HomeUS Type CoinsType Coins SilverDimes - Ten Cent Draped Bust Small Eagle, 1796-1797

Dimes – Ten Cent Draped Bust Small Eagle, 1796-1797

Thomas Jefferson proposed a decimal system for U.S. coinage in 1783 partly to signify a break from Old World traditions, partly to recognize growing acceptance of that system for use in calculations. This view was promoted by Alexander Hamilton, first treasury secretary, who recommended six denominations including a silver “tenth”, the tenth part of a dollar. A “disme” was included in the Mint Act of 1792, the word being French for “decimal”, and several coins (today considered patterns) were struck. Not until 1796 were the first dimes minted for circulation after production problems halted the mintage of dollars. Impetus for the design of the Draped Bust dime came from Mint Director Henry DeSaussure who wanted to improve the appearance of all silver coins. Most accounts attribute Liberty’s portrait to well-known artist Gilbert Stuart who sketched Philadelphia socialite Mrs. William (Ann) Bingham. Stuart’s drawing was transferred to coinage dies by Engraver Robert Scot with assistance from John Eckstein. Though Liberty’s portrait was apparently well received, the reverse eagle received some criticism because of its supposed scrawny appearance. After just two years of production the small eagle was replaced by a heraldic eagle design modeled after the Great Seal of the United States.

Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries

The obverse of the Draped Bust dime shows a right-facing Liberty with flowing hair tied by a ribbon, shoulders and neckline loosely draped with rippled cloth. Coins dated 1796 have fifteen six-point stars inside the dentilled rim, early 1797 coins have sixteen stars (for the number of states in the Union), and later coins for the year have thirteen stars to indicate the thirteen original states. The word LIBERTY is at the top, evenly splitting (or nearly so) the stars to each side, with the date at the bottom. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircles most of the reverse inside a dentilled rim, with a left-facing eagle (viewer’s right) in the center with partially extended wings. The eagle sits on swirling clouds and is surrounded by palm and olive branches tied together at the bottom with a bow. All coins were minted at Philadelphia, and no mintmarks are displayed on the coins.

Draped Bust Small Eagle dimes were produced for only two years, all for circulation. No proofs were made but census/population reports list some prooflike specimens. Though mintage totals are close for both years far more coins have been certified for 1796 than 1797, and there is speculation that some coins produced in 1797 were dated 1796. Prices are fairly high and even across the board up to Choice AU grade, at which point higher graded 13 star 1797 coins are the most expensive.


Designer: Robert Scot and John Eckstein
Circulation Mintage: high 25,261 (1797), low 22,135 (1796)
Proof Mintage: None
Denomintion: $0.10 Ten Cents 10/100
Diameter: ±19 mm, reeded edge
Metal content: 89.24% silver, 10.76% copper
Weight: ±2.7 grams
Varieties: Three primary varieties distinguished by date and the number of obverse stars, with fifteen stars in 1796 and sixteen, then thirteen, stars for 1797. About a half dozen die varieties are also known.

Additional Resources :

CoinFacts: www.coinfacts.com
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
A Buyer’s Guide to Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States. Q. David Bowers (author), John Dannreuther (editor). Zyrus Press.
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.
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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