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The mysterious 'Orphan Annie' dime

Why are the 1844 Seated Liberty dimes scarce, especially in higher grades? According to some, they were lost in the Great Chicago Fire. Others claimed it was bandits who made off with the coins, buried them, and then went to their graves not revealing the true location of the loot.

It's amazing how many times throughout U.S. coinage history wild theories like these have been used to explain the scarcity of a coin.

The 1844, known to collectors as the "Orphan Annie" dime (for having lost its mates), is replete with these colorful tall tales. The main story was one of war and lost love and went something like this:

Needing money to pay the soldiers mustered for a military expedition into Mexico, the Army's paymaster requisitioned a large supply of small change for the soldiers to use, which happened to be 1844-dated dimes.

Once in Mexico's capital, the soldiers became homesick and longed for female companionship. It was then that a clever one of their number came upon a plan to attract the local senoritas. Noticing they liked to wear fancy bangles, he fashioned some bracelets using the 1844 dimes.

It worked. A booming enterprise followed, as others in his company stumbled over each other, lining up to buy the bracelets. Not a single 1844 dime escaped the love-starved rush.

When the soldiers came home, the bracelets stayed behind. The soldiers were soon forgotten, the bracelets melted, and the silver was minted into Mexican coins.

The lost love story is just one of many theories advanced over the years to explain why, of an original mintage of 72,500 coins, fewer than might be expected survived.

 Other tantalizing tales were:

  • The coins were improperly alloyed, so most of the mintage was melted by the U.S. Mint.
  • The entire issue had been bought up by a speculator, few survived.
  • A bank in New Orleans requisitioned Washington for $5,000 in dimes.
  • Fifty thousand were shipped by boat, but lost in a storm.
  • The coins were lost in the Great Chicago Fire.
  • The dimes gravitated to Pennsylvania and were swept away in the Great Johnstown Flood.
  • Seventy thousand of the coins were sent overland to the forty-niners in California via the Santa Fee Trail. Along the way, the coins were seized by bandits who hid the loot. The bandits were later killed, taking knowledge of the secret hiding place with them for eternity to their graves.

I like the last of these best. However, I leave it to others to go digging. Besides, for about $550, you can get one for your collection in Fine-12 from a dealer, without all of the work.

You can read more about the "Orphan Annie" dime in story by Tom LaMarre in the September issue of Coins magazine.