Dimes – Liberty Seated Dime, Stars, Drapery, 1840-1860

Robert Hughes, a sculptor originally from London, was hired in late 1840 to make modifications to Christian Gobrecht’s Liberty on the Seated design for half dimes, dimes, and other silver coins. Along with other changes, Hughes added extra drapery that extended from Liberty’s left elbow down over her knee. In 1853 an arrow was added to each side of the date to indicate a lower weight. The arrows were part of the dime design through 1855, but were removed in 1856 through the end of the type in 1860, though the weight remained at the lower standard. Because of these changes, it’s reasonable to say there are actually three obverse star dime types from 1840 through 1860. Those produced from 1840 through 1853 and from 1856 through 1860 have the same design, with no arrows on either side of the date. However, the 1856-1860 coins are lighter weight than the 1840-1853 dimes, thus two varieties of what most consider to be one type. The lighter weight with arrows design minted from 1853 through 1855 is considered a separate type for this period.

Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries

In additional to changing the drapery, Hughes made other modifications which are subtle but readily apparent when this and the previous dime type are viewed side-by-side. On the No Drapery type, Liberty is more petite, with a smaller head; the rock upon which she rests is larger; and her legs are angled downward at a slightly different angle than on Drapery dimes. On this Drapery type, her clothing has fewer folds and is draped differently, including the identifying extra cloth below the elbow; the neckline is also higher. Some scholars attribute these changes to a desire for a less ‘risquŽ’ Liberty, though the official reason for the change was apparently to improve striking quality. The Union shield at Liberty’s side was formerly tilted back at an angle but on the Drapery type is now nearly vertical, the shield banner is curved differently, and the Liberty cap is larger. The reverse has the same design elements as before but with larger text and split berries on a more substantial wreath. The low mintage 1844 issue was hoarded by the late Frank Ross, who then publicized the rarity of the date, though the mintage is the fifth smallest of the series, not the smallest. He also gave the issue the name of “Little Orphan Annie”, presumably because he felt the date was being overlooked by collectors. Regardless of reality or motive, the name has stayed with the 1844 dime, providing an interesting bit of history.

On the obverse a full-length representation of Liberty wears long, flowing robes and is seated on a rock, 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, hand supporting a Union shield across which is a curved banner displaying LIBERTY. The date is centered at the bottom, below the rock upon which Liberty rests. Inside dentils along the raised rim 13 stars form a partial circle, seven to the left of Liberty, one between Liberty’s head and the Liberty cap, and five to the right of the cap.

The reverse has a concentric circle formed by UNITED STATES OF AMERICA inside the dentilled 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 slightly separated at the top, and in the center is the denomination of ONE DIME, each word on a separate line. Drapery dimes were produced at Philadelphia, New Orleans, and San Francisco; the O and S mintmarks are located below DIME and above bow at the top of the ribbon.

Business strike dimes produced in the higher weight from 1840 through 1853 are not as common in census/ population reports as those in the lower weight from 1856 forward, in many cases represented by no more than 100 examples. In contrast, a few hundred coins have been certified for the dates 1856 through 1859. The 1860-S of this type is also represented by fewer than 100 pieces. Prices are modest up through Select Uncirculated (and for some dates, to near-Gem) for most Philadelphia issues, expensive finer than that. Dimes minted at New Orleans and San Francisco are more costly, expensive as near-Gem and finer, and for some dates very expensive. Higher priced coins include 1843-O, 1844, 1846, and the San Francisco pieces from 1856 forward; no dimes were minted at San Francisco in 1857. Proof Drapery dimes are rare for most dates and scarce for 1858 and 1859 examples. Cameo and Deep Cameo pieces have been certified, and have an added price premium. Proofs from 1841 through 1852 are very expensive to extremely expensive as PR64 and finer. Prices drop for proof 1856 and 1857 dimes, though the coins are expensive as PR63 and finer, and are moderate for 1859 proofs (though expensive as Gem and finer).

Designer: Robert Ball Hughes, after Christian Gobrecht, from Titian Peale/ Thomas Sully sketches.
Circulation Mintage: high 5,780,000 (1856), low 31,300 (1846)
Proof Mintage: high 800 (1859), low 5 (1841, estimated)
Denomination: Ten cents (10/100)
Diameter: 17.9 mm; reeded edge
Metal Content: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: 2.67 grams, 1840-1853; 2.49 grams, 1853-1860
Varieties: Many known, including 1841 No Drapery (a result of excessive die reworking); 1853 No Arrows; 1856 Large Date and Small Date; 1859 Obverse of 1859 With Stars, Reverse of 1860 (a transitional pattern that does not display UNITED STATES OF AMERICA on either coin side); plus other minor die variations.

Additional Resources:
CoinFacts: www.coinfacts.com
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing.
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.

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