HomeUS CoinsDraped Bust Half Dime, Small Eagle (1796-1797) | CoinWeek

Draped Bust Half Dime, Small Eagle (1796-1797) | CoinWeek

1796 Draped Bust Half Dime, Small Eagle. Image: Stack's Bowers.
1796 Draped Bust Half Dime, Small Eagle. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

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

New Half Dime Design Meant to Beautify American Coinage

The Flowing Hair Half Dime design of engraver Robert Scot, used in 1794 and 1795, was disparaged by some for his portrayals of both Liberty and the reverse eagle. Perhaps responding to that criticism, United States Mint Director Henry W. DeSaussure announced a goal of improving the designs of all silver coins. The Draped Bust design was used for all silver and copper coins starting in 1796.

The reverse design was also modified. The eagle was reduced in size from the image used on the previous version, though given a more robust appearance, and the encircling wreath was now comprised of two plant types rather than one.

Hand-Made Dies Yield Many Varieties

Though every issue of the two-year type is distinct, five versions are specifically identified in the Red Book as varieties: the 1796/5 overdate; the 1796 LIKERTY, so-called because of a break at the top and bottom horizontal bars of the B, not from the use of the letter K.

The several obverse changes in the half dime issues for 1797 are categorized by the number of stars around the rim. The first type of this year had 15 stars, the same as displayed on the 1796 half dime. To signify the addition of Tennessee as the 16th state in 1796, the second obverse die for 1797 was modified to include a 16th star. Perhaps because the space for additional stars on the obverse was essentially gone, leaving no room for additional stars representing new states that were likely to join the Union, the number of stars was reduced to 13 on the last 1797 issue.

Thirteen stars thus represented the union of the original 13 colonies, a symbolism repeated on many subsequent U.S. coin issues.

How Much Are Small Eagle Draped Bust Half Dimes Worth?

Just a few hundred Draped Bust, Small Eagle Half Dimes have been certified, with census/population reports listing more of the 1797, 15-star, coins than of the other varieties. Prices are modest (though not inexpensive) at grades of Good to Fine, but climb steeply above that. Coins graded as Mint State and finer are very expensive. The 1797 13 Star is the most expensive variety, at prices approximately double that of any of the others. The 1796/5 overdate has a modest premium above the others up to Select Uncirculated, with the price difference increasing above that grade.



On the obverse, a youthful Liberty faces right, long hair cascading down the back of her neck, with a decorative headband ribbon tied at the back. Shoulders and neckline are loosely draped with rippled cloth. The word LIBERTY is centered at the top inside the border dentils, with the date centered at the bottom. Fifteen six-point stars with thin rays fill the spaces between date and LIBERTY on the 1796 coins and the first 1797 issue, eight stars to the left and seven to the right. The second 1797 variety has 16 stars, nine to the left and seven to the right, and the final 1797 variety displays 13 stars, seven to the left and six to the right. The 1796 LIKERTY variety is missing most (but not all) of the horizontal top and bottom bars of the letter B, giving a first-glance impression of being a letter K.


The reverse displays UNITED STATES OF AMERICA along the edge of the coin inside a dentilled rim. Just inside the legend is an encircling pair of branches, crossed and tied at the bottom but slightly apart at the top. The left branch is laurel, with berries, while the right is a palm branch. In the center a right-facing eagle with partially outstretched wings rests on an ambiguous surface, identified as either clouds or a rock. Unlike the previous Small Eagle type, the eagle’s wings do not intersect the surrounding branches, though the left wing (viewers right) does touch the palm branch. No denomination or mint mark appears on the coins; all were minted in Philadelphia.


The edge of the Draped Bust half dime is reeded.

Coin Specifications

Draped Bust Half Dime (Small Eagle)
Years Of Issue: 1796-97
Mintage (Circulation): High: 44,527 (1797); Low: 10,230 (1796)
Alloy: 89.24% silver, 10.76% copper
Weight: 1.35 g
Diameter: 16.50 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Robert Scot
REV Designer: Robert Scot


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Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

Guth, Ron and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

Logan, Russell J. and John W. McCloskey. Federal Half Dimes. John Reich Collectors Society.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S and Jeff Garrett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.

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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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