The Coinage Act of February 21, 1853, established the prevalence of fiat coinage for this nation; that is, the value stamped on a coin was what the government said it was, not necessarily the value of the material from which that coin was made. Maintaining parity between the face value and the metal value of silver and gold coins had been a constant balancing act, and the discovery of immense quantities of gold in California in 1848 and subsequent years disrupted that balance. Gold became plentiful but silver supplies remained more-or-less constant, with the result that gold's value declined relative to silver and the price of silver rose. With the face value of circulating silver coins less than the value of the silver in those pieces, silver coins disappeared from circulation in the early 1850s, either melted as bullion or hoarded.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
To address the problem, Mint Director George N. Eckert reduced the weight of the half dime, dime, quarter, and half dollar (but not the dollar, which remained at the old bimetallic standard) so that melting would no longer be profitable, a change authorized by the February Act. To distinguish the new dimes from the old heavier coins, the only change made by Chief Engraver James B. Longacre was the addition of an arrow on each side of the date. Arrows appeared on dimes from 1853 through 1855; 1853-dated dimes were produced both without arrows and with arrows. James Ross Snowden became Mint Director in 1853 and removed the arrows from 1856 dimes, presumably because by then most of the older heavyweight coins had been removed from circulation, either melted or put away for safekeeping. All dimes produced from 1856 to the end of the type used the same design as the 1840 to 1853 pieces without arrows, but at the lower weight.
On the obverse a full-length representation of Liberty wears long, flowing robes and is seated on a rock, head turned back to her right. Her left arm is bent and holds a pole topped by a Liberty cap. The right arm extends down at her side, hand supporting a Union shield across which is a slightly curved banner displaying LIBERTY. The date is at the bottom, below the rock upon which Liberty rests, and is flanked on either side by a single short arrow pointing away from the date. Inside dentils along the raised rim 13 stars form a partial circle, seven to the left of Liberty, one between Liberty's head and the Liberty cap, and five to the right.
The reverse has a concentric circle formed by UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, broken at the bottom by the ribbon that ties the ends of two branches. The branches form another circle inside the text, though the ends are slightly separated at the top, and in the center is the denomination of ONE DIME, each word on a separate line. A circle of dentils is placed to the inside of the raised rim. Arrows at Date dimes were produced at Philadelphia (all three years) and New Orleans (1853 and 1854); the O mintmark is located below DIME and above the bow at the top of the ribbon.
A few hundred circulation strike Drapery, Arrows dimes are listed in census/ population reports, including a very few prooflike pieces, though only about 150 coins are certified for 1855. Prices are moderate through MS64, expensive as Gem and finer; 1853-O pieces are expensive as MS60 and finer. Proof examples of the type are rare, with fewer than 25 certified pieces for each date. Some pieces are designated as Cameo. All proof dimes of the type are expensive to very expensive.
Designer: Robert Ball Hughes and James B. Longacre, after Christian Gobrecht, from a Titian Peale/ Thomas Sully design
Circulation Mintage: high 12,078,010 (1853), low 1,100,000 (1853-O)
Proof Mintage: high 30 (1855, estimated), low 10 (1853, estimated)
Denomination: Ten cents (10/100)
Diameter: 17.9 mm; reeded edge
Metal Content: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: 2.49 grams
Varieties: A few known, most minor die variations.
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing
Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.