost non-existent in grades higher than Mint State-63.

No Stars half dimes are very popular. Although very few collectors are still attempting to complete Seated Liberty date sets, higher grade No Stars examples have great eye appeal and are highly coveted by type collectors. From an artistic standpoint this coin is one of the most uncluttered coins ever struck in the United States. Due to the rarity of  1838-O, the 1837 issue is the one typically included in type sets.

When grading coins of this type, check the high points of the breast and knees on the obverse and the ribbon bow and tips of the leaves on the reverse. The 1838-O half dime is more difficult to grade. Many pieces were struck from heavily rusted dies. In addition to this die rust, the overall quality of strike was poor. These coins looked worn as soon as they left the die, and even a short stint in circulation left them with a wretched appearance. It is possible to find an 1838-O with minimal die rust and a reasonably decent impression, but they will never compare in overall appearance to the 1837 Philadelphia issues.

In 1838 an arc of thirteen stars (arranged seven to the left and six to the right) was added to the obverse of the half dime. The original hub of 1837 was retained, and the individual stars were hand-punched into each working die. This was done to quell criticism from those who took issue with the lack of the traditional stars signifying the original states.

Although a case could be made for the aesthetic appeal of the No Stars design, the issue was moot after the release of the 1838 Seated Liberty quarter dollar with stars on its obverse. Both the half dime and dime design were then changed to conform to the Mint’s policy of similar designs on all coins of the same metal. Christian Go-brecht’s majestic depiction of Liberty, however, would continue on the half dime until 1873, when Congress stopped production of the tiny silver five-cent piece in favor of the increasingly popular copper-nickel five-cent piece.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Diameter: 15.5 millimeters

Weight: 1.34 grams

Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper

Edge: Reeded

Net Weight: .03877 oz. pure silver

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Breen, Walter, United States Half Dimes: A Supplement, New York, 1958. Blythe, Al, The Complete Guide To Liberty Seated Half Dimes, Virginia Beach, VA, 1992. Morris, Richard B., Encyclopedia of American History, 5th Edition, Harper & Row, New York, 1976. Taxay, Don, The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Arco Publishing Co., New York, 1966. Valentine, Daniel W., The United States Half Dimes, Quarterman Publications, Inc., Lawrence, MA, 1975.