By Steve Carr
When the United States Congress authorized coinage in the Act of April 2, 1792, one of the denominations was the dime. The dime was a decimal denomination representing a tenth of a dollar. Demand for this coin, which was struck only when the person depositing the bullion wanted dimes, was limited. The dime weighed slightly less than the one-eighth Reale coin then common in circulation. Given a choice, any smart person would prefer the one-eighth Reale coin (it had a little more silver). To top it all off, there were lotos of these one-eighth Reale coins already in circulation.
But dimes were produced, starting in 1796. Initially, mintages were small, about 25,000 coins a year, on average. Also, some dates saw none struck or dated. No dimes were struck or dated 1799, 1806, 1808, 1810, 1812-13, 1815-1819, and 1826). By the late 1820s, there was more demand for the dime, with many of the one-eighth Reales either worn out or no longer in circulation.
These early dimes are broken into two collecting categories, Draped Bust (1796 – 1807) and Capped Bust (1809 - 1837). Total mintage of the draped bust dimes was only 469,406, making them scarce as a type.. A total of 11,344,339 Capped Bust dimes were minted, making this type more available.
Like most other series of United States coins, different varieties have been described for these dimes. John H. Clapp first did this in 1890. Early United States Dime 1796 – 1837 was published in 1984 and has been the standard reference on these coins for more than 30 years. Five collectors/researchers of these coins (David Davis, Russell Logan, Allen Lovejoy, John McCloskey, and William Subjack) compiled their knowledge and put their knowledge in this book (the internet was really rare back then!).
A few new varieties have been discovered since then and there has been a general cry for another, updated book. In 2015, a new spiral bound book was introduced to the hobby. Bust Dime Variety Identification Guide, written by Winston Zack, Louis Scuderi, and Michael Sherrill, is more a quick finder than its predecessor. It makes attribution of these coins fairly easy with nice photographs.
Most beginners start with a Capped Bust dime. An ideal date is 1827, with a mintage of 1,215,000. It is an earlier, large planchet type which still uses the Liberty that John Reich first designed in 1809. Two varieties of this date (JR 10 and JR 14) are very rare – maybe you can cherry pick one. You can often find a nice coin graded Fine for about $150 and lower grade coins go for about $20. If you want to do a date set, be ready for some stoppers. The 1822 is the key. This date will cost four figures for an AG. Many people try to complete a date set minus the 1822. Collect as you will.
One other variety is also expensive and interesting, the 1829 curl base 2 (JR 10).
Some collectors prefer the Draped Bust dimes. They are more expensive, but each one makes a real connection with early America. They are really not too bad in price – a decent AG 1798 dime will cost about $500. Earlier dates cost about twice that much while 1805s and 1807s will cost a lot more. There are two tougher dates, 1802 and 1804. The 1804 is the toughest and is a challenge just to find.
If you have never owned a Bust dime, consider acquiring one. Once you discover the appeal of these coins, you might be hooked.