Designer: John Reich. Engraver: Robert Scot.
Weight: 2.70 grams. Composition: .8924 silver, .1076 copper.
Approx diameter: (1809-1827) 18.8 mm, (1828-1837) 18.5 mm.
Reeded edge. All coined at Philadelphia Mint. Changed to
2.67 grams, .900 fine in 1837.
Designed by John Reich, the Capped Bust dime shows Liberty
in profile facing left wearing a Phrygian cap with LIBERTY
inscribed on the headband. Ringlets of hair protrude from
her cap at the forehead and ear, and her curls fall to the
shoulders. A clasp just off the shoulder holds the drapery,
and the date is below the truncation. Seven stars are to
her left and six are to the right. The reverse shows the
heraldic eagle looking left with wings raised. Above the
eagle, on a banner, is the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. The required
inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds the coin,
and the denomination written as 10 C. is below.
John Reich, a skilled engraver, was born
in Bavaria and came to the United States around 1800. In
order to finance his passage, he sold himself into servitude.
President Thomas Jefferson recommended that Reich be hired
as an engraver at the Mint in 1801. When he was serving
in Washington’s Cabinet, Jefferson was in charge of the
Mint as Secretary of State. While in France, Jefferson developed
a working knowledge of the minting process. Reich was hired
for other duties, but he eventually became an engraver.
He had a superb eye for the complicated aesthetics of coin
engraving. At this time his freedom was purchased by an
unknown mint official. Although Chief Engraver Robert Scot
designed most of the coins at the mint since 1794, it was
said that Reich had much more talent and ability than Scot.
In 1807, Reich was promoted to the position
of Assistant or Second Engraver by Robert Patterson, the
new Mint Director. Jefferson had urged Patterson to make
this promotion because Scot’s eyesight was failing him.
The promotion was timely because Reich was considering returning
to Europe out of boredom with the menial tasks he had been
assigned. Immediately Patterson assigned Reich the task
of redesigning the nation’s coinage. He began with the half
eagle and the half dollar, the two most important coins
Reich put the denomination of the gold and
silver coins. This innovation had not been done previously
because coins, especially in Europe, were valued for their
metallic content and weight. By 1815 Reich had created a
set of circulating coins with the common capped liberty
obverse. In 1813 Reich modified the half eagle to become
what is called the Capped Head design. Some contemporary
critic called the bust of Liberty “Reich’s fat German mistress.”
After working for ten years as Assistant
Engraver at the mint, Reich resigned in 1817. He had received
no pay raise or promotion and little praise from Robert
Scot. Scot remained the Chief Engraver until his death in
The early Mint in Philadelphia had many
challenges. Conditions were poor even at times chaotic.
Each of the specialists, the designers, engravers, and press
operators were men who had previously worked in other fields.
Coin manufacturing was a new trade for them. Production
was sporadic. For the new Mint to coin each of the mandated
denominations, it took four years. This delay was partly
because of inexperience and governmental obstacles. Bonds
that were unrealistically high were impediments to engravers
working with precious metals. Congress was not united on
the need for a government mint since private and foreign
coinage seemed to work. Because of the non-existent or low
production numbers in the early years of the Mint, foreign
copper, silver and gold circulated along with American made
coins for many years until they were later demonetized.
Record keeping in the Mint’s early years
was fairly inaccurate. At the end of the eighteenth century
Philadelphia had recovered from the British occupation and
Revolutionary War. It was the second largest city in the
English-speaking world, but it could do nothing to protect
its citizens from the mosquito-borne epidemic of yellow
fever. Its wealthy citizens went to the countryside to escape,
and the poor grimly waited their fate. Of course these annual
epidemics caused havoc with all manufacturing that required
continuity, such as a coinage sequence. The Mint shut operations
during the late summer and early fall every year. In addition
to yellow fever, disorder at the Mint was also caused by
chronic bullion shortages and coin dies that would wear
out and had to be re-engraved because they were not taken
out of production until they failed completely. Often dies
were locked up and later taken out of storage without great
attention and care. There was also a jealous Chief Engraver,
Robert Scot, who was in his seventies and had failing eyesight.