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Half Dimes a Good Buy
By Tom LaMarre

Struck from 1794-1873, half dimes are a good buy. You can find Seated Liberty half dimes in Fine-12, dating back to the 1850s, for only $10. Many dates from the 1840s are valued at around $20 in Good-4.

An early reference to half dimes appeared in the April 6, 1842, issue of the Tioga Eagle, published in Wellsboro, Pa. The newspaper reported, "The United States Branch Mint at New Orleans coined half dimes during the month of February."

With a mintage of just 350,000, the 1842-O half dime is probably a steal at its Coin Prices' valuation of $38 for a G-4 example.

Counterfeit half dimes were the subject of a story in the May 11, 1846, issue of The Republican Compiler. It said, "Half a peck of pewter dimes and half dimes were found by some boys near the depot at N. Haven last week."

Genuine 1846 half dimes were struck only at the Philadelphia Mint. Only 27,000 were produced. Survivors are expensive.

An 1853 law reduced the weight of the half dime and most other silver denominations. Arrows were added at the date to indicate the change.

The April 28, 1853, issue of the Sandusky, Ohio, Daily Commercial Register reported, "The new silver quarter dollar pieces and dimes and half dimes, in course of manufacture at the Mint, will be put in circulation during the present week."

In 1858 there was a run on an Indiana bank. When $1,000 of its notes were presented, they were paid with half dimes.

There were enough of the coins to go around that year. More than 5 million half dimes were struck in 1858, at Philadelphia and New Orleans.

Gold and silver coins, including half dimes, disappeared from circulation during the Civil War. By 1862, half dimes were said to be a rare in New York City as they were in Richmond, Va.

After the war, half dimes circulated in some unusual places. The Jan. 25, 1868, issue of the St. Joseph (Mich.) Herald said, "American dimes and half dimes are now admitted in Porto Rico as a legal tender for public dues."

Production of half dimes ended in 1873, but they weren't forgotten. In 1879 the San Francisco Call said, "The scarcity of silver five-cent pieces has been marked for some time." Their successors, nickel five-cent pieces, were struck only at the Philadelphia Mint.

Counterfeiters continued to make half dimes long after the Mint stopped striking them.

In 1878, Secret Service agents arrested Melvin Tyce in New York for counterfeiting half dimes.

Genuine half dimes could also be a problem at times.

The Aug. 10, 1881, issue of the Decatur Daily Review reported, "The number of defaced coins, silver half dimes worn smooth and having holes bored in them which are in circulation in New Orleans, causes the Democrat of that city to make an investigation." The New Orleans Mint struck its last half dimes in 1860.

You might think thieves would not bother with lowly half dimes.

In 1879, though, two burglars were nabbed with a stash of hot half dimes. "Both Woods and Oliver are identified beyond all doubt as two of the masked men who entered cashier Sawyer's house and compelled him to open the [safe]," the Decatur Daily Republican reported. "Besides this, the watch taken from the cashier was found in Jack Wood's possession, and several packages of dimes and half dimes."

Today, few people except coin collectors know the United States ever had a silver five-cent piece.


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