The dime was first minted in 1796 has been
made almost continuously until the present although the composition,
design, and metallic content have changed significantly. The
first type was the Draped Bust, Small Eagle that was minted
in 1796 and 1797. It was followed by the Draped Bust, Heraldic
Eagle until 1807. The Capped Bust obverse was introduced in
1809 and modified in 1828. This modified design continued
until 1837. The first Seated Liberty Dime, also known as the
Liberty Seated Dime was also issued in 1837 and was minted
The series has five varieties, one with
no stars or legends on the obverse, two with stars on the
obverse, and two with no stars but the legend on the obverse.
Within the series there are many sub-varieties including
Large and Small Dates, With and Without Drapery on Liberty’s
left side and elbow, and mintmarks Above and Below the Bow.
Designed by Christian Gobrecht, the Seated
Liberty Dime depicts Liberty seated looking over her shoulder
to the left. She balances the Union Shield inscribed LIBERTY
with her right hand and holds a staff on which is placed
a Phrygian cap in her left. The date is below. The reverse
shows the denomination written in two words on two lines
surrounded by an open wreath. Dentils are around the periphery
of both sides of the coin.
Variety 1, inspired by Gobrecht’s
1836 silver dollar, has no stars or legend on the obverse.
This No Stars variety is different from the dollar in that
it has a reverse with a wreath and inscription. The coin
weighed 2.67 grams, was composed of .900 silver and .100
copper, had a diameter of 17.9 millimeters, and had a reeded
edge. It was minted in Philadelphia and New Orleans. The
1837 issue has large and small dates. Proofs were made for
1837, but they are extremely rare.
Varieties 2 and 3 have thirteen six-pointed
stars added to the obverse. There are seven to the left
and six to the right with Stars 8 and 9 spaced on either
side of Liberty’s cap. The weight of 2.67 grams continued
until 1853, when it was reduced to 2.49 grams. Arrows were
added at the date from 1853 to 1855 to show this change
in weight. There was also an 1853 No Arrows issued before
the weight change. The composition, diameter, and edging
remained the same for Variety 3. Variety 2 was minted in
Philadelphia and New Orleans. Variety 3 was also minted
in San Francisco. Proofs are very rate with no more than
60 known for any date of these two types.
Varieties 4 and 5 show the legend UNITED
STATES OF AMERICA on the obverse in place of the stars.
This change was made to accommodate the thicker “cereal
wreath” of wheat, corn, tobacco, sugar cane, and oak.
Variety 4 continued the weight of 2.49 grams, but Variety
5 changed the weight to 2.50 grams. This change was signified
by arrows added at the date for 1873 and 1874. From 1875
to 1891, Variety 4 resumed and continued until the end of
the series. Proofs for Varieties 4 and 5 have been made
continuously from 1860 to 1891. They are all scarce to rare
with the exception of two exceedingly rare branch mint proofs,
1876-CC and 1891-O. The Philadelphia proofs range in mintage
from 460 to 1,150.
Cornelius Vermeule has a very negative view
of the Seated Liberty motif. He says of the design in his
Numismatic Art in America, “[Liberty] has lost much
of her plastic quality, becoming flatter and more like an
engraving than a statue….Clutching her ridiculous
little hat on a pole and the small shield nestling in the
drapery at her side, Liberty looks anxiously over her shoulder
as if a horde of Indians were sprinting…toward her.”
Issued for just less than a century, the
Liberty Seated Dime saw many changes in United States history.
From 1837 to 1891 there were 17 presidents from Andrew Jackson
to Benjamin Harrison. During this time the Union grew from
16 to 44 states.
In the first year of the Seated Liberty
Dime, 1837, Michigan, a non-slave state, was admitted to
the Union as the 26th state. Richard Johnson was chosen
by the Senate to be the first Vice President so selected.
The Supreme Court membership was increased from seven to
nine justices. Congress recognized the Republic of Texas,
and Morse patented his telegraph and developed a code for
it. The Panic of 1837 touched off a major recession that
lasted until the mid-1840s. In May 1838 a Specie Circular
that was promulgated by President Jackson requiring all
land purchases from the government be made in hard currency
was repealed. The measure had been blamed for making worse
the economic crisis by taking large amounts of coinage from
circulation. In a Supreme Court decision the court held
that property rights can be overridden by public need. In
1841 William Henry Harrison became President. He died after
only one month in office and was succeeded by John Tyler.
The Dorr Rebellion, a civil war took place in Rhode Island.
An attempt to impeach Tyler failed in 1843, and in 1844
Polk was elected president. Texas was annexed as Polk became
president. Florida became the 27th state, and Texas became
the 28th state. In 1846, the Mexican-American War began,
and Iowa became the 29th state. Taylor was elected President,
and Wisconsin became the 30th state. The Treaty of Guadalupe
Hidalgo ended the Mexican War. That same year, 1849, the
California Gold Rush began. In 1850, Taylor died and Millard
Fillmore became President.
Sectionalism and national unity were dominant
themes of the next decade. In the Compromise of 1850, Texas
surrendered its claim to New Mexico, California was admitted
as a free state, New Mexico and Utah could become slave
states if they so desired, the Fugitive Slave Act was strengthened,
and slave trade was banned in Washington, D.C. The next
president was Franklin Pierce. Perry opened up Japan to
trade, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed, nullifying part
of the Missouri Compromise. James Buchanan became the next
President. The Supreme Court in Dred Scott v. Sandford declared
that blacks were not citizens of the United States and could
not sue. In 1857 a financial panic took place. While the
sinking of the SS Central America contributed to the panic,
it was actually caused by declining international trade
and an over-expanded domestic economy. The recovery from
this downturn took place because of production that was
needed to engage in the Civil War. Prior to it Minnesota
became the 32nd state the same year that the Lincoln-Douglas
debates were held. In 1859 John Brown let his raid on Harper’s
Ferry, and the Comstock Lode in what is now Nevada was discovered.
It was notable because it generated large fortunes and made
enabled the growth of Nevada and San Francisco. In 1860,
Lincoln was elected President and South Carolina seceded
from the Union.
The tumultuous Civil War years followed
beginning in 1861 with the firing at Fort Sumter. Ten states
seceded joining South Carolina to become the CSA. The First
Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Hampton Roads, a naval
battle between the Monitor and Merrimack were fought during
the first two years of the war. Lee commanded the Army of
Northern Virginia. The Second Battle of Bull Run was followed
by the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Lincoln issued the
Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves in the
Confederacy. There was rioting in New York because of the
draft, and pro-Union counties of Virginia seceded to become
the 35th state, West Virginia. Ulysses S. Grant was put
in command of all Union forces by Lincoln. Nevada became
the 36th state. Lincoln was reelected, and Sherman marched
to the sea. Lee was made commander-in-chief of all CSA forces.
After Richmond, Virginia was captured by Union Army troops,
the Confederate Army under Lee surrendered to Grant a Appomattox.
After Lincoln was assassinated, Andrew Johnson became President.
After the Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment
to the Constitution was passed, which permanently outlawed
slavery. In 1866, the Civil Rights Act passed. The KKK was
founded, and Nebraska became the 37th state. Alaska was
purchased from Russia, and President Andrew Johnson was
impeached but acquitted by the Senate. The Fourteenth Amendment
was ratified. Grant was elected President as the First Transcontinental
Railroad was completed at Summit, Utah. In 1871, the Treaty
of Washington was signed with the British regarding the
Dominion of Canada, and in 1873 a financial panic took place
that triggered a depression in Europe and North America
that lasted until 1879. It resulted from post-war inflation,
speculative investments mainly in railroads, a large deficit,
economic dislocation in Europe because of the Franco-Prussian
War, and property losses in Chicago in 1871 and Boston in
1872. In 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified. It gave
blacks the right to vote. A little more than a decade later
the Civil Right Act of 1875 was declared unconstitutional.
In 1889 Washington was admitted as a state. In 1890 the
Sherman Antitrust Act was passed, and Idaho and Wyoming
were admitted as states. In the last year of the Liberty
Seated Dime, 1891, there was the first showing of a Thomas
A. Edison strip motion picture film in West Orange, New
Jersey. Later that year Edison patented the radio. In June
alternating current was transmitted for the first time in
a power plant near Telluride, Colorado.
Gobrecht, the designer of the Seated Liberty
series, was the third Chief Engraver at the Mint. He was
born in 1785 in Hanover, Pennsylvania. His father was a
German immigrant. His mother traced her ancestry to the
early settlers of Plymouth, Massachusetts. He married Mary
Hewes in 1818. Gobrecht was an engraver of clocks with ornamental
designs in Baltimore. Later in Philadelphia, he became a
banknote engraver. He worked at the Franklin Institute engraving
medals. He also invented a machine that allowed one to convert
a three-dimensional medal into an illustration. This was
an excellent position and Gobrecht was understandably reluctant
to work for the Mint for less money than he was making at
the engraving firm. In order to persuade him to leave, Mint
Director Robert Patterson prevailed upon Chief Engraver
William Kneass, who had had a stroke, to take less in salary
so more money would be available to hire Gobrecht on a permanent
basis. Gobrecht did his first work for the Mint in 1826.
He was an assistant to Kneass. After Kneass suffered the
stroke, Gobrecht did all the die and pattern work for the
Mint. In 1840 he became the Chief Engraver and served until
his death in 1844. He was famous for his Liberty Seated
motif, which was used for all denominations of silver coinage
including the dime, quarter dollar, half dollar and silver
dollar. The Trade Dollar and the 20 cent piece were also
based on the Liberty Seated motif. Gobrecht also designed
the Liberty Head gold eagle, the gold half eagle, the gold
quarter eagle, the Liberty Head, Braided Hair half cent,
and the Braided Hair cent. James B. Longacre succeeded him
as Chief Engraver.
Varieties 1, No Stars on Obverse
Weight: 2.67 grams
Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper
Diameter: 17.9 millimeters