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Capped Bust Half Dimes - A Surprisingly Affordable Series

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Andrew C. Kolbert, Ph.D, M.T.M.


At the turn of the 19th century, average wages were around eighty cents per day requiring a large amount of circulating small change. People purchasing five to ten cent items in the early 1800s could use half cents and large cents, both widely circulating.  The nickel would not make its appearance until 1866 and five cent pieces were small silver coins, half dimes. The mint began production of half dimes in 1794 with the Flowing Hair design, switching to the Draped Bust design 1796-1805.  There was then a 24 year hiatus from half dimes, perhaps as Walter Breen surmised due to the presence of the Mexican half Reale, worth about 1/16th of a dollar, circulating in the US at the time.


Figure 1: Capped Bust Half Dime 1829-1837, Courtesy of PCGS Coinfacts

The left facing capped bust Liberty was reminiscent of John Reich’s design used for the dime, quarter, and half, but modified by the Mint Engraver, William Kneass.   The tenure of the coin coincided almost exactly with Andrew Jackson’s residence in the White House, and was retired in the year he returned to Tennessee.  Production was exclusively at the Philadelphia mint, the branch mints not making coins until 1838 by which time the Seated Liberty half dime had replaced the Capped Bust design.

There are no major rarities in this series from 1829 to 1837, all dates being common with mintages in the millions.  1829: 1,230,000 mintage.

1830: 1,240,000 mintage.

1831: 1,242,700 mintage.

1832: 965,000 mintage.

1833: 1,370,000 mintage.

1834: 1,480,000 mintage.

1835: 2,760,000 mintage

1836: 1,900,000 mintage

1837: 871,000 mintage

The 9 coin date set can be assembled in Very Fine condition for not much more than a thousand dollars.   There are a few major varieties starting with 1835 small date, small 5, 1835 large date, small 5, 1835 small date, large 51835 large date, large 5

Figure 2: 1835 die varieties, Courtesy of PCGS Coinfact

1836 saw 3 varieties, a small and large 5, as with 1835 but additionally saw a 3/ inverted 3.

Figure 3: 1836 Half Dime, 3/inverted 3. A rarity 1, but still commands a significant premium over the common type.

1837 also sports two varieties, a small and large 5.  The 14 coin date/major variety set can be assembled in Very Fine for ~$1800. 

The connoisseur may wish to assemble a complete set of 92 die marriages of which there are only a couple of significant rarities the 1833 LM-5 and the 1835 LM-12.  These varieties were catalogued by Daniel Valentine, The United States Half Dimes (1931) and then reviewed and expanded by Russell Logan and John McCloskey, Federal Half Dimes, 1792-1837 (1998).  One advantage of collecting this series is that there are few major rarities even amongst the die marriages and most coins remain in dealer inventories unattributed, unlike Capped Bust half dollars.  The full die marriage set can likely be put together for under $20,000, but some would be challenging to locate.

Figure 4: 1833 LM-5, a rare die marriage, Courtesy of PCGS Coinfacts

Figure 5: 1835 LM-12, the 2nd rare die marriage in the Capped Bust half dime series, Courtesy of PCGS Coinfacts.

The Capped Bust Half dime is an interesting series with many options to collect and is a surprisingly affordable option for a series from the first half of the 19th century. Look for Capped bust half dimes in our store.

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