The Draped Bust Dime: America’s First “Dime” not a Dime at All
The 10-cent piece–or dime, as we know it–was originally and officially referred to as the “disme”. This is how the denomination was described in the Coinage Act of 1792 and “disme” was inscribed on a small run of five cent and 10-cent coins struck in in a Philadelphia workshop in 1792.
The disme was a revolutionary coin in concept. It was conceived as part of Founding Father Thomas Jefferson’s plan to decimalize America’s monetary system. Jefferson first proposed this idea in 1783, while serving as delegate from Virginia in the Continental Congress during the Articles of Confederation period. Alexander Hamilton, usually at odds with Jefferson, also endorsed the decimal system, and recommended six denominations, including a silver coin worth one-tenth of a dollar. The two men saw decimalization as a way to break free from the overly complicated monetary systems used by England, Spain, and other European powers.
Not all of the authorized denominations saw immediate demand. Regular coinage commenced at the First Philadelphia Mint in 1793, with the issuance of the copper half cent and cent. Due to bond issues, silver coinage did not commence until 1794. Gold coinage followed starting in 1795. Half disme production commenced in 1794, but it wasn’t until 1796 that the United States Mint would turn its attention to the disme.
Who Designed the Draped Bust Dime Obverse?
American artist Gilbert Stuart is often credited with creating the obverse design of the Draped Bust type. According to this version of events, when Henry William de Saussure took over the position of Mint Director from the ailing David Rittenhouse, he sought to improve the designs of all United States silver coins. Stuart was asked to submit a more elegant portrait of Liberty after he suggested to President George Washington that he could improve upon the Flowing Hair designs already in use. In August 1795, the artist submitted his design to the United States Mint. It is believed that Philadelphia socialite Ann Willing Bingham served as Gilbert’s model.
The Stuart sketch has never been located, however, and recent scholarship casts doubt on Stuart’s involvement with the redesign of America’s early coins. In the event that Stuart did not have a hand in creating the design, then the likely artist was United States Mint Chief Engraver Robert Scot, with assistance from John Eckstein.
Scot finished preparing the Draped Bust dies in September 1795. The Draped Bust dime entered production in 1796 after production problems had halted the mintage of dollar coins. For the first two years of production, the reverse design featured an eagle standing on a perch with its wings spread. This is commonly referred to as the Small Eagle reverse.
In 1798, a new reverse design featuring a heraldic eagle was introduced. This Heraldic Eagle design is also credited to Scot, and is based on the design of the Great Seal of the United States. Assistant Engraver John Smith Gardner assisted with the creation of master hubs and dies.
Draped Bust Dime Varieties
As was typical for the time period, the U.S. Mint made numerous modifications to the design of the Draped Bust dime. Not only do we see a reverse design change with the 1798 issue, but there are a total of 10 Red Book varieties for the type. The three primary varieties are distinguished by date and number of obverse stars, with 15 stars in 1796, and 16 and then 13 stars in 1797. Reverse star varieties are found on the 1798 and 1804 issues.
Draped Bust dimes with the Small Eagle reverse were produced in 1796 and 1797. This same small eagle motif also appeared on all of the United States’ silver coin denominations of this period. It is likely that some 1796-dated coins were struck in 1797. In higher grades, the 1797 issues are considerably scarcer than the 1796.
The Mint overhauled the reverse design of its gold and silver coins starting in 1798. Apparently as a result of criticism, Scot replaced the small reverse eagle in 1798 with an heraldic eagle modeled after the Great Seal. Though the number of obverse stars remained fixed at 13 from the last year of the previous design, the new reverse displayed 16 stars above the eagle. This was not a mistake or an oversight but rather a result of economy. In order to minimize the number of dies needed for coinage, and because the gold quarter eagle and the dime were less than a millimeter difference in diameter, dies for the identical reverse design were used interchangeably for the two denominations.
In the eight years of the series, coins show reverses with 16 stars, 13 stars, and 14 stars. Dimes were not produced in 1799, 1806, and 1808 – the latter being a one-year gap between the last of the Draped Bust dimes and the beginning of the Capped Bust dimes.
Further CoinWeek Coverage
Collecting Draped Bust Dimes – CoinWeek contributor Greg Reynolds discusses two 1797 Draped Bust dimes that had come into the market in spring 2014 and provides an overview of his thoughts about the series.
The video above features Draped Bust dime and half dime auction highlights from the Pogue Family Collection.
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 15 six-point stars inside the denticled rim. Early 1797 coins have 16 stars (for the number of states in the Union), and later coins for the year have 13 stars to indicate the original 13 states/colonies. The word LIBERTY is at the top, evenly splitting (or nearly so) the stars to each side, with the date at the bottom.
Small Eagle Type:
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircles most of the reverse inside a denticled rim, with a right-facing eagle 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.
Heraldic Eagle Type:
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircles most of the reverse inside a dentiled rim, with a left-facing eagle in the center with fully extended wings and talons. The eagle grips a bundle of arrows and an olive branch. The eagle’s chest is protected by a heraldic shield. A glory of stars is positioned above the eagle’s head, underneath an arc of clouds.
The edge of the Draped Bust dime is reeded.
|Draped Bust Dime
|Years Of Issue:
|High – 165,000 (1807); Low – 8,265 (1804)
|89.24% silver, 10.76% copper
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Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.
–. A Buyer’s Guide to Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States. Zyrus Press.
–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.
Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins. Doubleday.
Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.
Yeoman, R.S and Kenneth Bressett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.
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