The Mint Act of 1792 specified coins of various denominations, including "dismes" which were to be "of the value of one tenth of a dollar". The first dimes were produced in 1786 from designs by Robert Scot, with an obverse Liberty said to be modeled after a Philadelphia socialite and a reverse eagle similar to the design first used on silver coins in 1794. Apparently as a result of criticism Scot replaced the small reverse eagle in 1798 with an heraldic eagle modeled after the Great Seal of the United States. Though the number of obverse stars remained fixed at 13 from the last year of the previous design, the new reverse displayed 16 stars above the eagle. This was not a mistake or oversight but rather a result of economy. In order to minimize the number of dies needed for coinage, and because the gold quarter eagle and the dime were less than a millimeter difference in diameter, dies for the identical reverse design were used interchangeably for the two coins. In the eight years of the series coins show reverses with 16 stars, 13 stars, and 14 stars. Dimes were not produced in 1799, 1806, and 1808, the latter being a one-year gap between the last of the Draped Bust dimes and the beginning of the Capped Bust dimes.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
The obverse of the Draped Bust Heraldic Eagle dime shows a right-facing Liberty with flowing hair tied by a ribbon, shoulders and neckline loosely draped with rippled cloth. The word LIBERTY is at the top and the date at the bottom, with 13 six-point stars encircling the dentilled rim between, seven on the left side and six on the right. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircles most of the reverse just inside a dentilled rim. The center of the coin display an eagle with outstretched wings, an E PLURIBUS UNUM banner held in its beak and a shield covering most of the body. The dexter (eagle's right) claw clutches a bunch of arrows, the left an olive branch. Above the eagle, just below STATE OF, is a curved line of clouds, and below that above and around the eagle's head, small six-point stars. Coins dated 1798 have either 16 or 13 stars; the following years all have 13 stars except for 1804 which has either 13 or 14 stars. Stars are typically arranged in arcs above the eagle's head (with one star to each side), but some show a "cross" arrangement where the stars appear to be in diagonal lines. All coins were minted at Philadelphia, and no mintmarks are displayed on the coins.
Draped Bust Heraldic Eagle dimes were produced for eight years in the period 1798 through 1807, except for 1799 and 1806, all for circulation. No proofs were made but 1805-dated prooflike business strikes are listed in census/population reports. Mintages were highest in 1805 and 1807, and lowest in 1802 and 1804, which directly correlates to price levels. There is speculation that dimes were produced with dates earlier than the actual year of production. Prices are moderate in lower Fine grades but increase rapidly as Very Fine and finer. Thirteen-star 1798 dimes and both 13-star and 14-star 1804 dimes command significantly higher prices, with the 14-star 1804 coin the highest. A five-berry (olive branch) 1805 reverse has a slightly higher premium than the four-berry type.
Designer: Robert Scot
Circulation Mintage: high 165,000 (1807), low 8,265 (1804)
Proof Mintage: None
Denomintion: $0.10 Ten Cents 10/100
Diameter: ±19 mm, reeded edge
Metal content: 89.24% silver, 10.76% copper
Weight: ±2.7 grams
Varieties: Primary varieties are those coins that differ by the number of reverse stars, with 16 and 13 stars in 1797 and 13 and 14 stars in 1804. Other significant varieties are a 1798/7 overpunch with both 16-star and 13-star reverses, Small 8 and Large 8 (in the date) obverses in 1798, and five-berry and four-berry olive branch reverses in 1805. A few other die varieties are also known.
Additional Resources :
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
A Buyer's Guide to Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States. Q. David Bowers (author), John Dannreuther (editor). Zyrus Press.
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.
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.