Classic U.S. Coins for Less than $500 - Greg Reynolds - Seated Liberty Dimes

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, markets, and coin collecting #398

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds …..
 

Liberty Seated dimes were minted from 1837 to 1891. The legend ‘United States of America’ was moved from the reverse to the obverse in 1860. Although truly scarce, Liberty Seated dimes with the legend on the reverse are surprisingly inexpensive and can be practically collected ‘by date’ without spending as much as $500 on any one coin.

Legend on reverse Liberty Seated dimes were minted from 1837 to 1859, plus the 1860 San Francisco Mint issue. Representatives of many of these dates may be purchased for less than $100 or even for less than $50 each!

The rarest Liberty Seated dimes were minted after 1860, especially the Carson City (Nevada) Mint dates from 1871 to 1874. Furthermore, post-1860 dates receive a disproportionate share of media attention. Liberty Seated dimes dating from 1838 to 1859 are overlooked, overshadowed and under-appreciated. Indeed, there has been much more interest in virtually all other types of U.S. dimes.

A total type set of silver U.S. dimes requires just 13 coins, six of which are Liberty Seated types:

  1. Draped Bust, Small Eagle 1796-97
  2. Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle 1798-1807
  3. Capped Bust, “Large” 1809-28
  4. Capped Bust, “Small” 1828-37
  5. Liberty Seated, No Stars 1837-38
  6. Liberty Seated with Stars and No Drapery, 1838-40
  7. Liberty Seated with Stars and Drapery, 1840-1853, 1856-60
  8. Liberty Seated — Arrows & Stars 1853-55
  9. Liberty Seated – Legend on Obverse (front), 1860-73, 1875-91
  10. Liberty Seated – Arrows & Legend on Obverse, 1873-74
  11. Barber 1892-1916
  12. Mercury 1916-45
  13. Roosevelt 1946-64 and silver Proofs from 1992 to the present

On three of the six design types of Liberty Seated dimes, the legend, ‘United States of America’, is on the reverse. These are #5 (above) No Stars, #6 Stars & No Drapery, and #7 Stars & Drapery. In 1837 in Philadelphia and in 1838 in New Orleans, Liberty Seated dimes were struck without stars in the design.

Liberty Seated dimes with stars in the design were first struck in Philadelphia in 1838 and first struck in New Orleans in 1839. The distinction between the ‘No Drapery’ type (1838-40) and the next type, ‘With Drapery’, involves far more than just the presence or absence of “Drapery”, though this ‘drapery’ is readily apparent. It appears as extra material in Miss Liberty’s gown, hanging about her elbow and extending below her forearm in an area about her knee.

The names, ‘No Drapery’ and ‘With Drapery’ are misleading, as these names provide the impression that the addition of such clothing in the design is the primary distinction between these two design types. Even if all of the pre-1860 Liberty Seated dimes exhibited the same amount of ‘drapery’ or lack thereof, the change in 1840 would still be indicative of a very noticeable change in design.

Left: Pogue Specimen (Realized $28,200); Right: PCGS EF45 (Realized $414).
Left: Pogue Specimen (Realized $28,200); Right: PCGS EF45 (Realized $414).

The 1837 to 1840 design of Miss Liberty is artistically much different from the design that was adopted in 1840. The two faces bring to mind two different women. The Miss Liberty of 1840 to 1860 has markedly different hair, too. Furthermore, the dimensions of her arms are much different. Not only are the stripes and banner within the shield different, the 1837 to 1840 shield appears diagonal; it clearly tilts to the observer’s left. The shield in the ‘With Drapery’ design, which was adopted in 1840, is upright.

Most of all, the general shape of the female form is different. The Liberty Seated dimes of 1837 to 1840 and those of 1840 to 1860 depict different female personifications of Liberty, the work of different artisans, each with his own style.

The ‘No Stars’ and ‘No Drapery’ designs are credited to Christian Gobrecht. Somebody else, probably Robert Ball Hughes, then changed Gobrecht’s work and put forth his own artistic representation of a concept of liberty.

In 1853, arrows were added to the obverse design. Two arrows were placed near the numerals of the year, on half dimes, dimes, quarters and half dollars. The designs were not otherwise notably changed. The ‘With Arrows’ coins, however, are significantly lighter in weight, on average.

Before 1853, Liberty Seated dimes were each specified to weigh 41.25 grains (0.0859375 Troy ounce). During 1853, the standard was reduced to 38.4 grains (0.08 Troy ounce), a reduction of 6.9%. I address the reasons for this weight change in my discussion of 1853-O ‘No Arrows’ half dollars.

On quarters and halves, rays were added to the reverse design in 1853. On half dimes and dimes, the respective reverse design was unchanged in 1853. Arrows were removed from the design after three years. The ‘Stars & Drapery’ design that was employed from 1840 to 1853 was used again. The ‘Stars & Drapery’ dimes struck from 1856 to 1860, however, were minted in accordance with the new 38.4 grain weigh standard and are thus lighter than the Liberty Seated dimes minted before 1853.

No Stars

There are just two or three dates of the ‘No Stars’ design type, depending upon whether the 1837 ‘Large Date’ and ‘Small Date’ are considered to be two separate dates of the same year. The numerals are notably different in size, though not blatantly so.

In April 2017, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded EF-40 1837 ‘Large Date’ for $376. On March 26, 2017, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded EF-40 1837 ‘Small Date’ for $442.20. In March 2016, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded VF-30 1838-O for $352.50. In April 2017, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded VF-25 1838-O for $305.50. In Good-04 grade, representatives of all three dates of this type probably could be purchased for a total of less than $135.

With Stars, No Drapery

The difference between the 1838 ‘Small Stars’ and ‘Large Stars’ is insignificant. These are of the same date. An EF-40 to -45 grade 1838 and an 1839 would each be likely to retail for less than $200 each, perhaps much less.

The 1839-O is scarcer. In October 2017, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded EF-45 1839-O for $240. On December 18, 2016, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded VF-35 1839-O, with a CAC sticker, for $226.70.

As for the 1840 ‘No Drapery’, PCGS- or NGC-graded EF-40 to -45 coins have sold for amounts between $100 and $250 in recent years. The 1840-O is much scarcer. On July 12, 2016, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded EF-40 1840-O ‘No Drapery’ dime for $517. One week later, on July 19, Heritage sold a different PCGS-graded EF-40 1840-O ‘No Drapery’ dime for $376. There is a need to closely inspect coins and to not take certified grades too seriously.

With Stars, With Drapery

The 1840 ‘With Drapery’ is a rare dime, which could be very rare. A working hypothesis is that fewer than 250 exist in all states of preservation. It might not be practical to budget less than $500 for an Extremely Fine grade coin. A Very Fine grade 1840 ‘With Drapery’ could be acquired for a price between $200 and $320.

1840 Liberty Seated Dime Drapery Stars PCGS VF20 CACOn October 8, 2017, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded VF-30 coin for $255.38. On April 3, 2016, the same firm sold a PCGS-graded VF-20 1840, with a CAC sticker, for $204.60.

The following dates are relatively less scarce and tend to be worth from $50 to $100 in EF-40 grade: 1841, 1842, 1843, 1845, 1849, 1850, 1851, 1852, 1856, 1857, 1857-O, 1858, 1859 and 1859-O.

EF-40 or better representatives of the following, slightly better dates could be purchased for less $250 each, less than $150 in some cases: 1841-O, 1847, 1848, 1856-O and 1858-O. In November 2016, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-50 1848 for $188.

The 1842-O, 1853 ‘No Arrows’ and the 1860-S are all in the same category, in the context of market values. For these three, it would make sense to pursue Very Fine grade coins rather than an Extremely Fine or higher grade coins.

An 1853 ‘No Arrows’ dime should be heavier than an 1853 ‘With Arrows’ dime, if all other factors are about equal. In the past, I have quoted R. W. Julian to the effect that the coinage law passed in 1853 did “not take effect until” June 1853.

In August 2016, Heritage sold an NGC-graded VF-30 1853 ‘No Arrows’ dime from the collection of “Rev. Dr. James G. K. McClure”. This piece brought $446.50, an amount which probably included a premium for being ‘fresh’.

The 1860-S with the the legend on the reverse is a curiosity, though a regular issue coin. All other Liberty Seated dimes dated from 1860 to 1891 feature the legend on the obverse. Like 1866-S ‘No Motto’ half dollars, half eagles, eagles and double eagles, dies of an old design were shipped by accident and/or before the new design was required to be employed. Dies were then generally prepared in Philadelphia and then shipped to the Branch U.S. Mints.

Back in March 2015, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded VF-35 1860-S for $397.10. In November 2016, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded VF-20 1860-S for $199.75.

In terms of market values, the 1849-O, 1850-O, 1851-O and 1852-O are all in the same league, though the 1850-O is a little less expensive than the others. A Very Fine-20 grade 1850-O might retail for less than $100, while the others in VF-20 grade could cost from $120 to $180 or so. An EF-40 grade 1850-O would probably retail for less than $325, maybe even for less than $250. Extremely Fine grade representatives of the other just mentioned New Orleans Mint coins might retail for more than $325, though very likely for well under $500 each.

With Arrows: 1853-55

1853 With Arrows DimeThe ‘With Arrows’ dimes of 1853 to 1855 are historically important and curious. There are only five dates, three from Philadelphia and two from New Orleans. Other than the 1853-O, an EF-40 or -45 grade coin of each date would likely retail for under $100 in the current market environment.

In November 2016, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded EF-40 1853-O for $282.50 and a PCGS-graded EF-45 1853-O for $258.50. The coin that brought more is not of a rare die variety. It is not unusual for a lower grade coin to be more desirable than a coin of the same date and type that is certified at a higher grade level by the same grading service. There are many variables that pertain to the quality of a coin and preferences of collectors vary. To understand the quality and desirability of a coin, much more needs to be known about it than its certified grade, which changes in many cases.

Semi-Key Dates

The semi-keys are the 1843-O, the 1844, the 1856-S, the 1858-S and the 1859-S. In October 2014, I devoted an entire discussion to the 1843-O. A pertinent point here is that a Fine grade 1843-O would be likely to sell for less than $500, though Fine-12 to Fine-15 1843-O dimes are infrequently offered.

An option may be to acquire a Very Good grade 1843-O for less than $300. In March 2016, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded VG-10 1860-S for $282.

I have noted in the past that the 1844 is unduly famous and the scarcity of this issue has been exaggerated. It is not a rare coin. These remain overvalued and I would be hesitant to spend as much as $350 for a circulated 1844 dime.

In February 2017, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded Fine-12 1844 for $258.50. In April 2016, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded VF-20 1844, with a CAC sticker, for $474.20. An 1844 in Good-04 or -06 grade could be found and acquired for less than $200.

Finding a gradable 1856-S for less than $500 could be difficult. Although the 1856-S has never received much media attention, values in price guides are reflective of its rarity. The PCGS CoinFacts estimate that “300” survive, however, is likely to be much too high. It is extremely unlikely that even 200 exist in the present, maybe 150 at most. In February 2015, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded Good-06 grade 1856-S for $340.75.

The 1858-S and the 1859-S are much more famous than the 1856-S, partly because these are conditionally rarer than the 1856-S in choice uncirculated (‘MS’) grades. In Fine-12 grade, an 1858-S and an 1859-S could probably be bought for less than $500 each.

In January 2017, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-graded Fine-15 1858-S for $446.50. Later that same month, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded Fine-12 1859-S for $429.

Concluding Remarks

The 1845-O is an anomaly. It is not difficult to find an 1845-O in Good-04 to VG-10 grades. In grades above AU-55, however, it is an extreme condition rarity. An 1845-O that fairly grades in the Very Good range could certainly be acquired for less than $500.

1845-O VF30 DimeAmong pre-1860 Liberty Seated dimes, the 1846 is the key date. I’ve already devoted a whole article to this date. A fairly gradable 1846 could certainly be found and purchased for less than $500, though some time and effort may be required. The current retail value for a Good-06 1846 could be less than $500. A Good-04 grade 1846 might even be found and acquired for less than $400.

The 1846, the 1845-O and the semi-keys mentioned already are the only stumbling blocks. A set may be truly completed of 1838 to 1860 dimes, with the legend on the reverse, without spending as much as $500 on any one coin. Moreover, this project can be completed with certified coins that are gradable in the views of specialists, with the vast majority of the coins fairly grading from VF-25 to AU-50 or higher. A really pleasing set of naturally toned coins, without severe imperfections, is practical.

Most Liberty Seated dimes that are PCGS- or NGC-certified as grading in the Fine-15 to EF-45 range are acceptable and desirable. It is unlikely that especially talented coin doctors would spend much time with these.

The collecting strategy put forth here does not involve much risk and can be a great deal of fun. Besides, a truly complete set of a pre-Civil War series would be exciting to build and behold.

© 2017 Greg Reynolds

Insightful10@gmail.com

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Recent Articles in the Series on Classic U.S. Coins for Less Than $500 Each:

Liberty Seated Half Dimes | Three Cent Silvers | Barber Quarters | Set of Liberty Seated Types | Capped Bust Half Dimes | Capped Bust Quarters | Liberty Head Nickels | Barber Dimes | Proof Shield Nickels | Braided Hair Half Cents | Matron Head Large Cents | Classic Head Half Cents | Draped Bust Half Cents | Classic Head Large Cents | Gem Early Lincoln Cents | Indian Head Half Eagles | Two Cent Pieces | Three Cent Nickels | Indian Head Quarter Eagles | Copper-Nickel Indian Cents | Standing Liberty Quarters | Walking Liberty Half Dollars | Bust Half Dollars

 


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