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Six affordable design types highlight Seated dime set
By Mike Thorne, Ph.D.
August 08, 2018

When you complete your Roosevelt, Mercury, and Barber dime sets, minus the 1894-S, of course, you may decide to look at earlier dimes. If you focus on Seated Liberty dimes, one of the first things you’ll notice is how lengthy the series is, how it seems to go on forever. Next, you may see that there are some incredibly expensive date/mintmark combinations, even in low grades.

Still, you’ll note that many of the dates seem remarkably inexpensive, particular for coins of this vintage. Perhaps, it might be worthwhile to try to put together a collection, to see how many of the different date/mintmark combinations you can acquire before your budgetary restrictions force you to abandon the quest. That’s what I’m going to talk about in this article, putting together a collection of Seated Liberty dimes.

The Seated Liberty design was the handiwork of Christian Gobrecht, from drawings by Thomas Sully. Gobrecht was the third chief engraver at the U.S. Mint, and he’s perhaps most well known for his Seated Liberty silver dollar designs. In Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett’s United States Coinage: A Study By Type, the authors tell us that Gobrecht’s earliest half dime and dime designs are sometimes called “mini-Gobrechts” because of the similarity of the obverses to those of the dollars.

Actually, there are six major design types for the Seated Liberty dime series, and a set of these types is one way to collect the series. The first type, coined in 1837 and 1838, has a seated figure of Liberty on the obverse with a blank field above and on either side of her. This is the Seated Liberty, No Stars type, minted in Philadelphia in 1837 and in New Orleans in 1838. With slightly more than 1 million produced, this type is easy to acquire, with Numismatic News “Coin Market” values for the most common variety ranging from $45 in Good-4 to $1,650 in Mint State-63.

If you’re collecting by date/mintmark combinations rather than by type, the 1838-O is considerably scarcer than the Philadelphia product. Values for it range from $125 in G-4 to $4,500 in MS-63.

* * *

For the second type, Gobrecht added 13 stars, one for each of the original colonies, to the obverse. This type was minted for just three years, 1838-1840, producing five date/mintmark combinations (1838, 1839, 1839-O, 1840, and 1840-O). More than 1 million were minted of each combination, with the result that none of the five is especially expensive. The type is called Seated Liberty, With Stars, No Drapery.

In Fine-12, values range from $40 (1838 Large Stars) to $125 (1840-O). Coins in MS-63 would be prohibitive for most collectors, as the 1840-O lists for $13,000. In The Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Dimes, Brian Greer labeled each of the major varieties “common,” particularly in lower circulated grades. He noted that the 1839-O is rare in Extremely Fine-40 and above and that the 1840-O is equivalent to the earlier date in scarcity.

* * *

The third Seated Liberty dime type began in 1840, with a redesign of the obverse by Robert Ball Hughes, a British-American sculptor. Greer described the obverse changes as follows: “…drapery was added beside the [left] elbow, the shield was placed in an upright position, and Liberty was given a  chubbier’ appearance.” This type is called Seated Liberty, Obverse Stars, With Drapery.

Minted from 1840-1853 and from 1856-1860, the third major type is not particularly difficult for the type collector, as more than 36 million were produced at the Philadelphia and New Orleans mints. In F-12, the most common date for the type, 1857, with a mintage of more than 5.5 million, lists for just $24. An MS-63 specimen is worth about $525.

The date/mintmark collector will find several dates challenging, however. Just considering the grade of F-12, several dates stand out. 1843-O and 1844 list for $600 and $400, respectively. Their mintages account for their scarcity, but not in the direction you would expect, as the 1844 had a little over half the mintage of the New Orleans dime. About the 1843-O, Greer wrote, “A scarce date that is rare above VF.… A key date in XF or better.”

Another pair of stand-outs are 1845-O and 1846, which list in F-12 for $240 and $600, respectively. Like the dimes discussed above, I suspect that the two are underpriced given their mintages. The 1845-O had a mintage of 230,000, which is slightly less than the 1916-D Mercury dime, which lists for more than $2,000 in the same grade. There are more collectors of Mercuries relative to Seated Liberty dimes so more demand, but is that big a difference justified?

As for the 1846, the mintage is a measly 31,300. Relative to its mintage, $600 seems like a bargain. About the date, Greer wrote, “Low grade examples are more available than would be expected considering the low mintage.” This perhaps accounts for the semi-reasonable value in F-12.

1853 is another date that will give the collector with a limited budget a jolt in his wallet, as it lists for $325 in F-12. With a mintage of just 95,000, you would think it would be more valuable. Greer called it scarce in any grade but more available in higher circulated and uncirculated grades than several other dates.

In the group from 1856-1860, a trio of S-mint products stand out: 1856-S, 1858-S, and 1859-S. In F-12, they’re worth $600, $350, and $500, respectively. Mintages are quite low, as you would expect, but not well correlated with values. Mintages of the three were 70,000, 60,000, and 60,000, respectively. Greer called the first two very scarce in any grade and pronounced the 1859-S the “Rarest S mint dime above VF.…”

* * *

Called Seated Liberty, With Arrows, the fourth major type was created in 1853 because of a change in the weight of the coin in response to the value of silver. Specifically, the weight was decreased by about 7 percent, and this change was indicated by the addition of arrows on either side of the date. The arrows were the handiwork of James Barton Longacre.

The purpose of the change was to make the heavier coins easier to pick out of circulation, and that’s what happened. Guth and Garrett noted, “This accounts for much of the rarity of pre-1853 dimes, especially those in Mint State.”

Although this short-lived type was minted for only three years (1853-1855), the total number of coins struck was large enough (21.5 million) that purchasing an example for a type collection is not a problem. The most common date, 1853 With Arrows, should be available in F-12 for about $28. Indeed, the date doesn’t cross the $100 threshold until About Uncirculated-50 ($140).

 The other With Arrows coins in this group are inexpensive as well, with the 1853-O the only date with a “Coin Market” F-12 value above $30. It lists for $100 in this grade. Greer labeled the 1853-O “A semi-common date that becomes scarce in VF and above. Underrated in XF and better grades.”

For the date/mintmark collector interested in mint-state coins, four of the five dates (1853, 1854, 1854-O, 1855) are well below $1,000 in MS-63. The 1853-O is the exception, with a value of $3,500 in this grade.

* * *

With a design by Longacre, after Gobrecht, the fifth type (Seated Liberty, Legend Obverse) began in 1860, went through 1873, then picked up again in 1875, and continued until the end of the series in 1891. One major change was that “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” replaced the stars on the obverse. Of course, the removal of the words from the reverse occasioned changes to that side as well. Foremost among these was that the wreath was greatly enlarged.

Given the large number of dates and the total mintage of the type, the type collector will find many reasonably priced choices for this variety. According to Guth and Garrett, 1891 is the most common date, and the mintage (15.3 million) makes it easy to see why this is true. The coin has a “Coin Market” value of $23 in F-12 ($25 in Very Fine-20) and is worth just $80 in AU-50. With an MS-63 value of $225, this is a good choice for a type collection.

The date/mintmark collector will find several problematic dates, however. Just considering coins with “Coin Market” values of $500 or more in F-12, I counted ten different date/mintmark combinations. And a few of the 10 are way above $500.

For example, 1860-O lists for $1,400 in the grade. With a mintage of just 40,000, you can see why this coin would be pricey. Greer wrote, “One of the key dates to the series though it is not as scarce as the 1871-CC.…” The 1871-CC is worth $5,250 in F-12.

Other dates worth more than $500 in F-12 are 1863 ($900), 1864 ($600), 1865 ($750), 1866 ($875), 1867 ($825), 1870-S ($600), 1872-CC ($2,375), and 1885-S ($800). If you look at the mintages, you’ll see why these dates are so scarce and pricy. The mintages range from a high of 50,000 (1870-S) to a low of 6,625 (1867).

If I had looked at coins worth $200 or more in F-12, I could have added several more to this list of tough dimes. For example, the first seven S-mint dimes (1861-S to 1867-S) are all worth at least $250 in the grade. The range is from $250 to $450. All had mintages well below that of the 1916-D Mercury dime.

In addition to all the tough dates for this type, there are several modestly valued coins, coins with F-12 values well below $100. Examples include 1860, 1861, 1862, and so on. It’s obvious that the date/mintmark collector will need to have a healthy numismatic budget in order to make much of dent in the Liberty Seated, Legend Obverse type.

* * *

In 1873, the weight of the dime was increased slightly in an attempt to change to the metric system. To show this change, arrows once again were placed on either side of the date. This created the sixth type: Seated Liberty, Legend Obverse, Arrows at Date. This effort lasted just two years, 1873 and 1874, and resulted in six different coins, 1873, 1873-CC, 1873-S and the 1874 versions of the same.

Obtaining a coin for type should not be a problem, as the two Philadelphia products were struck in large quantities, with mintages well above 2 million in each case. “Coin Market” values in F-12 for these two are $32 and $25, respectively, with VF-20 values of just $63 and $60, respectively. Actually, the two S-mints are reasonably priced as well, with F-12 values of $30 and $64, respectively.

For the date/mintmark collector, however, the two CC products are challenging, to say the least. Mintages were well below 20,000 for each date, and F-12 values are $3,500 and $12,000, respectively. Greer called the 1873-CC “One of the key dates to the series.…” and the 1874-CC “The unquestioned key to the series.… Rare in any grade.…”

* * *

You don’t have to be a date/mintmark collector to have fun collecting Seated Liberty dimes. Putting together a nice type set will not be problematic, as none of the major types is truly rare or expensive.

Although I’ve concentrated on the low-mintage, more expensive Seated Liberty dimes, the remainder of the dates, literally dozens of coins, are remarkably inexpensive in a nice, collectible grade such as F-12. Note that many of the dates that are inexpensive in F-12 are relatively inexpensive in VF-20 as well. Thus, if you have a choice between a F-12 of a particular date or a VF-20, go for the better coin even it’s a little more expensive.

Avoid coins with problems, such as damage and cleaning, and take your time assembling your collection whether it’s of types or date/mintmark combinations. There are many varieties of Seated Liberty dimes including those with large and small stars, large and small dates, different sized mintmarks, different mintmark placements, etc. Collecting major varieties is another approach that’s likely to be interesting.

Bottom line: There’s enough going on with this series to make collecting it both challenging and fun.

And you can’t ask much more of a coin series than that.


This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine. >> Subscribe today.


  More Collecting Resources

• The 1800s were a time of change for many, including in coin production. See how coin designs grew during the time period in the Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1801-1900 .

• Liked this article? Read more by subscribing to Numismatic News.

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