Guide to U.S. Draped Bust Half Dimes

The Draped Bust Half Dime represented the second type for the lowest silver denomination authorized under the Coinage Act of 1792. The series is divided into two different subtypes, identified by the reverse design. Mintages throughout the series were generally low, making any surviving examples scarce and uncirculated specimens rare. The lowest mintage occurred for the 1802 Half Dime, which has only a small number of survivors and is unknown in uncirculated condition.

The obverse design for the entire Draped Bust Half Dime series features the bust of Liberty, designed by Robert Scot. The image is said to have been based on the work of Gilbert Stuart who had used Philadelphia resident Anne Willing Bingham as a model. Liberty appears facing right, with her hair lightly bound by a ribbon. Her bust is visible and partially draped, hence the name given to the design. The inscription LIBERTY appears above with the date below. The design is completed by either fifteen, sixteen, or thirteen stars completing the border. Initially, the number of stars represented the number of states in the Union, but as more states were added, it was decided to revert to thirteen stars to represent only the original states.

The reverse for the first subtype, known as the “small eagle” design, was issued from 1796 to 1797. The design features an eagle standing on a bank of clouds and encircled by a wreath bound with a ribbon at the bottom. The only other design feature is the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, which runs in a circle from the bottom left to the bottom right. As in the previous series, there is no indication of the denomination present on the coin.

Production for the series was halted in 1797 and not resumed until 1800. During this time, the small eagle reverse had been replaced on the other silver denominations, so it was also replaced once the production of half dimes resumed. The second subtype for the series, known as the “heraldic eagle” design, was issued from 1800 until the conclusion of the series in 1805. The design features a stylized eagle with its wings outstretched and a large shield placed over its breast. The eagle holds a ribbon it is beak with the words E PLURIBUS UNUM, and its talons grasp a bundle of arrows and an olive branch. An arc of clouds is placed above the eagle, with an arrangement of thirteen small stars placed between the clouds and the eagle. The inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds the image.

Many different varieties exist throughout the Draped Bust Half Dime series, both major and minor. While variety collecting for this series is not as widespread as the larger denominations, some rarer varieties trade at substantial premiums.


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