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1853-O half dime rarer than thought

Some coins are better than their mintages suggest and that is almost certainly the case with the 1853-O half dime. In fact, there are two 1853-O half dimes: ones with arrows at the date and one without the arrows and it is that latter which is potentially much better than its mintage totals suggest.

The 1853-O half dime with arrows can be bought for only $20.75 in G-4. Its predecessor, the 1853-O half dime without arrows, however, is a rarity in any grade with a G-4 price of $285.

The 1853-O half dime with arrows can be bought for only $20.75 in G-4. Its predecessor, the 1853-O half dime without arrows, however, is a rarity in any grade with a G-4 price of $285.

The situation back in 1853 was complicated. There had been no silver coins in circulation for a couple of years. The gold discovery in California had upset the traditional gold to silver ratio. The result was that silver coins actually cost more than their face value to produce.

The logical thing to do would have been to reduce slightly the amount of silver in coins but the Congress balked at that idea. Initially, Congress seemed interested in attempting to study the problem to death considering, among other things, a two and a half cent coin. Instead, they emerged not with a proposal to reduce the silver slightly but rather with a 75 percent silver three-cent piece, which they cheerfully suggested would be handy for buying stamps.

Congress delayed while the nation suffered an extreme coin shortage. The mints were really placed in a difficult position. If they produced more coins to try to solve the coin shortage, they lost more money. If they did not try to do something to solve the coin shortage, they were not doing their job as the only thing most mints do is produce coins. If they did produce and release the coins, the public would just hoard them anyway.

As 1853 dawned, both Philadelphia and New Orleans made coins, although in modest numbers. New Orleans managed a production of just 160,000 half dimes when the order came that the silver content had finally been reduced by Congress. That meant a new half dime and to show the change, arrows were added at the date. New Orleans produced a mintage of 2,200,000 of the new slightly lighter half dimes with the arrows.

The higher mintage 1853-O with arrows at the date is available as that was a large mintage for New Orleans. It lists at just $20.75 in G-4 while an MS-60 is $310 and an MS-65 at $3,260. With the exception of the MS-65 the others are fairly easily located.

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The 1853-O with no arrows is another matter. It lists for $285 in G-4, $6,450 in MS-60 and $27,500 in MS-65 and with good reason as it was a low mintage date from New Orleans.

Coins from New Orleans are notoriously tough when it comes to Mint State. That is true of the 1853-O no arrows that PCGS has seen just 62 times of which just 7 were called Mint State.

The best guess is that the 1853-O was also heavily melted. The branch mints functioned on tight budgets and if they could save some silver, it was foolish not to melt down whatever silver coins they had as they would make far more silver coins of the new size.

For the collector today, the no arrows 1853-O is simply not available in any numbers in any grade. We may never know what its real mintage was when you subtract the melted coins from the 160,000 produced but we do know that the no arrows 1853-O is a lot better than many realize.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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