The 1796 dime is an historic issue that should grab more headlines. It may be a case of dimes in general not getting much attention, or it may be that despite being the first dime, the 1796 was produced after many other denominations. Whatever the reason, the 1796 is an historic coin worth of a special place in any serious collection.
Back in 1792, there was no United States Mint. What little coinage activity there was took place at the shop of a Philadelphia sawmaker by the name of Harper. That had to change before there could be any serious coin mintages.
The situation changed with the opening of a mint, but there were other problems. No silver or gold issues could be produced until a bond was posted, and the officials involved were balking at posting the bond. That required negotiations involving the secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. Once he solved that crisis, the Mint was free to produce gold and silver coins.
The decision was made to start with silver dollars, which was a slightly surprising decision simply because the equipment in hand was not good for a denomination larger than a half dollar, but they went ahead anyway, making a delivery of 1,758 silver dollars that were lightly struck and sometimes had other problems.
Half dollars were next and by the time they were finished, the year had almost passed. Half dimes with a 1794 date may or may not have been struck in 1794, but the best guess is that at least some were produced in 1795. At that point, it was decided to try some gold coins. When that was completed, along with other denominations that were needed like cents and dollars, the year was also over.
That pushed the first dime production back to 1796, by which time the design was a Draped Bust and small eagle, which would last for just two years. There was apparently no fanfare, as by 1796, new coins were no longer a novelty. Based on examples seen today, it appears that at least some 1796 dimes might have been planned as presentation pieces, as they are from proof-like dies. Finding a nice one, however, is a challenge, as the 1796 dime mintage was just 22,135 and most of the ones known to exist have problems such as heavy wear or weakness in parts of the design.
The 1797 had a similar mintage, but the 1796 is more available, especially in top grades, suggesting there was some saving. Today, the 1796 lists for $1,300 in G-4, while an MS-60 is $12,000. Those are reasonable prices for the first date in history of one of the original denominations authorized back in 1792.
We see the availability of the 1796 in the grading service reports, with NGC reporting a total of 63 coins in Mint State. Of the group, 13 were MS-65 or better. At the PCGS, out of 217 examples of the 1796 graded, a total of 49 were Mint State and of that group, nine were determined to be MS-65 or better.
The numbers in Mint State are better than would be expected, so the opportunity to acquire a nice 1796 dime is very real. They still are costly and most will have to settle for a lower grade. The goal is to find an example with simple wear and no damage, and those are also available with a little looking.
It?s a nice situation, as the 1796 is a very historic coin and one you want to include in a collection. That can be said of other historic first dates of other denominations, but at least in the case of the 1796 dime, there is a real chance to acquire an example.