Guide to U.S. Draped Bust Dimes

Originally referred to as a “disme,” the dime was one of the original denominations authorized under the Coinage Act of 1792. The coins carried a value of ten cents or one-tenth of a dollar and represented a crucial test of whether the United States monetary system would be fully decimalized as Congress intended. The initial type for the denomination was known as the Draped Bust Dime, which carried the small eagle reverse in 1796 and 1797 before adopting the heraldic eagle reverse from 1798 until the conclusion of the series in 1807. Ranging in rarity from very scarce to extremely rare, these early dimes are not easily obtainable, particularly in problem-free condition.

Obverse Design

The obverse of the Draped Bust Dime was designed by Robert Scot based on the work of portraitist Gilbert Stuart. The obverse carries a bust of Liberty, facing right. The image of Liberty is identified by some as Anne Willing Bingham of Philadelphia. As the name implies, Liberty’s bust is draped, while her hair is lightly bound with a ribbon. The word LIBERTY is above her head with stars placed to each side and the date below. On the 1796 issue, there are fifteen stars representing the number of states in the Union. For 1797, there are either sixteen or thirteen stars. Initially, sixteen stars were used following the admission of Tennessee to the Union, however it was later decided that the Mint could not add stars indefinitely so the number was set at thirteen to represent the original states.

Reverse Design

The first reverse, used only in 1796 and 1797, features a small eagle standing on a bank of clouds with its wings spread. The eagle is enclosed by an open wreath of olive branches bound by a ribbon. The inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA appears surrounding. A similar design had been used on the other silver denominations introduced in 1794.

In 1798, a new reverse design was adopted featuring a heraldic eagle based on the Great Seal of the United States. Designed by Robert Scot, the eagle is viewed from the front with its wings outstretched and a large shield at its breast. The eagle’s beak holds a ribbon inscribed E PLURIBUS UNUM. Thirteen stars appear above the eagle, bounded by an arc of clouds overhead. Near the bottom of the design, the eagle’s claws grasp a bundle of arrows and an olive branch. Once again, the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA appears surrounding. Similar to other early silver denominations, neither of the two reverse designs contains an indication of the face value of the coin.