The Draped Bust half dime was last produced in 1805, the final year of a short five-year series of the type (no half dimes were produced in 1804). Production of half dimes resumed in 1829, the first samples struck early on July 4 as part of the events surrounding the laying of the cornerstone for the second Philadelphia Mint building. The reason for the restart of the denomination after a two-decade gap is unknown, but perhaps demand had grown for a denomination greater than one cent but less than a dime (two and three cent coins, and the nickel, would not be produced until the 1850s and 1860s). The new half dime was prepared by Chief Engraver William Kneass, although many believe he adapted an earlier John Reich Capped Bust design. Kneass’ effort was in turn modified by Christian Gobrecht after Kneass became impaired by physical issues. Gobrecht, who had prepared the letter and numeral punches for the Capped Bust issues during Kneass’ tenure, was responsible for the subsequent Liberty Seated design. Capped Bust and Liberty Seated half dimes were both minted in 1837.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
The Capped Bust half dimes were produced using the close collar technology implemented by the Mint in the late 1820s. Earlier coins were edged prior to the obverse/ reverse striking, but the close collar (essentially an edge die) eliminated this step, imparting the edge reeding as part of the striking process. The close collar also limited the outward spread of metal during striking, creating not only a uniform diameter to the finished coins, but generally improving the device impressions; metal constrained from flowing outward more completely flowed into the details of the design features. The close collar also produced a raised protective rim around the beads or dentils along the circumference, and enabled the minting of proof coins with higher quality details and polished surfaces.
On the obverse Liberty faces left, wearing a softly folded mobcap (a woman’s headdress of the time) with the word LIBERTY around the base. Long curled hair extends from under the edge of the cap along the front and sides, and cascades down the neck and over the shoulder. Folded drapery wraps around the neck and down and across the bust, and is secured by a clasp above the shoulder. Thirteen six-point stars are arranged on both sides of Liberty, seven to the left and six to the right, all inside the beaded or dentilled border that is inside the raised smooth rim. The date is at the bottom.
The reverse displays a centered eagle, wings partially raised, clutching an olive branch in the right claw and three arrows in the left. A shield is placed over the body of the eagle, and a concentric banner folded backward at the ends, displaying E PLURIBUS UNUM, is above the eagle. The denomination 5 C. is at the bottom. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA follows along the top three-fourths of the coin inside the beads or dentils that are placed next to a raised smooth rim. All coins were minted at Philadelphia and display no mintmark.
Circulation strike Capped Bust half dimes are relatively plentiful in census/ population reports, though specific varieties are scarce or rare. A few prooflike examples have been certified. Prices are modest up to near-Gem, becoming expensive as Gem or finer. The 1834 3 over inverted 3, 1836 3 over inverted 3, and 1837 Small 5C have modest premiums over other dates, increasing by factors of two or more as Choice Uncirculated or finer. Very few proof coins have been certified, including some with cameo designations. All proof examples are expensive even at lower grades, but very expensive as Select Proof or finer. There are minor price variations from year to year but no proof issue is markedly more or less expensive than any of the other dates in the series.
Designer: William Kneass, possibly adapted from a John Reich design
Circulation Mintage: high 2,760,000 (1835), low 871,000 (1837)
Proof Mintage: high 30 (1829, estimated), low 10 (1830-1833, 1835-1827, estimated)
Denomintion: $0.05 Five cents (05/100)
Diameter: ±15.5 mm; reeded edge
Metal content: 89.24% silver, 10.76% copper
Weight: ±1.35 grams
Varieties: Many known, including 1834, 3 over inverted 3; 1835, Large and Small denomination and Large and Small date; 1836, 3 over inverted 3; 1836 and 1837 Large and Small denomination; and other minor die variations.
Additional Resources :
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
Federal Half Dimes. Russell J. Logan, John W. McCloskey. John Reich Collectors Society.
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.