Although the United States Congress approved a decimal system for its coinage in 1786, the linchpin denomination, the dime or disme, as it was named in the Coinage Act of 1792, was not minted until 1796. This first U.S. dime, known as the Draped Bust, was designed by mint engravers Robert Scot and John Eckstein, who took their Lady Liberty from a drawing by artist Gilbert Stuart. All silver coins of 1796, including half dimes, quarters, half dollars, and silver dollars, featured the same obverse and reverse.
When the coin was first struck, it didn’t include its denomination on either face (its size was supposed to be the clue). Instead, the coin’s obverse featured the Liberty bust surrounded by 15 stars, one for each state at the time. On the reverse was a rather scrawny eagle bearing a wreath—in 1798, a healthier-looking heraldic bird was substituted for the skinnier one.
Though the mintages of 1796 and 1797 were virtually the same, coins from the second year tend to be more prized by collectors. That’s because mint officials couldn’t quite make up their minds about how many stars to place on the coin’s obverse.
The confusion was caused when Tennessee was granted statehood midway through 1796; for the first run of 1797 coins, the number of stars on the dime was increased by one. But cooler heads quickly realized that this practice was not, as they say today, scalable, so the number of stars on the second batch of 1797 dimes was reduced to 13, the number of original U.S. states.
Another star anomaly occurred in 1804, when the number of stars on the coin’s reverse varied from 13 to 14. That combined with a low mintage of a little more than 8,000 coins makes 1804 dimes some of the rarest around.
Dime production halted in 1806 and again in 1808 before a new Capped Bust, designed by mint engraver John Reich was released in 1809. Based on the design Reich created for the half dollar in 1807, this new version of Liberty faced left instead of right and sported a cap with the word “LIBERTY” across its brim. In addition, "10C" was stamped on the bottom of the coin’s reverse, above which perched yet another version of a heraldic eagle.
As with the Draped Bust dimes, Capped Bust dimes were not always produced in consecutive years. Missing are coins from 1810, 1812-1813, and 1815-1819. Perhaps the most noteworthy...
The Capped Bust dime’s design was modified somewhat in 1828, mostly due to the introduction of new equipment and mechanical procedures at the mint. And the dime’s design was replaced entirely in 1837 by Christian Gobrecht’s Liberty Seated dime, which was minted until 1891.
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