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1838-O Liberty Seated Dime : A Collector’s Guide

1838-O Liberty Seated Dime. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.
1838-O Liberty Seated Dime. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

The New Orleans Mint was one of three branches of the United States Mint authorized to be opened by the Coinage Act of March 3, 1835. The Louisiana facility was built on land donated to the federal government by the City of New Orleans, and the Mint building itself was designed by noted architect William Strickland in the Greek Revival style that he helped to popularize.

Construction began in September 1835 and finished in 1838, costing taxpayers $182,000 plus $118,000 for site improvements. Upon opening, Rufus Tyler was named Chief Coiner, which caused some of the local employees to bristle at being told what to do by a “northerner.” Such was the geographical politics in America at the time.

New Orleans Mint
New Orleans Mint. Original Image: Adobe. Illustration by CoinWeek.

The first coins struck at the New Orleans Mint were 30 1838-O Liberty Seated Dimes. The Liberty Seated (or Seated Liberty) Dime debuted in 1837 and underwent several design modifications throughout its 54-year run.

In 1837, United States Mint engraver (and soon-to-be Chief Engraver) Christian Gobrecht’s design debuted with a fairly clean yet simple obverse featuring a seated Lady Liberty accompanied only by the date in the exergue. Midway through the 1838 production cycle, 13 stars (in a 7-1-5 configuration) were added to the obverse.

The dies were shipped to New Orleans and dispatched from the office of Mint Director Robert M. Patterson on April 9. They featured the No Stars obverse. The “O” mintmark, found on the coin’s reverse, was applied at the Philadelphia Mint. One set of dies featured a normal mintmark, while the other shows one that had been repunched (more on that in our section discussing varieties).

The first 1838-O Liberty Seated Dimes were struck on May 8. A total of 30 pieces were struck. These mark the first coins struck at the new branch mint. According to research by numismatist R.W. Julian, 10 of these dimes were laid in the cornerstone of the North American Theater. It is not entirely clear what happened to the remainder.

After the pomp and circumstance of the New Orleans Mint striking the first of what it hoped would be millions of coins for the Southern port city, production abruptly stopped due to mechanical issues with the small press. Coinage did not resume until May 22, and shortly thereafter, the machines broke down again.

The hot and humid southern months provided ripe conditions for yellow fever outbreaks, and the Mint closed operations to mitigate the risk to its workers. Coinage for 1838 did not resume until November. But between November and the year’s end, the Mint produced 402,434 dimes – plus an additional emission of 3,600 pieces struck in early January using the 1838-dated dies. Combine the two numbers, and you will arrive at the accepted mintage of 406,034.

Strike Characteristics

Collectors have long viewed the No Stars variety as the closest representation of Gobrecht’s original design concept. To create the timeless image of Liberty seated, Gobrecht interpreted the sketches of William Kneass, Thomas Sully, and Titian Peale. The design represented the first time that a full-figured Liberty was depicted on a U.S. coin, and it was featured on all U.S. silver types for much of the rest of the 19th century.

Whatever the condition of the equipment that Philadelphia provided New Orleans, it is clear that the machinery wasn’t new. As with coins from its sister branches in Charlotte and Dahlonega, the coins of the New Orleans Mint were typically inferior in strike to those struck at the Mother Mint in Philadelphia.

On the 1838-O Liberty Seated Dime, weakness is typically evident on the face, shield, feet, and denticles. Although it is possible to find nicely struck examples where Liberty’s full feature set is apparent, coins that display sharply squared denticles throughout are another matter altogether.

1838-O Liberty Seated Dime Varieties

Gerry Fortin and his excellent website seateddimevarieties.com accounts for two die varieties of the 1838-O Liberty Seated Dime.

Obverse Die Diagnostics of the 1838-O dime.
Obverse Die Diagnostics of the 1838-O dime. Coin photography courtesy of PCGS. Descriptions courtesy of Gerry Fortin.

The F-101 features a “medium level” date on the obverse, rim die cuds at the two and four o’clock positions (which advance to the eight and nine o’clock positions on F-101a), and a repunched mintmark on the reverse. The mintmark on the reverse was punched at the Philadelphia Mint before the dies were dispatched to New Orleans on April 9, 1838. Curiously, when the dies were shipped, the Philadelphia Mint’s engraving department had already produced a modified version of the design that featured stars on the obverse. This would not be the only time Philadelphia would ship outdated dies to the branch mints.

Reverse Die Diagnostics of the 1838-O dime. Coin photography courtesy of PCGS. Descriptions courtesy of Gerry Fortin.
Reverse Die Diagnostics of the 1838-O dime. Coin photography courtesy of PCGS. Descriptions courtesy of Gerry Fortin.

The F-102 variety features the same “medium level” date on the obverse but does not show the die cuds visible on the F-101. The reverse is also different in that the mintmark does not exhibit signs of being repunched. Fortin describes the reverse as having the “normal mintmark.” Based on our observations, the mintmark on the F-102 appears slightly canted to the right, whereas the F-101’s doubled mintmark orients upright.

The F-101 is the more common of the two varieties, but Fortin’s research suggests that the advanced F-101a is encountered even less frequently than the F-102.

What Is the 1838-O Liberty Seated Dime Worth?

The 1838-O Liberty Seated Dime is typically found in circulated grades, with less than 10% of those that survive likely exceeding PCGS or NGC standards for About Uncirculated. With more than 30 years of grading experience, both grading services combine for a total population of 93 examples in AU and 71 examples in Mint State. These numbers overlap somewhat due to resubmissions and crossovers.

A problem-free example in VF-20 typically will bring between $350 and $400, which is a good entry point for the issue. That price doubles as you reach About Uncirculated, and as you approach the slider grades of AU58 and MS62, the price one should expect to pay for a CAC-quality piece is $3,500 and up.

The issue appears less frequently in higher Mint State grades, but collectors are likely to have the opportunity to choose between a few examples each year. In 2018, Goldberg Auctioneers sold an evenly toned example with streaks of gold and light blue toning for $8,100, which was in line with the firm’s pre-sale estimate.

Gems are much harder to come by. Through May 2024, PCGS accounts for four examples in MS65 and one in MS65+. NGC reports four in Mint State 65 and two in 66.

The record price for an 1838-O Seated Liberty Dime is $37,600, which the top pop, pop-one PCGS MS65+ coin brought at an April 2023 Legend Auction. That coin was a CAC-approved Fortin-101 with obverse and reverse gold, orange, and green toning. The coin also featured a stronger-than-typical strike with just the faintest hints of weakness on the coin’s highest points. Sadly, Heritage Auctions’ low-quality photography for the coin is not flattering.

Heritage also records two discreet sales prices of $18,400 for one of the two coins graded MS66 by NGC. The most recent sale took place at Heritage’s 2009 Central States sale. The coin presents a hint of yellow toning and is an otherwise brilliant example of the Fortin-102.

1838-O Liberty Seated Dimes Recovered from SS Central America

1838-O Seated Liberty Dime from the SS Central America. Image: PCGS
1838-O Seated Liberty Dime from the SS Central America. Image: PCGS

The famous SS Central America, dubbed “The Ship of Gold,” sank in 1857 while carrying tons of California Gold Rush coin and gold. In a 2014 recovery expedition, thousands of silver coins and millions of dollars worth of gold ingots and coins were recovered. Among the silver coins were several examples of the 1838-O Liberty Seated Dime, 40 of which were graded by PCGS in 2018.

The recovered coins, ranging in grades from F02 to XF40, provide a time capsule into the distance the New Orleans Mint’s first coinage traveled and the degree of wear our silver coinage experienced in just 20 years. The dimes photographed by PCGS exhibit the diagnostics of Fortin-101 and 102 varieties, showing the degree to which these distinctly different variants circulated side-by-side.

The coin illustrated above represents the finest graded example from the 2014 recovery.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Top Population: PCGS MS65+ (1, 5/2024), NGC MS66 (2, 5/2024), and CAC MS65 (2:0 stickered:graded, 5/2024).

  • NGC MS66 #1786165-001: As NGC MS64. “The Oliver Jung Collection,” Ameican Numismatic Rarities, July 23, 2004, Lot 37 – $13,800. As NGC MS66 #1786165-001. Heritage Auctions, December 8, 2004, Lot 5709 – $18,400. Upgraded by two points!; “The Joseph C. Thomas Collection,” Heritage Auctions, April 30, 2009, Lot 2249 – $18,400. Probably Fortin-102. Brilliant. There is a dark mark to the left of Liberty’s draped chair and another to the right of the left knee. There is a small diagonal hit just above the left of the chair mark and a small depression on Liberty’s right forearm. On the reverse, there is a tick just below the upper left opening of the wreath. 
  • PCGS MS65+ CAC #10005467: Heritage Auctions, April 23, 2015, Lot 4988 – $32,900; Legend Rare Coin Auctions, April 27, 2023, Lot 23 – $37,600. Gold and orange toning throughout. Hints of green. Mottled black specks scattered all over the right field of the obverse and across Liberty’s legs. Reverse target toning.
  • NGC MS65 #128645-002: Heritage Auctions, November 20, 2020, Lot 3308 – $8,400. Fortin-102. Old Holder. Dark violet and aubergine toning throughout. Thin, light silhouette around Liberty.
  • NGC MS65 #4214850-001: Stack’s Bowers, October 25, 2018, Lot 2067 – $14,400. Fortin-102. Olive and gold toning throughout. There is a thin diagonal line to the left of Liberty’s right shoulder. There is a tiny black mark to the right of Liberty’s leg. There is a tiny black mark on the shield below R. There are Diagonal streaks of toning on the reverse with darker streaks above ONE.
  • PCGS MS65 CAC #81760394: David Lawrence Rare Coins, August 2007, Lot 5007; Legend Numismatics, August 2007; As PCGS MS65 CAC #60114309. “The Eugene H. Gardner Collection, Part II,” Heritage Auctions, October 2014, Lot 98238 – $28,200; As PCGS MS65 CAC #81760394. Stack’s Bowers, November 3, 2016, Lot 2052 – $19,975; Legend Rare Coin Auctions, July 15, 2021, Lot 121 – $24,675. Fortin 101a. Recertified. Diagonal streaks of butterscotch-colored toning. There is a tiny tick between the left hand and neck. Tiny tick on the right forearm. On the reverse, a small black spot is above the right bow.
  • PCGS MS65 CAC #32729873: Heritage Auctions, September 17, 2015, Lot 3811 – $25,850; Legend Rare Coin Auctions, May 19, 2016, Lot 89 – $24,675; Heritage Auctions, August 2, 2017, Lot 3927 – $17,625. Fortin-101a. Mocha-colored toning throughout. Toning has a nearly upright diagonal pattern on the reverse.
  • PCGS MS64 #22093227: “The Old Colony Collection,” American Numismatic Rarities, December 6, 2005, Lot 495 – $12,650; “The Bender Family Collection,” Heritage Auctions, December 15, 2022, Lot 3418 – $7,500. Fortin-101. Sea green, violet, and gold target toning on the obverse and reverse. 
  • NGC MS64 #453834-001: Heritage Auctions, January 2016, Lot 3726 – $5,875; Heritage Auctions, March 21, 2022, Lot 92392 – $7,500. Brilliant. There is a tiny brown spot to the left of the cap. Tiny black horizontal mark below ON.
  • PCGS MS64 CAC #33311052: As PCGS MS64 #14185466. Heritage Auctions, August 12, 2011, Lot 7078 – $11,500. As PCGS MS64 CAC #14185466. Heritage Auctions, April 22, 2015, Lot 3834 – $9,987.50. As PCGS MS64 CAC #33311052. Heritage Auctions, April 23, 2020, Lot 3327 – $13,200; Heritage Auctions, August 20, 2021, Lot 3696 – $15,600; “The Bender Family Collection, Part I” Heritage Auctions, August 24, 2022, Lot 3748 – $9,600. Fortin-102. Dark violet toning along the peripheries blends into red and orange in the centers. Bender Collection on insert.
  • PCGS MS64 #29986430: As NGC MS64 #3379553-007. Heritage Auctions, November 1, 2013, Lot 3554 – $7,931.25. As PCGS MS64 #29986430. Heritage Auctions, August 2015, Lot 281 – $6,462.50. Fortin-101. Unsightly reddish brown and slate toning with scattered splotches of lighter areas throughout the obverse. Reverse has splotchy toning along the periphery, but the coin’s center is predominately orange and gold.
  • PCGS MS64 #25377565: Heritage Auctions, November 1, 2013, Lot 3555 – $10,575; Heritage Auctions, August 2, 2017, Lot 3475 – $6,462.50. Fortin-102. Crescent rainbow toning, predominately on the obverse’s left side and along the reverse’s periphery.
  • PCGS MS64 CAC #24904566: As NGC MS64 #3415347-001. Heritage Auctions, April 19, 2012, Lot 5063 – $8,050. As PCGS MS64 CAC #24904566. Heritage Auctions, July 12, 2012, Lot 3381 – $9,775. Fortin-101. Darkly toned. Obverse displays orange, blue, and green toning throughout, with a distinguishable pattern in the fields—target toning in the same color palette on the reverse.
  • NGC MS64 #3100477-002: Heritage Auctions, April 16, 2008, Lot 552 – $10,350; Heritage Auctions, July 31, 2008, Lot 1606 – $10,062.50. splotches of dark toning along the periphery. Sepia toning throughout.
  • PCGS MS64 #21750988: Heritage Auctions, December 8, 2004, Lot 5708 – $8,625; Heritage Auctions, May 5, 2005, Lot 6389 – $8,625. Fortin-102. Champagne toning throughout. Splotches of cobalt toning along the periphery.
  • NGC MS64 #1663428-011: Heritage Auctions, July 26, 2003, Lot 6537 – $6,612.50. Dark rainbow toning on the obverse.

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Design

Obverse:

On the obverse is a full-length representation of Liberty wearing long, flowing robes and seated on a rock, her head turned back to her right. Her left arm is bent and holds a pole topped by a Liberty cap. The right arm extends down at her side, her hand supporting a Union shield; across it is a curved banner displaying LIBERTY. The date is centered at the bottom in the exergue, below the rock upon which Liberty rests. A circle of dentils lies inside the raised rim. The remaining field is clear of design elements.

Reverse:

The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA circles clockwise along the inside of the denticulated rim, broken at the bottom by the ribbon that ties the ends of two branches. The branches form another circle inside the text, though the ends are separated at the top. The denomination ONE DIME is in the center, each word on a separate line. The “O” mintmark is located below DIME and above the bows of the ribbon.

Edge:

The edge of the 1838-O Liberty Seated Dime is reeded.

Designer

Born in 1785, Christian Gobrecht began working for the United States Mint in 1823 and became the Mint’s third Chief Engraver in 1840. He served in that position until he died in 1844. Gobrect designed the Flying Eagle Cent (1856-1858), Liberty Seated type coins, and the Liberty Head Quarter Eagle gold coin (1840-1907). A tinkerer, he invented a medal-ruling machine, created musical instruments, and developed a camera lucida, which projected images onto pieces of paper.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1838
Denomination: 10 Cents (USD)
Mintmark: O (New Orleans)
Mintage: 406,034
Alloy: .900 Silver, .100 Copper
Weight: 2.67 g
Diameter: 17.90 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Christian Gobrecht
REV Designer: Christian Gobrecht
Quality: Business Strike

 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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