Quite often, a customer or another coin dealer will visit our exhibit during a coin show and remark: “That’s a lot of Half Dimes”.
These tiny fascinating coins have been my passion for decades. So, Why?
We need to go back to about 1990. I was looking for an interesting series of early United States coins to collect. I considered many, from Half Cents to Silver Dollars. Most were rejected right away as ‘plain, ordinary, average’ , not so much based on the design itself, as I find most early American coinage to be quite visually striking. No, I was looking for a series with variety. Additionally, it needed to be attainable, with due consideration given to my then meager funding.
Looking at the coin collectors’ periodicals at the time, naturally I was immediately frightened away from the Flowing Hair and Draped Bust designs, minted from 1792 through 1805, as their rarity and cost was far beyond my reach. The 1802 stands as one of the premier rarities in any series, with perhaps 3 known examples and a current value in the range of $35,000.00 for a specimen of any grade.
Moving ahead to 1829 (there were no Half Dimes minted during the period 1806-1828), the picture became much different. Considering the Capped Bust series (1829-1837), all but the last coin, the 1837 ‘small 5c’, listed at $25.00 in G-4. Furthermore, though all were minted in Philadelphia, the short series boasts several varieties due to different date punches, and different denomination punches. The 1835 alone has four varieties: large date large 5C, large date small 5C, small date large 5C, small date small 5C.
The Seated Liberty design was introduced in 1837, which meant that for that year, again four varieties were minted: Capped Bust series large 5C and small 5C, and two different date punches for the onset of Seated Liberty.
I was hooked.
Even more exciting, the obverse of the coin was modified in 1840, to add a bit of drapery at Miss Liberty’s elbow, mostly due to striking issues with the new design. It was enough to cause four different collectible Half Dimes for the year 1840 as well.
The next major design change took place in 1853, when the weight of these coins, as well as all other silver coinage of the period, was reduced. The lower weight coins were identified by a pair of arrowheads (weird, but yes, arrowheads), pointing away from either side of the date, and this design endured only until 1855 when the arrows were removed. Incidentally, some coins were minted in Philadelphia and New Orleans during 1853, before the arrows were added to the date. Most, but not all, were melted and re-minted with the arrows at date. Some Half Dimes from both mints survived, having no arrows at the date. The 1853 without arrows, minted in New Orleans, is one of the most difficult Half Dimes to locate, particularly in grades above AU.
Finally, the design was changed yet again in 1860, when the 13 stars on the obverse were replaced with the legend ‘United States of America’, and the wreath comprised of olive leaves on the reverse, was replaced with a similar wreath which includes ears of corn.
Though the collection 1829 through 1873 includes several very tough coins (particularly the Philadelphia issues 1864-1867, during which relatively few were minted because of the turmoil of the Civil War), I chose to commit myself to assembling a complete collection by date, mintmark, and major variety.
Though it was a challenge, I do not regret a single moment. I like to boast that the collection features ‘A Liberty on every shield’, no small accomplishment when you consider that many of the tougher coins, such as the 1864, are estimated to have fewer than 80 survivors across all grades.
Truly my pride and joy, I continue to upgrade the set as we acquire nicer examples.
Happy collecting !