Part 3: Liberty Seated Dimes, 1837-1891
Andrew Jackson’s presidency (1829-1837) was controversial, to say the least, and his legacy is still being debated today. But his distrust of central banks and paper money led to renewed interest in the design of US coins. It was a time of great expansion of US influence, both in North America and globally, and some thought our coinage should reflect it.
New Coins for a New Era
Mint director Robert M. Patterson felt a design based on England’s Britannia would be appropriate, and Chief Engraver William Kneass began the initial sketches. But a stroke left Kneass unable to finish the project, so William Gobrecht was promoted from assistant to “Second” Engraver to compete the task.
A departure from previous closeup bust designs, the more modern neoclassical depiction on the coin’s obverse (face) showed Lady Liberty full-length, seated on a rock. She holds an upright staff with a “Liberty cap” at its top in her left hand. Her right hand supports a shield with the word “Liberty” on it that sits on the ground next to her. The early reverses had a laurel wreath surrounding the denomination, “One Dime.” The inscription “United States of America” enclosed the wreath along the coin’s perimeter.
The Seated Liberty design was used on most US silver coins from 1836 to 1891.
Mints That Made Liberty Seated Dimes
The Liberty Seated dime was originally made at the Philadelphia and New Orleans mints in 1837, overlapping the end of production of the Capped Bust dimes. Philadelphia coins had no mint mark and the New Orleans “O” mintmark appeared inside the wreath below the denomination. The New Orleans mint ceased production of dimes in 1861 with the start of the Civil War and didn’t resume making dimes until 1891, the last year of the Liberty Seated series.
The San Francisco mint began making Liberty Seated dimes in 1856 with a short run of around 70,000 coins, making it one of the rarer in the series. Production began in Carson City in 1871 with a run of only 20,000 pieces, again, a rare example of the coin. No dimes were made in Carson City after 1878.
Varieties of the Liberty Seated Dime
1837 runs of the Liberty Seated dime had both a “large date” and “small date” version. Both types were made in Philadelphia, with the small date slightly rarer, but New Orleans only made the small date version.
Thirteen stars were added to the perimeter of the obverse in 1838 and remained until they were replaced by the inscription “United States of America” in mid-1860 when it moved from the coin’s reverse. Also in 1860, the laurel wreath on the reverse was replaced by a larger wreath of corn, wheat, maple, and oak leaves and the mint mark was moved below the wreath. Exceptions are the 1860-S coins with the mark inside the wreath and 1875-S and CC coins that had marks both inside and outside the wreath.
When the stars were moved to the obverse in 1838, they were first added by hand using punches made for the half dime. This resulted in a “small star” variety as well as a “partial drape” and “no drape” varieties caused by a die clash that obscured the drape on Liberty’s left elbow.
In 1853 the coin’s mass was decreased from 2.67 grams to 2.49 grams in response to rising silver prices. The change was indicated by placing inward-facing arrows on either side of the date between 1853 and 1855. The mass was adjusted to 2.50 grams in 1873 to conform to international standards, and arrows were used again to note the change on coins 1873 and 1874.
Rarities and Values
Given the millions of Liberty Seated dimes in hundreds of variations produced over the coin’s 54-year history, they aren’t rare as a whole but there are some low mintages that are very scarce and command high prices. Some circulated coins can be had for well under $100, while uncirculated and higher grades can range into tens of thousands, especially in rarer mintages. Bit there are also several samples in MS-60-64 condition available for a few hundred dollars.
While Philadelphia coins aren’t generally rare in the Liberty Seated series, 1863-1869 are hard to find in uncirculated condition. Carson City coins are rarest due to low mintages, as is the 1860-O and San Francisco coins minted before 1872. 1853-1855 “Arrow” coins are fairly common, but 1852 coins without arrows are scarce.
The record for a Liberty Seated dime is $1.84 million in 2012 for an MS-65 1873 Carson City “No Arrows” dime, making it the most expensive of all US circulation strike silver coins at the time. It is the only one of its type known to exist.
Collecting Liberty Seated Dimes
Collecting Liberty Seated dimes is a specialty in and of itself. Many samples are affordable and easy to find. The coins span one of the most exciting times of US history and their fascination isn’t hard to imagine. There’s even a group dedicated to Gobrecht’s Liberty Seated coins, the Liberty Seated Collectors Club. For a detailed look at the history of the Liberty Seated dime, read this article on the NGC Coin Explorer website.