Half Dimes – Draped Bust Half Dime, Heraldic Eagle, 1800-1805

Following a two-year gap in production, mintage of half dimes resumed in 1800. The obverse portrait of Liberty remained, though slightly updated, but the reverse was extensively modified. Most noticeable, and giving name to the type, was the change of the eagle to the outstretched wing, heraldic style copied from the Great Seal of the United States. This design was first used on gold quarter eagles and half eagles, and then dimes and dollars, in the late 1790s. The Union Shield across the body of the eagle uses horizontal parallel lines, called azures, to represent the color blue. The bottom part of the shield uses vertical parallel lines, called pales, to represent red stripes, while the alternating open spaces represent white stripes. Either because of limited demand from bullion depositors or the Mint’s inability to produce the denomination in quantity, relatively low numbers of half dimes were produced in the early 1800s. Few have survived, perhaps lost in the normal conduct of business or melted in subsequent times as silver bullion. Mintage of this series of half dimes never exceeded 40,000 pieces, and none were produced in 1804. After the 1805 issue, half dimes were not produced again until 1829, in the new Capped Bust design by William Kneass.

Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries

On the obverse a youthful Liberty faces right, long hair cascading down her neck, with a decorative 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. Thirteen six-point stars fill the spaces between the date and LIBERTY, seven to the left and six to the right. The 1800 LIBEKTY variety is missing most of the horizontal top bar of the letter R, giving a first-glance impression of being a letter K.

The reverse displays UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around the edge of the coin inside a dentilled rim, UNITED and STATES, and OF and AMERICA separated by the tips of the eagle’s outstretched wings. The centrally placed eagle holds in its beak a loop of a banner displaying E PLURIBUS UNUM. The banner curls in front of the eagle’s right wing but behind its left wing. The eagle’s body is covered by a Union Shield, and its left claw holds an olive branch, the right a cluster of arrows. Thirteen small six-point stars are arranged above the eagle, six in the top row, five in the row below, and one to each side of the eagle’s head. Above the stars, below STATES OF is a concentric line of clouds stretching from wing to wing. No denomination or mintmark appears on the coins; all were minted in Philadelphia.

A few hundred half dimes have been certified, more dated 1800 than for any other year of the type. A few of the 1800 coins have been certified as prooflike. Prices of Heraldic Eagle half dimes are lower than comparable grades of the Small Eagle half dimes but still expensive, even as Very Fine. All Mint State examples are expensive, extremely so as Gem or finer. The 1802 half dime is very expensive to extremely expensive in all grades, and is unknown as Mint State in census/ population reports. The 1805 date, the second lowest mintage of the type, is priced higher all dates (except 1802) as VF30 or finer, and is uncommon in Mint State. The Small 8, 1803 type has slightly higher prices than the Large 8 type in most grades. No proofs are known of the Heraldic Eagle half dime.


Designer: Robert Scot
Circulation Mintage: high 40,000 (1800, including the LIBEKTY type), low 3,060 (1802)
Proof Mintage:None
Denomintion: $0.05 Five cents (05/100)
Diameter: ±16.5 mm; reeded edge
Metal content: 89.24% silver, 10.76% copper
Weight: ±1.35 grams
Varieties:Extensively studied and a few known, most representing minor differences in the positioning of design elements. Best known are the 1800 “LIBEKTY”, so named because a broken or defective R punch produced a graphic that looks like the letter K, and the 1803 Small 8 and Large 8 varieties.

Additional Resources :

CoinFacts: www.coinfacts.com
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
Federal Half Dimes. Russell J. Logan, John W. McCloskey. John Reich Collectors Society.
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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