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Early Half Dimes (1792-1837)

1792 Half Disme

Born of the idea that man’s destiny was largely the result of his own effort and imagination, the United States of 1792 had grown to fourteen states with the addition, in 1791, of Vermont. The army, of about 5,000 men, was fighting Indians in the Northwest Territory. The nation had no navy and paid an annual tribute to the Barbary Pirates. The migration West had begun.

Due to the longstanding trade relationships with the Spanish possessions of Florida and Louisiana, Spanish silver pieces were the most common silver coins in circulation, followed by the English shillings and pence of the mother country. Because of the incompatibility of the Spanish and English monetary systems, the conduct of business, trade and everyday life was burdened with the need for intricate conversion tables. Accounts were, of necessity, kept both in English pounds and Spanish reales. Confusion was immense, and action was called for.

The need for a rational system for United States coinage received the early attention of Congress. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton all strongly favored adoption of the decimal system. They argued that the decimal system represented a clean break with the past and was the most scientific way to reconcile the differences of the Spanish and English monetary systems.

The decimal system was invented by Simon Stevin van Brugghe (1548-1620) and first published in a pamphlet, Be Thiende, in 1585. The French translation was entitled La Disme. Robert Norton’s 1608 translation: Disme: The art of tenths, or, Decimal arithmetic introduced the idea to England. It was from these European roots that the concept of tenths, or “La Disme”—anglicized later to “dime”—immigrated to America.

A Congressional resolution on July 6, 1785 adopted the dollar as the monetary unit of the United States. Subsequent resolutions spanning 1786 and 1787 specified weight, fineness and the decimal system for the relationship of each of the coins authorized. Adoption of the Constitution on September 17, 1787 reserved the right to coin money and regulate the value thereof to the Congress. This set the stage for passage of the Mint Act of April 2, 1792. This Act specified “. . .that the money of account of the United States shall be expressed in dollars or units, dismes or tenths, cents or hundredths and that all accounts in the public offices and all proceedings in the courts of the United States shall be kept and had in conformity to this regulation.”

Events moved swiftly from that point. On April 14, 1792 Washington appointed David Rittenhouse of Philadelphia, the most renowned scientist in America, Director of the Mint. Henry Voight, a well known clock maker, was appointed Acting Chief Coiner on June 1. Mechanics began construction of the necessary coining apparatus and “engines.”

On July 9, 1792 President Washington authorized proceeding with the coining of half dismes. No time was wasted, as just four days later, on July 13, 1792, Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State, recorded in his household account book: “rec’d from the mint 1500 half dimes of the new coinage.”

New research suggests that the single pair of dies used for these coins was designed and engraved by a British medalist, William Russell Birch, rather than the Robert Birch who was associated with the Mint in those early years and previously credited with the coin’s design. Birch purportedly used letter punches supplied by Jacob Bay, a Germantown, Pennsylvania maker of printing types. As the mint building was then under construction, the coining machinery was in the cellar of John Harper, a saw maker, at the corner of Cherry and 5th Streets, at which place these pieces were struck.

The obverse of the half disme portrays the head of Liberty facing left, with the date 1792 below. The motto LIB. PAR. OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY encircles the border. The reverse depicts an eagle flying left with the denomination HALF DISME in two lines, with a five pointed star in the exergue below. The legend UNI. STATES OF AMERICA frames the eagle.

On April 9, 1844 Dr. Jonas McClintock, a Treasury official, had a conversation at the Mint with Adam Eckfeldt, the retired Chief Coiner and only surviving Mint official who was actually present when the half dismes were made. Eckfeldt related that President Washington deposited $100 in bullion or specie for the purpose of coining these half dismes. Although the entire mintage of 1,500 was presented to Jefferson by Mint Director Rittenhouse, he obviously passed some on, for they were used by General Washington as presentation pieces for visiting dignitaries and VIPs. Many were given to acquaintances in Virginia, and no more were coined.

Scholar Walter Breen estimated that the majority of these coins entered circulation. About 200-250 are known today, most of them in low grades. About 20 uncirculated examples are also included in that figure.

These coins were not fully struck up originally, so that even uncirculated examples will not show full breast or leg feathers on the eagle. The hair curls above and below Liberty’s ear will also be partly flat. Adjustment marks are common and should not be considered a defect.

The 1792 half dismes are considered patterns and are classified as Judd-7. Cast counterfeits are known, and these can be identified by being heavier than authorized and having vertical rather than diagonally reeded edges.

President Washington, in his fourth Annual Address to Congress, November 6, 1792, spoke of “a small beginning in the coinage of half dismes, the want of small coins in circulation calling the first attention to them.” A small beginning perhaps, but of great national significance, as the prerogative to coin precious metals has historically been an expression of national sovereignty. A period painting by John Ward Dunsmore of New York portrays General and Mrs. Washington, Alexander Hamilton and wife, Thomas Jefferson, David Rittenhouse, Tobias Lear, Henry Voight and Adam Eckfeldt inspecting these first coins.

Because of this historic context, these diminutive pieces are among the most prized of American silver coins. As the prototype five-cent piece, the half disme was replaced in 1794 by the first regular issue half dime, the Flowing Hair type.

Flowing Hair (1794-1795)

During the colonial era, the economic system in the American colonies was tied into the English system of pounds, shillings and pence. A less cumbersome method of coinage, the decimal system, had long been championed by Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and financier Robert Morris. After several unsuccessful attempts to pass authorizing legislation, their plans finally came to fruition with the Mint Act of April 2, 1792. Both the establishment of a mint and the decimal system were not only seen as practical for the new nation but symbolic of a break from England as well.

The first half dimes to be struck in the United States were the famous half dismes of 1792. These coins were produced before an actual mint building had been erected, but they were made by official Mint personnel. A total of 1500 were issued from dies which are thought to have been designed and engraved by British medalist William Russell Birch. The striking process was overseen by Adam Eckfeldt, a Mint officer, and John Harper, a machinist who lived nearby the proposed site of the new mint. The coins were made in the cellar of Harper’s building at Sixth and Cherry Streets, and legend has it that at least some were coined from silverware provided by Martha Washington.

The production of these coins was an act of incredible political significance. In the past, coinage of silver was a royal prerogative. In a new, purely Democratic society such as the United States, the coinage of silver was a clear and distinct act of national independence.

The Flowing Hair half dimes of 1794-95 were designed by Robert Scot, the chief engraver of the Mint. His design was different than that found on Birch’s 1792 half dismes (the spelling of “disme” would gradually evolve to “dime.” On the 1792 coins, the denomination is spelled HALF DISME).

Scot’s design features a head of Liberty facing to the right with distinctive flowing hair. Fifteen stars, arranged 8x7, surround the head with the date below and the word LIBERTY above. On the reverse, an eagle stands amid an olive branch with the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around it. There is no indication of this coin’s value on either side, nor would there be until the Capped Bust design was adopted in 1829.

All of the 7,756 Flowing Hair half dimes dated 1794 were actually struck in March of 1795. The 1794 half dime is a scarce coin in any grade. In mint state it is very rare, though a group of a dozen or so extremely choice uncirculated pieces exist from a hoard found and dispersed around 1880.

A total of 78,660 1795 half dimes were produced. This issue is much more readily available than its 1794-dated counterpart. While most often seen in lower grades, the 1795 half dime can be obtained without a great deal of difficulty in mint state. A hoard of 100 or so uncirculated pieces was discovered around 1880 by Massachusetts coin dealer William Elliot Woodward; this hoard also contained the uncirculated 1794s mentioned above.

All Flowing Hair half dimes were struck at the first Philadelphia Mint. No true proofs are known, although some very sharp, reflective examples can lay claim to the status of “Presentation Pieces.”

Four different die varieties are known for the 1794 half dimes. Only one of these is relatively common. Ten different die varieties exist for the 1795 half dime. Over 80% of all 1795 half dimes are from three of these varieties, and the rest are very rare. While a number of these very interesting die varieties exist for the Flowing Hair half dime series, these coins are nearly always collected as a type. The major reason for this has to do with the difficulty of assembling extensive, higher grade die variety sets. These varieties were identified and described by Daniel Valentine in his pioneering 1931 monograph, and this remained the standard reference for generations. As this is written in 1998, the hobby is awaiting the publication of a completely new variety book by Russell Logan and John McCloskey.

As one would expect, the quality of strike for 1794 half dimes is generally poor. In fact, the United States Mint had considerable trouble striking coins of this denomination until the 1830s. It is very hard to locate a 1794 half dime which is sharply detailed on the hair of Liberty. In addition, the eagle’s breast feathers are very often flat and indistinct. On high grade pieces, wear will first show on the hair to the left of the ear, the forehead and on the eagle’s head, breast and the tops of its wings.

Many of these early half dimes show adjustment marks on their surfaces. These are file marks made on the planchet before a coin is struck in order to reduce the weight to the Mint’s standard. Adjustment marks are very common on 18th and early 19th century American coins, and they are not considered a significant detriment to the grade or the value of a coin.

The quality of strike for 1795 half dimes is a bit better than for 1794s but not by much. The centers are very often flatly impressed, and this tends to give the erroneous impression of wear. A number of coins show pronounced die cracks which further weaken the overall quality of strike. As with the 1794s, a number of 1795 half dimes show adjustment marks on their surfaces.

The design for half dimes was changed in 1796. Robert Scot was instructed to create a new, uniform design for the current silver denominations. The half dime, dime, quarter dollar and half dollar of 1796 all have a Draped Bust obverse which is coupled with the Small Eagle reverse. This design had debuted on the silver dollars of 1795. Mint officials considered the standardization of coinage design—in all metals—to be very important, and they continually strove for a high degree of uniformity.

The Flowing Hair half dime is a very important coin in that it is one of the first official silver issues produced at the Philadelphia Mint by the United States. These coins are not terribly expensive in the higher circulated grades, and they represent very fertile ground for the collector who is interested in the early history of this country.

Draped Bust, Small Eagle (1796-1797)

One of the first acts of a sovereign nation has always been to establish a system of currency for use in commercial transactions. In the fledgling United States this was doubly important. Although the accepted standard of value was the Spanish silver dollar and its fractional pieces of eight, English coins of pounds, shillings and pence also were in use throughout the young nation. Efficient trade was hampered at every turn, particularly between the states, as each valued the Spanish coins differently in relation to English issues. By the end of the 1780s, much discussion ensued concerning the necessity and structure of a reliable, non-fluctuating system of coinage.

Thomas Jefferson, along with Alexander Hamilton and financier Robert Morris, had long advocated the use of the decimal system. Introduced by the Dutch inventor Simon Stevin van Brugghe, it used whole numbers to describe fractions and was translated into English in 1608 as Disme: the art of tenths, or, Decimal arithmetic. Jefferson saw decimal coins as the solution to the conflicting foreign systems already circulating in North America. The gold ten-dollar piece would be roughly equal in value to the British double guinea. The silver dollar and its fractions would correspond to the Spanish eight reales. Copper cents would be equivalent to English halfpennies.

The Mint Act passed by Congress on April 2, 1792, provided that “. . . the money of account of the United States shall be expressed in dollars or units, dismes or tenths, cents or hundredths, . . . a disme being the tenth part of a dollar . . .” It was fitting that this country, born of revolution, should use a revolutionary system for coinage.

The first decimal coins struck were the William Russell Birch designed pattern half dismes of 1792. Only fifteen hundred were minted. Most likely, as the late Walter Breen postulated, minting half dismes was the most economical use possible of the $75 worth of silver bullion that was on hand at the time. But this small mintage was only an experiment.

It wasn’t until 1795 that regular minting of the half dime began, though the first examples were coined from dies dated 1794. Robert Scot’s Flowing Hair design was widely criticized for its scrawny eagle and its portrayal of Miss Liberty in a “fright wig.” (Although Scot’s design—unlike the 1792 coins—did not display the denomination, the spelling of “disme” would evolve over time to the anglicized “dime.”)

After the poor reception afforded Scot’s creation, Mint Director Henry DeSaussure addressed the immediate need of improving the coinage. Going outside the Mint, he engaged artist Gilbert Stuart to submit a sketch for a new Liberty head. Stuart modeled his Liberty after the buxom Mrs. William Bingham of Newport, Rhode Island. Using Stuart’s sketch, transferred to a relief model by John Eckstein, Scot engraved the dies for the new half dime.

Released in 1796, the coin’s obverse design consists of a Draped Bust profile of Liberty facing right, with flowing hair secured by a ribbon. The word LIBERTY is above her head, and the date is below the bust. Stars flank each side. The coin’s reverse depicts an open wreath surrounding a small eagle that is perched on a cloud. The eagle is smaller than the one on the Flowing Hair design of 1794-95, but it has a fuller breast. The inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds the wreath.

The 1796 half dime has eight stars on the left and seven on the right, representing the fifteen states, including the new states of Vermont (#14) and Kentucky (#15). In 1797, a fifteen-star variety was struck, and later a sixteenth star (eight right, eight left) was added after Tennessee was admitted to the Union on June 1, 1796. Director DeSaussure’s successor, Elias Boudinot, realized that they couldn’t go on adding stars ad infinitum, so the last variety of 1797 had only thirteen stars (seven right, six left). Henceforth, thirteen stars would be used to symbolize the original union of states.

There were 54,757 half dimes of this design minted. Only a few varieties exist, and all are rare. Even type collectors find this issue a challenge. In 1796, there is a late die state example with a broken “B” in Liberty that appears as “LIKERTY” and an overdate, 1796/5. The 1797 coins were minted from only three obverse dies having either fifteen, sixteen or thirteen stars. No proofs were made, but supposedly there is a single 1797 15 star prooflike presentation piece that can be traced back to Mint Director Boudinot. It was sent to Matthew Boulton in England as an example of the Mint’s capabilities. It was last reported in the collection of Harold Bareford but did not appear when his coins were auctioned in 1981.

One reason for the paucity and low quality of coinage during this period was the yearly outbreak of yellow fever in Philadelphia during the summer and fall months. The epidemic was particularly ferocious from 1797 through 1804, and during some of these years the Mint was temporarily closed throughout the yellow fever season. Key employees—engraver Joseph Wright and assayer Joseph Whitehead—succumbed in 1793, and Mint Treasurer Dr. Nicholas Way was felled in 1797. Official procedures were instituted for closing the Mint in these emergencies, including provisions to pay off the workers and instructions for coining or securing the bullion that remained on hand. All dies were to be packaged and sent to the Bank of the United States for safe keeping.

It should be noted that most Draped Bust/Small Eagle half dimes are usually very weakly struck, particularly in the center of the coin. This presents a grading challenge, as the typical specimen may grade only Fine. Wear first shows on the hair above Liberty’s forehead, at the hair over her ear and shoulder and on the area where the bust meets the drapery line. On the reverse, check the center of the eagle’s breast and the ribbon.

Draped Bust half dimes typically show adjustment marks made with a file to bring slightly overweight coins to the proper standard. This process of adjustment was done before the coin blanks, or planchets, were struck by dies into coins. Each blank was weighed, and overweight pieces were filed with strokes across the face of the blank, while underweight pieces were melted. Though adjustment marks are not a major factor in grading, they must be recognized so that they are not interpreted as damage to the coin.

No half dimes were struck in 1798 and 1799. The coin was again minted in 1800 with the same Draped Bust obverse, but with a new reverse by Robert Scot that copied the heraldic eagle device from the Great Seal of the United States.

Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle (1800-1805)

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, was also the author of the philosophical direction of the United States. He grew up on the edge of civilization in the “hard scrabble” life of American Colonial days, a self-taught, natural student who learned the basics of living from the books he loved. His heroes were not politicians or soldiers, but philosopher-scientists such as Isaac Newton, Thomas Bacon and Adam Smith. Jefferson was living in Paris in the 1780s, absorbing the new spirit of Enlightenment. He embraced a philosophy that taught the unbiased pursuit of knowledge and skepticism of “truths” long taken for granted. The aim was to no longer just reflect on the state of the world or contemplate another, but to change it.

As Secretary of State under George Washington, Jefferson’s public policies reflected his belief in rational change. When it was time for the fledgling United States to create a system of coinage, he knew a decimal system was a scientific and practical necessity, as he followed the work of Simon Stevin van Brugghe who, in the late 16th century, invented the decimal system as an alternative to fractions. Stevin’s pamphlet, De Thiende (1585), later translated by Robert Norton as Disme: the art of tenths, or, Decimal arithmetic, was familiar to many of Jefferson’s colleagues, including Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and the new Mint Director, David Rittenhouse.

European and Colonial experiences with coinage were based on jerry-built systems established over many years. They were also non-decimal. The British system, for example, traced its origins to Ancient Rome, with a few impositions by the Saxons and Normans. Its unit, the pound, was divided into 20 shillings or 240 pence, with many subsidiary silver and copper units. Spain’s reales, a system of eights, or the French system of livre tournois, divided into sols and deniers, were simple compared to the even greater complexity of the German or Dutch systems. Establishment of decimal coinage in the United States was not only a clean break with the past, but truly revolutionary and consistent with the new philosophies of “The Age of Enlightenment.”

It was fitting that the first silver coins struck at the Federal Mint in 1792 were half dismes, or twentieth-of-a-dollar coins (the spelling “dime” didn’t come into general use until 1837). This one act not only established the decimal coinage system in the United States but had enormous political significance, as the coinage of silver was universally recognized as an expression of national sovereignty. Only 1,500 half dismes were made, and Jefferson gave many away as gifts. President George Washington, in his annual address in November of 1792, referred to the half dismes as “a small beginning” in coinage.

In November of 1793 the Mint hired banknote plate engraver Robert Scot as the new chief engraver. This decision was regretted in future years, as Scot proved to be egocentric, jealous and, as a tenured Mint employee, cantankerous. He had no experience designing device punches for coins and learned as he went. His first attempt—the 1794 Flowing Hair design—suffered from broken punches and was greeted with harsh public criticism. Commentary of the time described Liberty as wearing a “fright” wig, and the bird on the reverse as resembling a turkey more than an eagle.

In 1796, new Mint Director Henry William DeSaussure decided that the coinage designs needed improvement and persuaded the illustrious painter Gilbert Stuart to prepare a new portrait of Liberty. As Scot was too unskilled to translate the buxom portrait to relief, the Mint hired John Eckstein to create the models. Unfortunately, the completed dies degraded Stuart’s portrait, and the finished coins exhibited weakness in the center of the design. This was most apparent on the half dimes. Due to various problems at the mint, including yellow fever epidemics, the design was minted for only two years. No more half dimes were struck until 1800.

Scot’s design for the Draped Bust/Heraldic Eagle half dime of 1800 was first used on the gold quarter eagle in 1796, the half eagle in 1797 and the dollars and dimes in 1798. It features a strengthened and more aesthetic rendering of Stuart’s Draped Bust portrait of Liberty, her hair tied with a ribbon. The inscription LIBERTY appears above her head, and surrounding the bust are seven stars to the right and six to the left. The reverse depicts a large eagle with outstretched wings—the Union Shield on his breast—clutching thirteen arrows and an olive branch. His beak holds a ribbon inscribed with the Latin motto E PLURIBUS UNUM (One out of many). Thirteen stars are above the eagle, with an arc of clouds above the stars. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds the periphery.

A total of 124,270 Draped Bust/Heraldic Eagle half dimes were minted from 1800 through 1805, with no coins dated 1804 and no proofs reported. Collectors normally include this coin in a 19th century type set, along with the Capped Bust half dime of 1829-37 and the several varieties of Seated Liberty half dimes (1837-73). High grade pieces are elusive or nonexistent. When uncirculated pieces do appear in the market, they’re most likely dated 1800. The rarest date of the series is 1802, with a mintage of only 3,060. Noted researcher, the late Walter Breen, estimated that only 35 to 45 examples of the 1802 issue survive in all grades, and none in mint state. As counterfeits exist of this famous rarity, authentication is highly recommended. An interesting variety of this short-lived series is the 1800 LIBEKTY issue, made when a defective “R” letter punch was used.

When grading this design take into account that, due to poor striking quality, these coins usually exhibit weakness on one or more high points. It is important to discern the difference between poor strike and actual wear. Weak areas often include Liberty’s hair and drapery, the obverse stars and the stars and clouds above the eagle. The first places to show wear are the hair above the forehead and by the ear, on the drapery just over the date and the drapery lines at the bust. On the reverse, look for wear on the eagle’s wing tips and tail feathers.

Though the half dime denomination was important in commerce as a convenient way to make change, the Mint’s ability to make enough of these coins was limited. Production of the Draped Bust/Heraldic Eagle half dimes ceased in 1805. The markets, and especially the banks, preferred the large quantities of legal tender Mexican silver half reales (valued at about six cents) then in widespread use. The half dime was not minted again until 1829, when the denomination returned with the William Kneass/John Reich Capped Bust design.

Capped Bust (1829-1837)

In the United States of 1829, people’s living conditions varied widely. The typical workingman made less than eighty cents for a day’s work, and at least 75,000 Americans were languishing in debtors’ prisons—most of them for debts of less than twenty dollars. Meanwhile, in Boston the newly opened Tremont Hotel, said to be the nation’s first modern hostelry, offered guests a private room with a key, four square meals and a free cake of soap—all for the modest sum of two dollars a day. But rich or poor, at least no one had to long wistfully for a good five-cent cigar. Five cents would have bought several good cigars in that long-ago year.

People buying five cents’ worth of any item in 1829 could have given merchants exact change for their purchases in a number of different ways. Large copper cents and half cents, for example, both saw regular use in everyday commerce. The “nickel,” however, did not yet come into being; it would not be issued until 1866. Prior to that, the only five-cent coin was a small silver piece known as the half dime. It contained very close to five cents’ worth of metal, for at that time Americans insisted on coinage with high intrinsic value.

The half dime was one of the very first coins produced by the United States Mint. Workmen employed by the Mint struck 1,500 half dismes in a Philadelphia cellar on July 13, 1792, before the federal government had even acquired the site for the nation’s first mint building. Part of the silver bullion used to make these coins reportedly consisted of tableware provided by President George Washington himself. These coins were official Mint issues, even though they’re categorized as pattern or provisional pieces.

The Philadelphia Mint struck its first regular issue half dimes in 1794; they featured the so-called Flowing Hair portrait of Liberty. A Draped Bust portrait replaced this design in 1796 and remained in production through 1805—first in combination with the Small Eagle reverse and then, from 1800 onward, with the Heraldic Eagle.

At that point, however, the half dime made an unexplained exit from the nation’s coinage lineup, not to reappear for more than two decades. The late Walter Breen, a renowned numismatic scholar, theorized that banks may have preferred the more readily available Mexican half-real coin, worth one-sixteenth of a dollar, which circulated side by side with U.S. federal coins and, like them, had legal-tender status.

Not until 1829, the year of Andrew Jackson’s arrival at the White House, did the half dime finally emerge from hibernation. When it did, the coin had a different look. For one thing it was slightly smaller in diameter (although its weight was the same). More noticeably, it had undergone a face lift: The Draped Bust design was gone, and in its place was a left-facing portrait of Liberty with curly hair tucked inside a mobcap (a cap with a high, puffy crown)—a likeness sometimes called the Turban Head but more commonly referred to as the Capped Bust. Gone, as well, was the old Heraldic Eagle; instead, the reverse depicted a naturalistic eagle with a shield superimposed on its breast.

These were not entirely new designs: Portraits very much like them had graced some of the nation’s larger silver coins (the half dollar, quarter and dime) as far back as 1807, when the basic designs were fashioned by German-born Mint engraver John Reich. They were new to the half dime, though—and in any case William Kneass, the Mint’s chief engraver in 1829, had modified Reich’s portraits sufficiently to be credited as designer of the later Capped Bust issues.

Thirteen stars encircle the portrait of Liberty, and the date appears below her. On the reverse, E PLURIBUS UNUM is inscribed on a ribbon just above the eagle, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA hugs the upper rim and the statement of value is shown below the eagle as 5 C.

The Capped Bust half dime’s lifespan coincided almost exactly with Andrew Jackson’s tenure in the White House. It was issued annually from 1829 through 1837—the year “Old Hickory” returned to Tennessee after finishing two terms as the nation’s seventh president. Production took place entirely at the Philadelphia Mint; the first branch mints didn’t start issuing coins until 1838, by which time the Capped Bust half dime had been replaced by the Seated Liberty type (both types having been struck in 1837).

By the standards of the time, mintage levels were relatively high throughout the series’ brief life. Annual output fell below a million pieces in only two of the nine different years in which the coin was made; on both of those occasions it didn’t miss the million mark by much. Mintages ranged from a high of 2.76 million in 1835 to a low of 871,000 in 1837 and totaled just over 13 million for the series’ entire run.

There are a number of interesting die varieties, but only one of them—an 1837 with a small “5 C.”—commands a significant premium. The “5 C.” exists in large and small varieties not only for 1837 but also for 1835 and 1836, and the 1835 half dimes come with large and small dates, as well as combinations of date and denomination sizes. These varieties were cataloged by Daniel Valentine in his 1931 monograph, which remained the standard reference until a new book by Russell Logan and John McCloskey was published more than sixty years later.

Walter Breen reported that very small numbers of proofs are known for some dates, as many as 20 or more in 1829 and 1831. The Mint wasn’t selling proof coins routinely at the time, so these were most likely presentation pieces or coins struck to order for the few “insider” collectors of the day.

Capped Bust half dimes are relatively plentiful in grade levels up to Mint State-64 and fairly abundant even in MS-65. The supply drops off sharply, however, in grades of MS-66 and above. Points to check for wear include the drapery at the tip of Liberty’s bust, the hair above her eye and the edges of the eagle’s wings.

Given the brevity of the series and the absence of any major rarities, collectors would face no formidable obstacles in putting together a complete date set of Capped Bust half dimes. In practice, however, many are content to treat it as a type coin and acquire just a single high-grade piece to represent the series as a whole.

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