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1804: Standout Era Dime

1804 dime with 13 stars on reverse. (Images courtesy Heritage Auctions)

Being a tough early dime of the United States is not an easy thing to do as virtually any early dime of the United States is tough and expensive. That said, the 1804 stands out as one of the better dates.

We cannot really be sure what happened back in 1804 when it came to the mintage of dimes. There was no design change as the Draped Bust and Heraldic Eagle design had been around since 1798. There were, however, a couple varieties of the 1804 with one having 13 stars and the other having 14 although varieties on the coins of the time were common.

What we do know is that the dime has not been an especially high priority for the early Mint. That situation went back to the first coins. When the Mint made the first silver coins in 1794, they were dollars and half dollars. Then, in 1795, half dimes (in some cases dated 1794) were produced. There was no mintage of dimes, however, until 1796. It was almost certainly a matter of priorities for a facility that was simply unable to produce all the coins that were desired or needed at the same time. The dime had to wait along with the quarter and that sort of problem would be around for years.

If you look at early dime mintages you learn quickly why early dimes are so tough and expensive. The higher mintages like 1801 and 1803 were still under 35,000 pieces while the lower mintages like the 1802 were under 11,000.

What produced the 8,265 mintage of the 1804 is anyone’s guess. We know that 1804 was a confusing year on a variety of fronts. Officials had been doing what they could to convince anyone coming in with gold and silver to order small denominations as the practice was to allow people to pick the coins to be made from their metal. That had not worked and, in the process, it compounded an already bad national coin shortage as the coins being requested (especially silver dollars) were in some cases being exported.

By 1804, the situation had reached a crisis point as people continued to ask for the denominations that were using the Mint’s resources to produce only to have those denominations not circulate at a time when there was a coin shortage. As a result, the production of the silver dollar and gold eagle was suspended.

Even with the suspension of gold eagles and silver dollars, that 1804 mintage becomes all the more remarkable because instead of being higher it is lower than the average. In 1805 the dime mintage jumped to a new record over 120,000 and in 1807 it jumped again to 165,000.

The situation leaves the 1804 dime as a significant question mark in the history of dimes. It also leaves the 1804 as a very tough dime for a variety of reasons. First, we start with the mintage of the 1804 and question whether that was correct. Frankly, we cannot be certain because back then, many times coins were included in the production from one year while having a date from a different year.

Today’s prices that show the 1804 with 13 stars at $3,300 in G-4 while the variety with 14 stars is $4,650 also raise some questions as to how the two varieties compare. Actually, throughout the grades, the 13-star variety is less expensive with the highest grade for either being XF-40 where the 13-star variety is $27,000. Of course, the lack of prices in higher grades also raises the question as to whether either or both are even available in Mint State.

At Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) the 13-star 1804 has been graded 16 times with the nicest being an AU-53. In the case of the 14-star 1804, PCGS has seen only three examples with the best being an XF-45. At Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, they have seen only two of each with the nicest in both cases being an XF-40. Combined, the two have the 13-star at 18 appearances with the nicest being an AU-53 while the 14-star is at just five with no coin even reaching AU.

Under the circumstances, there is little doubt that any 1804 dime is a good deal tougher than today’s prices suggest. It is also possible to conclude that in the variety with 14 stars we have one of the real condition rarities of United States coins. The 1804 may not be the most historic coin, but it is certainly the toughest regular date dime of the era.

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