Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, markets, and coin collecting #371
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds …..
It is not practical to cover all dime patterns in one discussion. The topic here is Liberty Head, “Standard Silver” dime patterns that cost less than $5,000 each. These are dated 1869 and 1870.
Liberty Head, Standard Silver dime patterns were struck in silver, copper and aluminum. The designs are attractive, and most of the surviving silver pieces have naturally toned in pleasing ways.
Though not coins, patterns should not be left only to collectors of patterns. Indeed, many patterns circulated, and patterns tend to be very similar to coins. It makes cultural and logical sense for collectors of Liberty Seated dimes by date, Barber dimes, and dimes by design type, to add patterns of dimes to their respective collections. Such patterns are part of the history of coin collecting and played important roles in the 19th-century saga of the Philadelphia Mint.
When defined broadly, the field of patterns encompasses a wide range of items, including but not limited to: die trials, pieces struck in experimental alloys or alternate metals, concept pieces for new denominations, promotional pieces for upcoming coin series, certain kinds of restrikes and many fantasies made for collectors.
Liberty Head, Standard Silver dimes are patterns as narrowly defined. They are representatives of serious proposals for coinage, or of practical and viable alternatives to coins that were produced for commerce. It is plausible or at least logical that one of these Standard Silver designs could have replaced the Liberty Seated designs for U.S. silver coinage.
“Standard Silver” patterns of half dimes, dimes, quarters and half dollars are dated 1869 and 1870. These two words, “Standard Silver,” appear as part of the reverse designs and constitute a name rather than a description of a silver alloy.
One leading consideration for a new ‘silver standard’ was the idea of again lowering the specified weights of dimes, quarters and half dollars, because U.S. silver coins were hoarded to a tremendous extent during the 1860s. When the silver content of silver coins is reduced, there is a less of an incentive for consumers to hoard them and less of an incentive to use them for speculation in silver bullion.
The connection between proposals to reduce the weights of U.S. silver coins and ‘Standard Silver’ patterns is not clear, though it does seem logical. Unfortunately, as leading researcher R. W. Julian points out, there is “very little in the U.S. Archives about ‘Standard Silver’ patterns.”
Previously, U.S. silver coins were hoarded or traded as bullion to a large extent from 1848 to 1853, as I explained in my article on the 1853-O ‘No Arrows’ Liberty Seated half dollar. On February 21, 1853, a law was passed that reduced the specified weights of all U.S. silver coins being minted (except silver dollars and trimes). After this law went into effect, there was less hoarding and silver coins circulated to a greater extent. There was not a change in alloy in 1853 for dimes, quarters, and half dollars.
From 1837 to 1964, all U.S. dimes were specified to be of an alloy of 90% silver and 10% copper. Other than the remote possibility of aluminum being used, alternate metals were not seriously considered for dimes.
It is likely that, circa 1869, some U.S. Mint officials were preparing for the possibility that weights of current silver coins would be reduced by law in a manner that was similar to the reductions effected in 1853. Ironically, in 1873, there was a very slight increase in the specified weights of U.S. silver coins, mostly for the odd purpose of using the metric system to specify weights of coins.
The idea of nickel being used in an alloy for ten cent pieces may have been a serious consideration during the 1860s. If ten cent pieces with significant nickel content had been minted for circulation during the 19th century, these would not then have been considered dimes. From 1965 to the present, however, dimes have had significant nickel content, and, besides some pieces made for collectors, contemporary dimes do not contain any silver.
Although Standard Silver pieces served primarily as patterns for proposed silver coin types, there were strikings from the same dies in aluminum and in copper. The nature and meaning of the aluminum pieces are unclear in the present. For many years, there may have been thoughts that coins of silver denominations could be effectively replaced with aluminum coins, as a wide variety of patterns in aluminum were produced at the Philadelphia Mint from the 1860s to the 1880s.
The dime patterns in copper were probably made to test the dies and/or to save money by not using more silver. It was much less expensive to use copper. Some patterns were provided for free to politically influential people. Someone who receives a dime pattern in copper could imagine the appearance of the same design in silver.
Many employees of the Philadelphia Mint, especially designers and engravers, did not wish for the same coinage designs to be employed for decades. New coin designs were exciting. Even if new design proposals were not approved by Congress or the Treasury Secretary, the proposals themselves were interesting and enjoyable to contemplate. During the 1860s and ’70s, a wide variety and a substantial quantity of patterns were sold to or given to collectors and other influential people, presumably including political insiders.
While many patterns embodied serious proposals for alternate designs or alloys, some pieces were created for collectors. My belief is that the Liberty Head, Standard Silver designs were serious proposals for a line of silver coinage. Even after the “Standard Silver” concept faded, the Liberty Head obverse designs on the Standard Silver pieces were certainly appropriate since many design types of regular issue U.S. coins that featured a female Liberty Head on the obverse.
The three types of Liberty Head, Standard Silver obverse designs are Liberty Cap, Liberty with Headband & Visor, and Liberty with Ornamented Forehead. Some researchers refer to the Liberty Cap design as the “Liberty with Three Stars,” or just as ‘three stars’, but it’s really the cap that is especially distinctive. The ribbons in this design are noteworthy, too.
For dime patterns, there are two different ‘Standard Silver’ reverse designs. On the ‘Small Wreath‘ variety, the date is below the wreath. On the ‘Large Wreath‘ variety, the date is within the wreath. All Large Wreath variety, ‘Standard Silver’ dime patterns are dated 1870. So, as only the Small Wreath, with date below, reverse design was employed for “Standard Silver” dime patterns in 1869, there is no need to mention ‘Small Wreath’ when referring to 1869 “Standard Silver” patterns.
CoinWeek Video Preview of the Simpson Standard Silver Patterns
It is realistic to collect many varieties, including Large Wreath and Small Wreath varieties, for less than $5000 each, though there is not a compelling reason to do so. I suggest assembling a type set of nine Liberty Head, Standard Silver dime patterns.
- Liberty Cap, struck in silver
- Liberty Cap, struck in copper
- Liberty Cap, struck in aluminum
- Liberty with Visor, struck in silver
- Liberty with Visor, struck in copper
- Liberty with Visor, struck in aluminum
- Liberty with Ornamented Forehead, silver
- Liberty with Ornamented Forehead, copper
- Liberty with Ornamented Forehead, aluminum
Interestingly, half eagle patterns dated 1861 feature a Liberty Cap female that is very similar to that on 1869-70 Liberty Cap, ‘Standard Silver’ patterns. Dime patterns are usually much less expensive than gold denomination patterns.
It is not difficult to acquire 1869 or 1870 Liberty Cap, Standard Silver, Small Wreath dime patterns for less than $5,000 each. Most of them sell for less than $2,750.
On April 24, 2015, Heritage sold two 1869 Liberty Cap dime patterns, both of which were struck in silver. An NGC-certified Proof-66 piece brought $1,762.50 and a PCGS-certified Proof-63 piece, with a CAC sticker, went for $1,292.50.
In October 2016, Heritage auctioned an 1870 Liberty Cap in silver, with a reeded edge, for $1,645. This pattern was PCGS-certified as Proof-64.
The Clapp-Eliasberg 1870 Liberty Cap, Large Wreath, in silver, with a plain edge, is NGC-certified as Proof-66 and CAC-approved. Stack’s-Bowers has auctioned this piece on multiple occasions, the last of which was in March 2012 for $3,450.
In August 2014, the Goldbergs auctioned an 1869 Standard Silver dime pattern in copper that was, according to experts at NGC, ‘double-struck with obverse rotation’. It was certified as a ‘Proof-64 Brown … Mint Error’. The $1,880 result does not reveal a premium for the ‘error’ aspect. Generally, 1869 Liberty Cap, Standard Silver dimes in copper are seldom offered.
The 1870 dime patterns of this same design in copper are extremely rare, too. Sightings of these, anywhere, are very infrequent. In March 2011, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an 1870 Liberty Cap, Standard Silver, Small Wreath, in copper, with a reeded edge, for $2,932.50. It was PCGS-certified as ‘Proof-65 Red & Brown’.
Back in 2010, Heritage auctioned an 1870 dime pattern in copper of this same design, though with a plain edge, for $4,600. It was PCGS-certified as ‘Proof-65 Brown’.
There are many patterns for which both reeded edge and plain edge varieties exist. In my view, such edge aspects are usually inconsequential, as these are patterns, anyway. Some collectors disagree and reflect upon both edge varieties of patterns of the same design in the same alloy. A few collectors will pay premiums for rarer edge varieties.
As for the 1869 Liberty Cap, Standard Silver dimes in aluminum, these appear rarely, though there does not seem to be that much interest in them at present. Even so, a 60- to 64-grade piece should cost less than $5,000 if offered in 2017, perhaps even less than $3,500.
The 1870 Liberty Cap, Standard Silver, Small Wreath, dime patterns in aluminum are about as rare as their sisters born in 1869. In April 2014, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-66 Cameo’ 1870, with a CAC sticker, for $4,993.75.
In September 2016, Heritage auctioned an NGC-certified Proof-66 1870 Liberty Cap, Large Wreath dime pattern in silver, for $2,585. In March 2011, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an 1870 of the same design, but with a plain edge, for $3,024.50. That piece was PCGS-certified as ‘Proof-66 Cameo.’
In June 2016, Heritage auctioned a reeded edge 1870 ‘Large Wreath’ piece in copper for $4,477.93. That Liberty Cap, Standard Silver dime pattern was PCGS-certified as ‘Proof-65 Red & Brown’.
The Liberty Cap, Large Wreath, dimes in aluminum are extremely elusive, too. It is here noted again that all Liberty Head, ‘Standard Silver’ Large Wreath patterns are dated 1870.
Heritage has auctioned the same PCGS-certified Proof-62 1870 in aluminum on four occasions: in August 2008 for $2,990, in June 2014 for $2,467.50, in October 2014 for $1880, and in February 2015 for $1,821.25.
In August 2015, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a Liberty Cap, Large Wreath in aluminum, for $2,820. This 1870 dime pattern is PCGS-certified as Proof-65 and CAC-approved. In June 2015, Heritage sold a PCGS-certified Proof-64 piece of this same variety for $1,762.50.
In sum, assembling a set of Liberty Cap, Standard Silver dime patterns in all three metals would not be very difficult. If Small Wreath varieties of both dates are sought in each metal, along with three 1870 ‘Large Wreath’ pieces, then it could take a decade or longer to complete a set, without consideration of edge varieties.
Liberty Head with Headband and Visor
The Liberty with headband and visor, Standard Silver designs are especially attractive. These are not as rare as the Liberty Cap, Standard Silver pieces. Finding them for less than $2,350 each should not be difficult, though weeks of waiting may be required.
In August 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified Proof-66 1869 for $1,840. It had a CAC sticker. In September 2016, a PCGS-certified Proof-66 1869, without a CAC sticker, brought $1,645. In April 2015, Heritage auctioned an NGC-certified Proof-66 1869, with a CAC sticker, for this same price, $1,645. The three pieces mentioned here were each struck in silver with a reeded edge.
In March 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified Proof-65 1869 silver,with a plain edge, for $1,782.50. It has a CAC sticker. In general, Standard Silver patterns struck silver tend to tone really neat shades of green.
In October 2016, Heritage sold a PCGS-certified Proof-64 1869 piece for $1,292.50. It was encapsulated in its holder by PCGS during the 1980s.
During 2016, Heritage sold two 1870 Liberty with Visor, Small Wreath dime patterns in silver, each with a reeded edge. The NGC-certified Proof-62 piece brought more in October, $1,292.50, than the PCGS-certified Proof-63 piece realized in June, $1,175.
The 1869 and 1870 Liberty with Visor, Standard Silver, Small Wreath dime patterns in copper are available from time to time. In January 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-65 Red & Brown’ 1869 copper piece for $2,026.88. In June 2014, in Baltimore, an NGC-certified ‘Proof-65 Brown’ 1869 of this same variety went for $2,115. It had a CAC sticker.
The 1870 Liberty with Visor, Standard Silver, Small Wreath dime patterns in copper appear on occasion. In August 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-64+ Brown’ piece, with a CAC sticker, for $2,643.75. A ‘Large Wreath’ piece in copper would most likely cost less than $3,000, though it might be necessary to wait months before one becomes available.
The 1869 Liberty with Visor, Standard Silver dimes in aluminum are often overlooked. They are neat and particularly rare. In June 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-65 Deep Cameo’ piece for $3,525. The exact same piece was auctioned by Heritage in 2012. Not many others have appeared over the past 15 years.
It might be difficult to acquire an 1870 Liberty with Visor, Small Wreath dime pattern in aluminum for less than $5,000. An 1870 Liberty with Visor, Large Wreath dime pattern in aluminum are extremely rare, too, though one could probably be purchased for less than $5,000 at some point.
In June 2015, the Goldbergs auctioned a PCGS-certified Proof-64 ‘Large Wreath’ in aluminum for $3,525. In June 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-66 Cameo’ piece, with a CAC sticker, for $4,406.25.
Liberty with Visor, Large Wreath type, dime patterns in silver and in copper may be found for less than $3,000 each. Numerous silver pieces have been offered over the past half-dozen years.
Liberty Head with Ornamented Forehead
The large and prominent ornament on Miss Liberty’s forehead makes this design distinctive and clearly different from the Liberty with Visor obverse. Silver pieces of this design tend to cost less than $2,500 each.
In January 2016, Heritage auctioned an 1869 Ornamented Forehead, Standard Silver dime pattern for $1,880. It was PCGS-certified as Proof-64 and CAC-approved. In July 2015, Heritage sold a PCGS-certified Proof-65 piece for $1,645.
As for 1869 Ornamented Forehead, Standard Silver dimes in copper, one with a reeded edge sold for $2,585 in the FUN auction of January 2016. It was PCGS-certified ‘Proof-65 Red & Brown,’ and CAC-approved. In August 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a plain edge, ‘Proof-64 Red & Brown’ piece for $2,760.
In May 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an Ornamented Forehead, Standard Silver dime 1869 pattern in aluminum, for $3,466.25. It was PCGS-certified as Proof-64 during the 1980s. In February 2015, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned this exact same piece again. It then brought $2,467.50 and was said to be “From the Collection of Dr. Paul Harwell.”
The 1870 Ornamented Forehead, Small Wreath dime patterns in silver are easy to acquire for less than $5,000 each. Quite a few attractive pieces have sold in recent years. The pieces of this design in copper are much rarer than their silver counterparts. With some patience, though, one can be acquired for less than $5,000 – maybe even for less than $2,750.
The 1870 Ornamented Forehead, Small Wreath dime patterns in copper and in aluminum are a whole different matter. In copper, maybe four to nine exist in total.
In April 2013, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-65 Red & Brown’ 1870, with a CAC sticker, for $2,585. Heritage auctioned the exact same piece for $2,945.73 in October 2012, and for $5,175 in August 2007. In April 2012, a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-64-Brown’ piece brought $2,760.
The 1870 Ornamented Forehead, Large Wreath dime patterns in silver are relatively plentiful. One could be acquired for less than $2,500, probably even for less than $1,500.
In copper, these Large Wreath pieces are much rarer than they are in silver, though they are around. There is a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-65 Brown’ piece, with a CAC sticker, that has sold for less than $3,000 on multiple occasions. I cannot predict when it will appear again. It might be very difficult to acquire an Ornamented Forehead, Large Wreath in copper.
Finding one in aluminum may be a little less difficult. Heritage has auctioned three different over the last seven years. A PCGS-certified Proof-65 aluminum 1870 Large Wreath dime pattern, with a CAC sticker, realized $3,819 in August 2013 and $3,525 in April 2014.
While some of the varieties are extraordinarily rare, the already suggested type set of nine pieces is a practical objective, challenging though realistic. Such a type set could probably be completed within six years, maybe within three years, without spending as much as $5,000 on any one pattern.
As more famous patterns, like Washlady or Morgan dimes, receive so much more attention, Liberty Head, Standard Silver dime patterns are not often discussed. They are attractive, neat, historically important, logical and suitably artistic.
© 2017 Greg Reynolds
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