Grading Large Size Capped Bust Dimes (1809-1828)
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During the first half of the 19th Century United States silver coins shared America's daily commerce with a variety of foreign coins, mostly those of Spain's New World colonies and the independent nations that succeeded them. As these were in widespread circulation and remained legal tender until 1857, it was difficult for the USA's own silver coins to displace them. This problem is evident when examining the minting of dimes, as production of this denomination experienced frequent interruptions and relatively small output prior to the 1830s.
From 1809 to 1828 the dime bore a design by John Reich, who had been hired by the U. S. Mint in 1807 as second engraver to Robert Scot. Reich's obverse featured a rather plump bust of Liberty adorned in a loose-fitting gown and wearing a cap inscribed with her name. She was surrounded by a semicircle of thirteen stars. The reverse of this type displayed the facing figure of an American eagle. Upon its breast was the federal shield, while its right and left talons grasped an olive branch and a bundle of arrows, respectively. The balance of the design was comprised of statutory inscriptions, including the value 10 C. The edge of these dimes was reeded in a separate operation that preceded coining.
The twenty-year period 1809-28 is represented by just eleven dates of dime coinage. With the exception of 1820, 1821 and 1827 the annual mintage figures were about half a million pieces or less. This helps to explain the overall scarcity of Capped Bust Large Size dimes today and suggests that they were not widely seen even in their own time. Those depositing silver bullion at the mint were given their preference of how the refined metal would be delivered to them. Since most depositors were banks or bullion brokers, they typically chose to receive their finished metal in the form of bars or large denomination coins. It was easier to count half dollars than dimes, so the latter were seldom requested.
Coined by screw presses that utilized open collars, Capped Bust Large Size dimes were subject to the uneven strikes typical of that technology. If the dies were not exactly parallel to one another, an entire press run would reveal weakness of strike to one side of the obverse and directly opposite it on the corresponding point of the reverse. Even when the dies were set correctly, the manual power that drove the presses might not be enough to fill the deepest recesses of the dies, and this would lead to weakness at the coin's highest points of relief. Often seen indistinct is the hair around Liberty's ear and neck, as well as the eagle's shield and adjacent feathers. The open collar used to strike dimes before the 1820s did not form a distinct rim, and the border denticles of these coins are often incomplete or a bit shallow.
Dimes of this type are quite scarce in mint state condition. The date most often seen uncirculated is 1827. This is no surprise, since it enjoyed the highest mintage of the series. Still not a common coin, choice and gem examples are quite elusive.
For most collectors a circulated specimen will suffice. Patience and a bit of discretion will reward you with a very attractive coin at a fraction of the price of an uncirculated piece. The most likely subject for a type coin will be a dime dated 1820, 1821 or 1827. Look for an example that is well struck and is either completely original (uncleaned) or, at least, has not been harshly cleaned. Few coins of this type have retained their original surfaces but, should you decide to have your coin certified, an undamaged specimen revealing a light and judicious cleaning usually is still acceptable to the major grading services.
From One to Seventy originally ran in The Numismatist, official publication of the American Numismatic Association (www.money.org)
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