Draped Bust coinage from the turn of the 19th century is an area of great interest for collectors who wish to obtain early United States Mint coinage. The Flowing Hair and Liberty Cap type coinages of 1793, 1794, and 1795 represent huge financial challenges for the typical collector, and even for the deep-pocketed numismatist simply finding a decent example often takes longer than anticipated. This is certainly the case with the Draped Bust Half Dime, a series that ran from 1796 through 1805 and follows aesthetic suit with the other Draped Bust coins of the period.
The Draped Bust Half Dime is one of the most challenging types of all Bust coinage. One could legitimately claim it’s even tougher than the Draped Bust Half Dollar, which at least offers relatively more affordable dates from the early 1800s – in stark contrast to the extremely rare issues from that series dated 1796 and 1797. None of the Draped Bust Half Dimes can be purchased for less than $1,600 in problem-free G4, meaning their baseline price, as a type, is higher than even the hefty Draped Bust Dollar at $1,100, let alone the prices of the other smaller, non-gold Draped Bust coinage.
Believed to have been by Robert Scot upon proposals forwarded by artist Gilbert Stuart, the obverse of the Draped Bust Half Dime features a right-facing Miss Liberty with flowing locks of hair tied back in a ribbon. The reverse is seen with two motifs; the earlier design (1796-97) depicts an eagle encircled within a wreath, while the latter (1800-05) shows a heraldic eagle.
As with all early United States coinage, the basic type is subdivided by series specialists into multiple varieties. This can cause a diehard collector to spend upward of six figures and many years completing an entire date run down to individual significant varieties. Making the completion of a set of Draped Bust Half Dimes even harder still for many collectors is the self-imposed challenge of building them in conjunction with the pricey Flowing Hair Half Dimes (1794-95), which can set the collector back thousands apiece.
There’s no way around it. The Draped Bust Half Dime can be fairly classified as a rare type; even those more wary in throwing around the four-letter “r” word can’t avoid labeling the series as at least very scarce. Mintages were small out the gate, with the majority between 10,000 and 30,000 pieces. The highest mintage goes to the 1797, with 44,527; the least was just 3,060 for the series key 1802. Of course, mintages don’t really mean a whole lot when discussing coins like the Draped Bust Half Dime, which saw extensive use and lost the majority of its original population to the elements of time. Survivors for any given date are measured in dozens and hundreds, not thousands. And the majority of these extant pieces are always in lower circulated grades. Uncirculated representatives of this series are inarguably rare.
The major series key 1802 Draped Bust Half Dime offers 35 known specimens and trades for $40,000 even in a grade of G4, representing an unavoidable challenge to those “merely” collecting this coin by date (1796, 1797, etc.). Those who add major varieties into the mix must also encounter semi-key contenders with the 1796/5 and 1797 13 Stars, which fetch $2,100 and $2,500, respectively, in G4. The other dates all have PCGS Price Guide listings below $2,000 in G4.
Prepare to pay even higher prices than those listed here, as it can be extremely challenging to find pieces that meet the “problem-free” standards upheld by many collectors. Many Draped Bust Half Dimes are given “Details” grades because they have been cleaned, scratched, or exhibit other surface issues. This should not necessarily prove to be a deterrent to collectors, as all Draped Bust Half Dimes are scarce, even in Details grades. In fact, many collectors find Details pieces as the only affordable avenue for building a set of Draped Bust Half Dimes or obtaining even one to help complete a type set involving this early coinage.
No matter your budget or overall goals, you have options when it comes to the Draped Bust Half Dime. Yes, it’s a challenging coin and in a class all its own. But there are viable choices for nearly every collector who seriously wants to pursue the series – or even just buy a single type specimen. And as we see with the top-end Draped Bust Half Dime Registry Sets, there are handfuls of really nice examples in lightly circulated and Mint State grades for which collectors can vie. Collecting the Draped Bust Half Dime may not be for the faint of heart, but it will always prove a worthy challenge.