Affordable Capped Bust Dimes

By Mark Benvenuto, Coins Magazine, August 03, 2009

capped bust coins


Scholars who focus on the span of years that encompasses the early decades of the United States still debate such issues as whether the new U.S. Mint turned its attention to dimes and other small silver first or last, as opposed to coins like the silver dollars. The 1792 dismes and half dismes do represent some of the first silver coins issued by the authority of the new Congress. But those coins can also be considered patterns or early trials, and not a proper attempt at a coinage that would meet the needs of the entire nation.

When it comes to what are now called the Flowing Hair coins of different denominations - the first set of coins that were indeed an attempt to unify the coinage for an entire country - the dimes, along with the quarters, waited until 1796 for any sort of production. One would think that by the time the bust design was unveiled, in the early 1800s, the Mint would have had operations running smoothly, and have a set of goals for each denomination for each year. Apparently, though, that wasn't the case. And that is what makes collecting Bust dimes so interesting for coin aficionados today.

The Capped Bust design was the work of John Reich. It was first used on the half dollars in 1807, on the dimes in 1809, on the quarters in 1815, on the tiny half dimes only starting in 1829. In this sense, the dimes came pretty close to the beginning for a new design.

But in the year 1810, at least, those 1809 dimes may have seemed like a flash in the pan. There were no dimes produced in 1810 at all. 1811 saw production again, but then there was a three-year hiatus. Then, once again, there was production in 1814, followed by a span of five years with nothing. It was 1820 that marks the first year of Bust dime production that can be called the start of a real series.

There is a reason for his apparent piecemeal attempt at the production of 10-cent pieces. New collectors who haven't had the time to dive into the history of our government are generally unaware that at the outset the Mint often produced the coins desired by specific people or banks who deposited gold or silver with the Mint. If that person or banking concern wanted silver dollars produced from their silver bullion that's what they got. As you might imagine, there were far fewer depositors who wanted dimes than there were who wanted big silver coins.

Although that does explain some of the dry years for Capped Bust dime production, it probably doesn't explain the entirety of it. Whatever the reasons were, the result is a series of dimes that generally run from 1820-1837 (with a break in 1826), and three other early years of the same design. This becomes a good place to divide the series, just because the later dates are easier to come by.

Let's take a glance at the tail end of the series, and work our way backward toward the earliest dates. We may be pleasantly surprised by what the price guides tell us.

First, the 1835 and 1836 Capped Bust dimes are the most common and the third most common dates in the series, with 1.4 million and 1.19 million, respectively. Today you can easily plunk down a few thousand dollars and get either date in a grade such as Mint State-63 or -64. But let's be realistic: In this economy most of us don't have that kind of spending power. Putting down $100 or so is a much more realistic possibility.

That $100 can be well spent when it comes to a Capped Bust dime. Both the 1835 and 1836 can be had for $55 in Fine-12. Going up to Very Fine-20 will cost you $85.

These numbers are worth keeping in mind, because for any series, the price of the most common dates or dates and mintmarks serves as a baseline from which all the other coins can be measured. Keeping that in mind, we can look at the other dates.

In 1828 the dime was altered slightly from its original design. The borders are all beaded, whereas the earlier dates are referred to as having a wide border. 1828 was also a year of relatively low production. The Mint records 125,000 dimes, including both the earlier design (the large date) and the later design (the small date).

Since the total number of small-date 1828s are included in that above figure, but cannot account for all of it, it's a wonderful surprise for collectors today to find out that an 1828 small date will only cost $80 in F-12. Yes, it's a higher number than the 1835 or 1836. But that price is far lower than it ought to be when compared to those baseline years.

The 1829 and 1830 Capped Bust dimes are both variety collectors' dreams. The 1829 saw four different varieties produced, while the 1830 saw three. The total mintage of the 1829 was 770,000, which makes it a bit less common than those baseline years I just mentioned. The 1830 has a total of only 510,000 dimes, making it about twice as hard to find. Yet, despite these lower numbers, five of the seven varieties of these two dates cost about the same as the common dates.

The 1829 with a curled base to the "2" in the date must be remarkably scarce, since it lists at $16,500 in F-12. The 1829 with a large "10c." on the reverse must also be a bit harder to find, since it costs $110 in F.

Now, if you are new to collecting the Capped Bust dime series, there is no need to worry about trying to get one of each variety for each year. Many of us start by purchasing one piece - a type coin, really. Then we move on toward collecting a date run. Then, if the budget allows, we go into variety collecting.

If you have the bug, and have purchased one of these early dimes, the dates from 1831 to 1834 do have a few varieties in them, but all have the same price range that I quoted for the two common dates. Again, that's good news, since the mintage figures dip as low as 485,000 for the 1833s. It may take a while to locate the dates with the lower mintages, simply because there are fewer of them, but the price tag is the reward for your patience.

Moving back into the dimes from 1820-1827, one quickly finds that there is quite a roller coaster ride for production. The 1827 is the second highest mintage in the series with its total of 1,215,000 dimes. The 1821, which has two varieties to its credit, is only slightly lower with 1,186,512 to its tally. On the other end of things, the 1822 was coined to a total of only 100,000 coins, while the 1828 I already mentioned topped out at 125,000.

As expected, the 1822 is an expensive dime. It runs $3,250 in F-12 and even costs $1,000 in Good-4. Based on its mintage, the prices really aren't that out of line. Unfortunately, for many of us, they are definitely out of reach.

The 1823 is another pleasant surprise. There are two varieties, but both cost close to the same amount in the grades we've been examining. Your $100 will land one of these in F-12. The variety with the large "E" on the reverse costs $50 in that grade, while the small "E" comes in at the same price.

Why this qualifies as good news is once again the mintage. Only 440,000 of these dimes came from the Mint in 1823. That's considerably less than half of the totals for the most common dates.

Getting back into the earliest three dates of the Capped Bust dimes, we might imagine that the bargains are all gone. After all, the 1809 and the 1811 each had mintages well below 100,000. The 1814, though, had a total of 421,500. As with several of the other dates, there are a few varieties of 1814 Capped Bust dime from which to choose, but one of them must be fairly common. The 1814 "large date" variety rings in at $75 in F-12, while the other two varieties for that year costs multiples of that in the same grade.

For completeness sake, it's worth noting a couple of figures for the 1809 and the 1811 Capped Bust dimes. The first year saw only 51,065 produced, which is rather sparse compared to the numbers we have already seen. Trying to stick with a $100 expense limit won't get you anything here, but curiously, $140 will. It's the entrance ticket for this date, meaning that's the price for a G-4 example. The 1811 had a slightly higher mintage at 65,180 pieces. In G-4 it will cost $110 for one that has survived until today.

Even though the first two years of this rather truncated series are costly, there appears to be more in the Capped Bust dime series than meets the eye. There is certainly some interest in them. The presence of a John Reich Collector Society, complete with Web site ( and journal, lends credence to that. But even for the collector who is new to the field, there is something here for people of just about any means.

As I mentioned, you could spend lavishly for one of these dimes in a high grade. Or, you could take a thriftier, more frugal approach and go for the circulated but attractive dimes that have leaner mintages. Whatever you choose, there is most likely a Capped Bust dime, or a date run of them, out there waiting for the patient collector.