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Capped Bust Dimes (1809-1837)

Draped Bust Dimes

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 for commerce.

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 1823.

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.




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