Hey Buddy Can You Spare a Di(s)me

Hey Buddy Can You Spare a Di(s)me

by Ken Camilleis

This month I’ll tell you an exciting “coin story.” This story actually begins back in 1837, so my memory of the details isn’t clear. In fact, I wasn’t even collecting coins in 1837 so this is “second-hand information”. Well, more like 2,000,000th-hand information.

It was Friday, June 30, 1837. A group of professionals gathered in celebration of a momentous occasion. To wit, workers at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia were rejoicing over the fact that dies for the new Seated Liberty dime designed by Christian Gobrecht (and approved just months earlier) were completed – and so the new steam press was ready to strike some dimes! To commemorate the event and to test out the dime dies, on this day some thirty dimes were struck in proof format, and distributed to designated Mint personnel and later to other people of elite significance. This was the beginning of the new “dime” as it now came to be known; the 10-cent denomination before this time was called a disme and labeled “10 C.” And while these proof dimes were being handed out, somewhere in the distant future, I was watching . . . . .

Time marched on, and the dime marched on. Throughout the last half of 1837, commerce was flooded with 682,470 beautiful and well-struck Seated Liberty dimes with no stars on the obverse. Within the next year, 13 stars would be added to further glorify the beauty of these new coins. The world would change, and so would the designs on dimes. The months turned into years … 1838 … 1839 … 1840 … the years turned into decades … 1850 … 1860 … the great Civil War … 1870 … 1880 … the decades turned into generations … 1910 … World War I … 1940 … World War II and the March of Dimes … 1970 … Vietnam … 2000 … September 11 and its fallout … but the dime marched on, still to this day of the same 17.9 mm diameter that it was in 1837, and boldly displaying its denominational identity, “ONE DIME.”   

During the last ten years of this 168-year saga, I set out in an attempt to achieve my lifelong goal of owning one of those first thirty dimes (as opposed to dismes) to ever have been struck by the U.S. Mint. The year 1837 is also especially significant to me as a pre-Civil War historian and considering that many men who fought to save the Union were born in 1837 and during that decade. The Internet has become a very effective means of searching out classic rarities during this past decade, but it just so happened that an innocent-looking ad in a March 2005 edition of the Coin Dealer newsletter led me to a company that had not one, but two 1837 proof No Stars dimes slabbed by NGC, one PF63 and one PF64! By the time I’d called the proprietor, the PF63 example was off of their inventory, but the gentleman I spoke with was kind enough to agree to send me the PF64 coin on approval.

On Thursday, May 26, 2005, a historic moment in my life was achieved when the dime arrived in my “inbox.” I took one look at it and said to myself, “This is for me!” It cost the most I’ve ever spent for a single coin in 44 years as a numismatist, and since I had very little cash left to spend I had to part with some dear old friends – coin friends anyway – to obtain it. After 168 years, one of America’s first “dimes” – out of about 75 billion dimes minted since the day it was struck – has found a family which hopefully will cherish it for a few more generations. I am now doing research on the pedigrees of the known examples of the 1837 proof No Stars dime, most especially this one.