Half-Dimes and Dimes : Liberty Seated Dime

Obverse of 1857 Dime Reverse of 1857 Dime

Q. David Bowers (edited and updated by Mike Sherman): The first Liberty Seated dime variety is without obverse stars and closely parallels the half dime of the same era. Indeed, the mintage was accomplished similarly: pieces were struck only at the Philadelphia Mint in 1837 and only at the New Orleans Mint in 1838. Some 682,500 were struck at the former facility and 408,034 at the latter. The device consists of Miss Liberty seated on a rock, holding in her left hand a liberty cap on a pole, and holding a shield with her right. The date is below. As attractive as this cameo-like motif is to collectors today, Mint officials did not consider it to be desirable, and it was discontinued shortly thereafter.

The reverse displays an open wreath enclosing ONE DIME, with UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounding.

The type set enthusiast will find that examples of the No Stars dime are readily available in grades from Good through Very Fine or so, with the 1838-O being a bit more expensive. Extremely Fine and AU coins are also encountered with regularity, less so for 1838-O. Uncirculated pieces, when found, are nearly always dated 1837. Those dated 1838-O are considerably scarcer.

In 1838, thirteen stars were added to the obverse of the Liberty Seated motif. This style was continued through 1859, plus 1860 at the San Francisco Mint only. The reverse is similar to the preceding but the wreath on the later issues is slightly heavier. Early issues lack drapery at Miss Liberty’s elbow.

The type set collector has their choice of numerous varieties within this span, including a number of New Orleans and San Francisco pieces. While issues such as 1844, 1846 and certain San Francisco pieces are rare, enough common issues exist that no difficulty will be experienced in acquiring a typical example from Good to Extremely Fine grade. AU and Uncirculated pieces are slightly harder to find, though by no means can be called “rare.”

As is the case with half dimes, certain dimes of 1853, and all those dated 1854 and 1855 have arrows at the date to signify a reduction in weight, and are considered a separate type.

As a counter to widespread hoarding of silver coins in the early 1850s when the silver content of the dime (as well as the other circulating silver coins) exceeded its face value, the weight of the dime was reduced from 41.25 grains to 38.40 grains. To signify this change, an arrowhead was placed on both sides of the date. Otherwise, the Liberty Seated design remains the same as used from 1838 through early 1853. Large quantities were produced of the 1853 with arrows Philadelphia Mint issues; a coinage in excess of 12 million. Lesser quantities were made of other issues, Philadelphia and San Francisco pieces, through 1855.

The type set collector can easily acquire a specimen of the With Arrows type in any desired grade from Good through Extremely Fine or AU. Uncirculated pieces are a bit tougher, but due to the huge mintage, are certainly obtainable without much searching.

Like the half dime, the dime underwent a design change in 1860. The Liberty Seated motif was retained on the obverse, but the stars were removed, and in their place, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, formerly on the reverse, was added. The reverse wreath was restyled to a larger format, enclosing the denomination expressed as ONE DIME. This style was produced continuously from 1860 thorough 1891. A number of scarce issues were made during that span, including Carson City issues of the early 1870s. Dimes of 1873 and 1874 again appeared with arrowheads flanking the date, this time to signify a slight increase in the weight.

Common dates of the Liberty Seated with Legend dime are readily available in all grades from Good through Uncirculated. Even superb pieces can be located without too much effort. Proofs were struck for collectors and are available for the various Philadelphia Mint issues. Of all Liberty Seated coins in the 1870s through the 1890s more dimes survive, by far, than quarters, half dollars or dollars.

In 1873, the authorized weight of the dime was raised slightly from 38.4 grains to 38.58 grains, the latter figure equaling exactly 2.5 grams. To signify the change, small arrowheads were placed to the left and right of the date on the dime (as well as the quarter and half dollar). Dimes minted in 1873 prior to the change, appear without arrows. The second With Arrows format was employed from the latter part of 1873 and all of 1874. After that time, the weight remained the same but the arrows were discontinued. The design otherwise remained unchanged.

Sufficient quantities of business strikes were made so that any numismatist should have little difficulty locating coins in any grade from Good through AU. Uncirculated pieces are available, but in only about half the quantity of the earlier 1853-55 Arrows type. Survivors of the Proof coinage, which totaled 1,500 coins for the two years, can be found although superb examples are scarce. Within the business strike mintage, the Carson City issues are low mintage, and tough to locate in any grade. They are prohibitively rare in Uncirculated condition.

-- Reprinted with permission from "United States Coins by Design Types - An Action Guide for the Collector and Investor" by Q. David Bowers