U.S. Coins Photos & History

UNITED STATES HALF CENTS
(1793-1857)

The United States minted Half Cents intermittently between 1793 and 1857.  While this unusual denomination might seem useless today, it was an important part of our monetary system back when working wages were $1 per 10-hour day.

The images at right show the five major design types that appeared on U.S. Half Cents, plus a Half Cent token issued privately in 1837.

The Liberty Cap Half Cent came in two different versions: the Head Left (issued in 1793 only) and the Head Right (issued from 1794 to 1797).  The 1793 Half Cent is a scarce date and was one of the very first coins issued by the U.S. Mint.  The rarest date in the Liberty Cap series is the 1796.

No Half Cents were issued in 1799.

The Draped Bust design appeared from 1800 to 1808, but no Half Cents were struck in 1801.  The rarest date of this design type is the 1802, all of which were struck on cut-down Large Cents.

The Capped Bust design appeared on Half Cents beginning in 1809 and ran through 1836.  No Half Cents were issued between 1812 and 1824, mostly because demand for the denomination was low and the Mint had difficulty obtaining planchets.  In 1825, Half Cent coinage resumed, with breaks in 1827 and 1829.  Rare dates of this type include 1831 and 1836, both issued only as Proofs.

No Half Cents were issued by the U.S. government between 1837 and 1839, but a privately issued token appeared in 1837 to fill the void.  This token claimed to be of the same weight and value as a U.S. Half Cent and used images and styles similar to those on actual U.S. coins of the period.

The final Half Cent design type, the Braided Hair, first appeared in 1840 and ran through 1857.  Rare dates of this type include the Proof-only issues of 1840-1848 and 1852.

In 1857, the Half Cent denomination was discontinued forever.

1793 Half Cent Obverse   1793 Half Cent Reverse
Liberty Cap Half Cent - Head Left (1793 only)

  
Liberty Cap Half Cent - Head Right (1794-1797)

Draped Bust Half Cent Obverse   Draped Bust Half Cent Reverse
Draped Bust Half Cent (1800-1808)

1833 Half Cent Obverse   1833 Half Cent Reverse
Capped Bust Half Cent (1809-1836)

1857 Half Cent Obverse   1857 Half Cent Reverse
Braided Hair Half Cent (1840-1857)
 

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UNITED STATES LARGE CENTS
(1793-1857)

One of the first coins struck at the U.S. Mint was the Large Cent.  This large, clunky copper coin was struck from 1793 to 1857, inclusive, with the exception of 1815, when a fire forced the closing of the Mint.

Three design types appeared in 1793, each an attempted improvement over the previous. 

The first design, known as the 1793 "Chain" Cent, features a low-relief head of Liberty with fine, flowing locks of hair.  The reverse shows a chain of fifteen links, connected in a never-ending loop.  Initial reaction to the coins was quite negative: Liberty appeared to be in a fright and the chain was seen by many as representing bondage and slavery as opposed to strength and union.

As a result, Liberty's hair was strengthened and the chain was replaced with a wreath.  Known as the 1793 "Wreath" Cent, this design fared little better than its predecessor and was soon replaced.

The "Liberty Cap" design turned out to be a little more enduring.  Minted from 1794 to 1796, this design type is full of interesting varieties, many of them rare.  In 1795, the weight of the Large Cent was reduced and the edge lettering was replaced with a plain edge.  Some of the 1797 Large Cents have a curious "Gripped Edge."

In 1796, the "Draped Bust" design appeared.  This type was minted until 1807.  Rare dates in this type include the elusive 1799 and the popular 1804.

The "Classic Head" Large Cent ran from 1808 to 1814.  Although none of the dates are rare, they are hard to find in nice condition.

The "Matron Head" design appeared in 1816 and lasted until 1839.  Scarce dates include 1821 and 1823.  Known as "Middle Dates", this series contains many interesting varieties that are of great interest to a large number of collectors.  Certain rare varieties can be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars.

The final design type is the "Braided Hair" type of 1840 to 1857.  The last year is both scarce as a date and popular as the last year of the denomination.

In 1857, the Large Cent was replaced by the new Small Cent, a much more manageable (but less impressive) coin.

1793 Chain Cent Obverse  1793 Chain Cent Reverse
1793 Flowing Hair, Chain Reverse Large Cents
 

 

Obverse of 1793 Wreath Cent  Reverse of 1793 Wreath Cent
1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath Reverse

Obverse of 1794 Liberty Cap Large Cent  Reverse of 1794 Liberty Cap Large Cent
Liberty With Cap Type Large Cents (1793-1796)

 
Draped Bust Large Cents (1796-1807)

 Obverse of 1810 Classic Head Large Cent  Reverse of 1810 Classic Head Large Cent
Classic Head Large Cents (1808-1814)

Obverse of 1821 Matron Head Large Cent  Reverse of 1821 Matron Head Large Cent
Matron Head Large Cents (1816-1839)

1852 Large Cent Obverse  1852 Large Cent Reverse
Braided Hair Large Cents (1839-1857)
 

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Obverse of Flying Eagle Cent   Reverse of Flying Eagle Cent
Flying Eagle Type (1856-1858) 

Obverse of Indian Head Cent  Reverse of Indian Head Cent
Indian Head Type (1859-1909)

1955 Doubled Die Cent Obverse   1955 Doubled Die Cent Reverse 
Lincoln Head - Wheat Reverse (1909-1958)

UNITED STATES SMALL CENTS
(1856-DATE)

The first Small Cents, the Flying Eagle issue dated 1856, was actually made at Snowden’s direction without congressional approval. Although to this day no one has ever complained, technically this is an unauthorized issue falling under the same jurisdiction with the Secret Service as does the 1804 silver dollar, 1913 Liberty Head nickel and the 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagle. Of these non-authorized issues only the double eagle coin has ever been confiscated. The Flying Eagle cent of 1856 is considered to be a pattern. The general issue coins of the same design are those of 1857 and 1858. The Christian Gobrecht design for the Flying Eagle appearing on the reverse of the Gobrecht dollar was used as the obverse for the cent. The reverse wreath by James B. Longacre was borrowed from the gold dollar and $3 coins already in circulation.

No one really knows why the Flying Eagle design was so short lived, but the reason may be that it was so difficult to fully strike the design. The tail feathers are typically weak, even on Mint State specimens.

The Flying Eagle cent was followed by a one-year type Indian Head cent without a shield at the top of the closed laurel wreath on the reverse in 1859 and the design including the shield on the reverse above the open oak wreath between 1860 and 1909. Longacre designed this coin entirely. The Indian Head cents of 1859 to 1864 are comprised of the same 4.67 grams of 88 percent copper and 12 percent nickel as the Flying Eagle cent.

The Small Cent began to resemble what we find in our pockets today during 1864 when the metal composition was changed to 95 percent copper, five percent tin and zinc with a reduced weight of 3.11 grams. The diameter remained at 19 millimeters. There are some interesting coins in this series. Longacre’s initial “L” appears in the ribbon on the obverse of some of the later bronze composition 1864 cents, but was removed on later strikes. There is an important doubled die coin in 1873, 1877 is a scarce coin with a very low mintage and in 1908 the San Francisco Mint struck the 1-cent denomination for the first time (all 1-cent denomination coins were struck at Philadelphia until 1908; in 1911, the Denver Mint struck the cent denomination for the first time).

Although the Indian Head cent design proved to be popular, during 1909 it was announced the design would be changed mid-year in favor of a portrait of Abraham Lincoln designed by Victor D. Brenner to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. Longacre had received criticism for the display of his initial on the Indian Head cent of 1864. Now Brenner received the same criticism for his initials VDB appearing on the 1909 cent. The year 1909, as a result, has six major 1-cent coin types and varieties to collect. There is an Indian Head cent, a Lincoln cent with initials and another without; all struck at both Philadelphia without a Mint mark and at San Francisco with a Mint mark.

The new Lincoln cent obverse was destined to become the most consistent design in American coin history. It is still in use today and appears to be destined for continuous use at least through the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. Legislation is now being considered (in early 2000) for a special commemorative Cent to mark the anniversary. Regarding Brenner’s initials, they were removed from the Cent beginning in 1910, however the initials were restored without fanfare below the truncation on the obverse beginning in 1918 and have appeared on the coin ever since.

The Lincoln/Wheat ears Cent of 1909 to 1958 includes some interesting rarities. The classics are the very low mintage 1914-D, the over-polished die resulting in the 1922-D without Mint mark issue, low mintage 1931-S and the classic error 1955 doubled die coin. The Lincoln cent was introduced to the same metal specifications as the Indian Head cent of 1864 to 1909. The metal content was changed to a 2.7 gram, zinc-coated steel coin in 1943 due to a shortage of other metals during World War II. This became a one-year variety as the metal proved to be unpopular with the public. People claimed to confuse the 1943 cent with the dime. A numismatic writer said the steel cents were eventually dumped into the ocean where they poisoned the fish. There are some rare off-metal strikes of the 1943 cent caused by copper blanks left in the coining hopper from the year before. Beware of 1943 coins sprayed with copper or altered 1948 cents. Between 1944 and 1946 the cent was made from spent ammunition cartridge cases. The weight of the coin is 3.11 grams with a composition of 95 percent copper and five percent zinc. The 95 percent copper, five percent tin and zinc composition of earlier issues was resumed in 1947.

In 1959 the reverse of the Lincoln cent was changed to that of the Lincoln Memorial to mark the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. The new reverse design is by Frank Gasparro. Rumors circulated of a wheat ear reverse cent of 1959, but no genuine mule specimen has ever been encountered. The Lincoln Memorial reverse made the Lincoln cent the first US coin on which the same person appears on both sides. A statue of Lincoln can be seen within the memorial. Since that time the 1999 New Jersey quarter dollar has been issued with George Washington appearing on both sides (Washington stands in the boat going across the Delaware River on the reverse). Beginning in mid 1962, the composition of the Cent was altered to 95 percent copper and five percent zinc as a cost saving measure. Die modifications followed in 1969, 1973 and 1974. The diameter has never been altered since the Small Cent was introduced. There are some interesting major varieties within the Lincoln Memorial reverse series, but the scarcest is the 1995 doubled die caused by a rotation of the pivot.

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1869 Two Cent Piece Obverse  1869 Two Cent Piece Reverse
Two Cents (1864-1873)
 

UNITED STATES TWO CENTS
(1864-1873)

The United States Two Cents is an unusual denomination that first appeared in 1864, during a period of coin shortages caused by the Civil War. Attempts to introduce the Two Cents denomination occurred in 1806 and 1836, but both efforts failed due to technical considerations. In 1863, Mint officials revived the idea of a Two Cents Coin simultaneous with their plans to reduce the weight and metal content of the bulky, Copper-Nickel Indian Head Cent. Apparently, the Mint noticed the success of the privately issued Civil War tokens of One Cent size (on thinner, pure copper planchets) and realized that the public was now ready to accept what were essentially underweight coppers. In 1864, the Mint effectively destroyed the market for Civil War tokens by issuing almost forty million Indian Cents on copper planchets and nearly twenty million of the new Two Cents (at exactly double the weight of the One Cent coins).

The obverse of the Two Cents denomination features a shield with a pair of arrows crossed behind, dangles of leaves and berries on both sides, a scroll with "IN GOD WE TRUST" above, and the date below. The reverse shows the denomination "2 CENTS" within a wreath, all surrounded by the legend "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA".

Two Cents were issued from 1864 to 1873 and mintages declined steadily each year. Proof examples are known of all years.

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1852 Three Cents - Silver Obverse   1852 Three Cents - Silver Reverse
Three Cents - Silver (1851-1873)
1885 Three Cents Nickel Obverse   1885 Three Cents Nickel Reverse
Three Cents - Nickel (1865-1889)
UNITED STATES THREE CENTS
(1851-1889)

The United States Three Cents is an unusual denomination that first appeared in 1851, although pattern coins for the denomination were produced in 1849 and 1850. The original purpose of the Three Cents coins to provide an intermediate denomination between the Cent and Half Dime, making it easier to change some of the odd foreign coins that were legal tender in America at that time. In 1851, postal rates were dropped from five to three cents. While three Large Cents could have been used to purchase a postage stamp, the bulky copper coins were expensive to produce. Thus, a coin of three cents value had two purposes, enough to get the denomination started in 1851.

The images at right show the two major design types that appeared on U.S. Three Cents.

The first Three Cents were made of a low-grade silver. These tiny coins were known officially as "Trimes" and unofficially as "fish scales." They were the first circulating U.S. coin without a depiction of Miss Liberty in some form or other. In 1854, the percentage of silver in the coins was increased to 90%, to match that of the other silver coins in production at the time.

Three sub-types exist of the silver Three Cents. Type 1, issued from 1851 to 1853, shows the obverse star with a single outline. After 1853, the weight of the Three Cents coin was reduced. To indicate this change, two extra outlines were added to the star, resulting in the Type 2 version that lasted until 1858. In 1859, one of the extra outlines was dropped, creating the third and final sub-type, the Type 3 version.

Most dates in the silver Three-Cents series are common, although mintages of most dates from 1863 to 1873 are very low. In 1873, only Proof examples were struck. All silver Three Cents were struck at the Philadelphia Mint with the exception of the 1851-O Trime. Interesting varieties in the series include:

1851, the second 1 over an inverted 2
1862, 2 over 1
1863, 3 over 2
1869, 9 over 8

In 1865, a "Nickel" Three Cents was introduced (the predominant metal in the coin was actually copper, but because the color was more whitish than brown, "nickel" was considered a better descriptor). These were minted side-by-side with the silver versions until 1873, when the silver type was discontinued. The nickel versions were minted until 1889, when the entire denomination was discontinued.

Several of the Nickel Three Cents were struck only as Proofs (1877, 1878, and 1886); other dates (such as 1884 and 1885) are represented by very few circulation strikes. Interesting varieties include:

1873 Open 3
1873 Closed 3
1887/6 Overdate

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1794 Flowing Hair Half Dime Obverse   1794 Flowing Hair Half Dime Reverse
Flowing Hair Type (1794-1795)
1800 Draped Bust Half Dime Obverse   1800 Draped Bust Half Dime Reverse
Draped Bust Type (1796-1805)
  
Capped Bust Type (1829-1837)
  
Seated Liberty Type (1837-1873)

UNITED STATES HALF DIMES OR FIVE-CENTS SILVER
(1794-1873)

 

It may be long forgotten by the general public, but the United States coinage system commenced with a silver 5-cent coin rather than that of nickel composition in use today.

The half dime was one of the original denominations introduced almost as soon as the United States coinage system began. The half disme of 1792 was a pattern designed by Thomas Birch. Birch is also remembered for his experimental Birch Cent, a coin perhaps better identified with Birch because it bears his name.

An examination of the obverse designs of the Birch cent and half disme shows the similarities in iconography, although the personification of Liberty faces left on the half disme and right on the cent.1

The design adopted for the denomination introduced more formerly in 1794 is similar to that of other contemporary silver coin denominations.

The half dime denomination was authorized April 2, 1792, by Congress, making it one of the initial denominations authorized for currency in the United States. The 1792 pattern issue is also known as the Martha Washington half disme. According to some sources, it may be Martha Washington, the wife of our first president, who was the model for the Birch 1792 half disme.2

It is generally accepted that U.S. coinage began in 1793, with the half dime denomination being produced beginning in the following year. There is, however, some evidence the 1792 half disme was meant to be the first regular issue U.S. circulation coin.

In the annual address given by Washington on Nov. 6, 1792, the president included the statement, "There has been a small beginning in the coinage of half dimes, the want of small coins in circulation calling the first attention to them."3

According to an entry for Lot No. 550 in the Feb. 8-10, 1999 Superior Stamp and Coin auction catalog, "The majority of today’s collectors would tend to assign it [1792 half disme] to the regular issue pieces and for that reason any 1792 half disme draws lots of bidding attention."

The denomination was traditionally accepted to begin for circulation purposes in 1794 although the Superior comments may be evidence of a change in tastes to the contrary. The Flowing Hair style coin designed by Robert Scot rather than the design initiated by Birch appears on the new denomination. The Scot design was deliberately used on all silver denominations of the time in an attempt to standardize their appearance. This concept of identical designs for identical metal composition coins was used throughout most of the 19th century on circulation American coins.4

The bust of the personification of Liberty faces right on the obverse with hair flowing. There are eight stars behind her and seven to her right. The "small" eagle, a rather malnourished appearing bird, is shown to be perched on a cloud on the reverse.5

The Flowing Hair design was only struck in 1794 and 1795. The reasoning behind why the design was changed so quickly to that of the Draped Bust, Small Eagle (also by Scot) beginning in 1796 appears to have been lost. Breen observes in his Encyclopedia that "for uncertain reasons, the Birch design used on the 1792 Half Disme was abandoned in favor of the Flowing Hair design found on the dollar, half dollar, and copper coins of 1794."

The design used on the half dime coins of 1796 and 1797 followed suggestions made by artist Gilbert Stuart, the man whose painting of Washington is the model for the vignette on the current dollar bill.6

The Draped Bust, Small Eagle design also proved to be a two-year type design. The Small Eagle reverse was continued in 1797, then no half dime denomination coins were struck again until 1800. When production of the coin resumed the denomination was still produced of .8924 fine silver with a weight of 20.8 grains, however the Great Seal of the United States (better known to collectors as the Large Eagle) was now used for the reverse design. This time the denomination was struck annually through 1805. Production then ceased until 1829.7

The 1802 Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle half dime is one of the classic rarities in the U.S. coinage series. Mint records indicate 13,010 pieces were struck, however these may be fiscal rather than calendar year records. Far fewer specimens, perhaps 16, are known today. The detailed pedigree history of the 16 known specimens known through 1980 appears in The History of United States Coinage as Illustrated by the Garrett Collection by Q. David Bowers.

The William Kneass design adopted from a design by Robert Reich introduced on the 1829 half dime is known as the Capped Bust design. The denomination appears on the coin for the first time, being expressed in abbreviated form as five cents.

According to Breen, the appearance of the denomination on the coin put the by now antiquated term "half disme" to rest in favor of 5-cent coin or half dime.8

An eagle with a shield appears on the reverse beginning in 1829. The design was continued through 1837, then replaced with the Christian Gobrecht design of Seated Liberty with the denomination expressed with the words "half dime" appearing on the reverse for the first time during that year.9

Both the Capped Bust and Seated Liberty designs were used for half dimes struck during 1837. The Act of Jan. 18, 1837 authorized the new Seated Liberty design and also authorized a coin of the slightly lower weight of 20.625 grains struck of .900 fine silver. The diameter remained at 15.5 millimeters.10

Stars and drapery were added to the design elements beginning in 1840, however this was not an indication of any further changes in weight or metal purity for the half dime. The Seated Liberty design would continue with some further minor design modifications through the end of the production of the denomination in favor of the nickel composition 5-cent coin of today in 1873. The nickel composition coin was introduced and circulated simultaneously with the half dime beginning in 1866 following the end of the Civil War.

Beginning in 1838 for the first time the half dime was also struck at a U.S. branch Mint. Coins are available with an "O" Mint mark for the facility at New Orleans. The denomination was also struck at San Francisco beginning in 1863. Coins from this Mint carry the "S" Mint mark. Mint marks can be found either within or below the wreath on the reverse.11

Seated Liberty half dimes of 1853 to 1855 display arrow heads at the date to indicate the coins were struck of the reduced weight of 1.24 grams (or 19.2 grains. Earlier half dimes have a weight of 1.34 grams.) of .900 fine silver. The arrow heads were dropped as a design element beginning in 1856 although no further weight change took place in the denomination.

Collectors should be aware that the drop in the silver content weight of the coin caused the public to hoard the earlier issues. This was true of all silver content denomination coins for which the weight was reduced.12 As a result the Mint produced larger quantities of the coins with arrows at the date to replace the heavier coins quickly vanishing from circulation.

A mystery to which recent attention has been drawn is the discovery of a raised dot appearing below the date 1853 on some half dimes of this date with arrows. Several speculative reasons for the appearance of the dot have been given, but at the time this article is being written there are more questions than answers surrounding the dot.13

Mint Director James Ross Snowden’s plan to transfer the legend "United States of America" from the reverse to the obverse of the coin resulted in what may be the strangest coins in U.S. coinage history in 1859 and 1860, rare varieties on which the name of the country is not displayed at all due to the muling of specific obverse and reverse dies during this transition.

The Seated Liberty half dime design was modified several times, notably in 1856, 1859 and 1860, however the basic design type did not change again until the demise of the denomination at the hands of congressional legislation that revamped our coinage system in 1873.

Perhaps the greatest design change during this final period of the half dime is the so-called "Cereal Wreath" reverse change of 1860 in which Mint designer James B. Longacre made modifications to the wreath surrounding the denomination.14

Several things of importance should be noted about the later Seated Liberty half dimes. Proof coins began to be struck in significant numbers at Philadelphia beginning in 1860, often using the same dies as used to make business strikes.15

The New Orleans Mint, which began striking half dimes with Mint marks in 1838, ceased production of this denomination and all other U.S. coins quickly after hostilities began during the Civil War and this Mint facility fell into Confederate hands.

The San Francisco Mint facility began striking half dimes with an "S" Mint mark beginning in 1863. Half dimes between 1863 and 1870 all have low mintages.

The 1870-S Seated Liberty half dime, known from a single example, is one of the great mysteries of U.S. coinage. Six pair of obverse and reverse dies were shipped to the San Francisco Mint, according to Mint records, however this single coin is known today.

The year 1873, as alluded to earlier in this article, was the final year for the half dime. Congress moved to revamp the entire coinage system, doing away with several denominations while paving the way for the nickel composition 5-cents coin to replace the half dime once and for all.

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Shield (1866-1883)
  
Liberty (1883-1913)
  
Buffalo (1913-1938)
  
Jefferson (1938-Date)

UNITED STATES
FIVE-CENTS - NICKEL
(1866-DATE)


The coin known popularly as the “Nickel,” first appeared in 1866. The term “Nickel” refers to the main component of the alloy used to strike the coin and was meant to differentiate the new coin from another of the same denomination that circulated at the same time -- the Half Dime made of silver. Despite the fact that other coins were (and are still being) made primarily of Nickel, the term stuck in reference to the Five Cents piece

Today, everyone knows that a Nickel is worth Five Cents. On the other hand, if you asked most people in the general public to name the metal used to make a Nickel, they could not or they would come up with something other than the obvious answer!

Nickel is a very hard metal that created considerable problems for the coiners. Die life shortened as the dies broke and cracked against the stubborn metal. One result was that, in 1867, the coiner resisted making Proof “Nickels” for fear of breaking the dies (this resistance was later overcome). Eventually, adjustments were made and Nickel became and integral and important part of our coinage.

The first “Nickels” were the Shield Nickels minted from 1866 to 1883. Rarities in this series include the 1866 Proof and the 1867 “With Rays” Proofs. Numerous, interesting varieties exist, including 1879/8 and 1883/2 overdates. Only Proof versions of the Nickel were made in 1878 and 1879.

In 1883, the Liberty Nickel was introduced. The earliest versions were produced without the words “Five Cents” on the reverse. Enterprising individuals took advantage of this omission by gold-plating the coins, reeding the edges, and passing the coins off as some new $5 Half Eagle. The Mint quickly remedied the situation by adding “Five Cents” to the back of the coin later in 1883. Key dates in the “Liberty Nickel” series include the 1885, 1886, and 1912-S. A mere five 1913 Liberty Nickels are known, but these are believed to have been produced clandestinely at the Mint.

In 1913, the “Buffalo” or “Indian Head” Nickel was introduced. The purely American design featured the head of an Indian Chief on the obverse and an American bison on the reverse. The earliest versions had the words “FIVE CENTS” on a raised mound at the base of the reverse. Mint officials feared that the words would wear off the coin too easily, so the later versions of the 1913 Nickel have the words “Five Cents” in a recessed area. Key dates in the series include 1913-S Type 2, the 1914/3 overdate, the 1918/7-D overdate and the 1937-D “Three Legged.”

A new Nickel, designed by Felix Schlag, appeared in 1938. This was the third coin to feature an American president, Thomas Jefferson (coincidentally, the third American president). In 1943, demand for Nickel as a strategic metal in World War II, forced the Mint to return to a silver-based composition for the “Nickel,” an emergency measure that lasted through 1945. All of the dates in this series are easily obtained with the exception of the “S”-less Nickel produced in 1971.

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UNITED STATES TEN CENTS OR DIME
(1796-DATE)

 

Click on any the images or links at right to learn more about the different design types.

The first United States Dimes appeared in 1796 but gave no indication as to their face value!  The first type (Draped Bust) featured a buxom Miss Liberty with her long tresses neatly tied up in a bow.  The back of the coin showed a somewhat scrawny eagle with wings outstretched standing on a bed of clouds, all surrounded by a wreath.  In 1798, the reverse design changed and mimicked the Great Seal of the United States, thereafter showing  an eagle with outstretched wings and a shield on its breast, clouds and stars above.  This design lasted until 1807.

Any confusion as to the value of this denomination ceased in 1809, when "10 C" was added to the base of the reverse.  The new design showed Liberty facing left, with a Liberty cap on her head.  On the back of the coin, the eagle struck a more natural pose, but still bore a shield on its breast.  Production of this type was sporadic in the early years, but from 1820 to 1837 (when the design ended) every year is represented.

In 1837, the Seated Liberty design debuted.  Here, Liberty sits upon a rock wearing a long dress and holding a staff with a Liberty Cap perched atop.  Her other hand balances a shield.  The earliest versions bore no stars on the obverse...in 1840, thirteen stars were added to the front of the coin...in 1860, the legend "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" replaced the stars.  The back of the coin also went through some changes during its life.  The earliest versions showed the words "ONE DIME" within a plain wreath...in 1860, the wreath became larger and more ornate.  From 1853 to 1855 and again from 1873 to 1874, arrowheads were placed on either side of the date to indicate changes in the weights of the coins.  This design ended in 1891.

The Barber type (named after its designer, Charles Barber) appeared from 1892 to 1916.  This type boasts one of the classic American rarities, the 1894-S Dime.

The so-called "Mercury Head" type ran from 1916 to 1945.  The head is actually a depiction of Liberty wearing a cap with small wings at the ears, evocative of the god Mercury.  The reverse features a fasces (a battle ax surrounded by a bundle of staffs)...a design element later made infamous by the Fascists of Italy.

In 1946, the U.S. memorialized President Franklin Delano Roosevelt by creating a Dime in his honor, a design that has remained until today.  1964 was the last year in which 90% silver Dimes were produced...thereafter, Dimes were made of a "clad" composition consisting of alloys of Copper and Nickel over a pure copper center.

Obverse of 1796 Dime     Reverse of 1796 Dime
Draped Bust (1796-1807)

Obverse of Capped Bust Half Dime     Reverse of Capped Bust Half Dime
Capped Bust (1809-1837)

Seated Liberty Dime Obverse     Seated Liberty Dime Reverse
Seated Liberty (1837-1891)

    
Barber (1892-1916)

1938 Mercury Dime Obverse     1938 Mercury Dime Reverse
Mercury Head (1916-1945)


Roosevelt (1946-Date)

   

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