1853-O Half Dime
Back in 1853, things were much more complicated. There had been no silver coins in circulation for at least two years. The gold discovery in California had upset the traditional gold to silver ratio. The main result was that it cost more to produce a silver coin than their face value.
The more logical thing to do would have been to lower the silver content in the coins slightly. However the Congress of the day balked at this idea. Initially they seemed interested in studying the problem to death even considering a two and a half cent coin. Instead they emerged not with a proposal to reduce the silver content, but rather with a 75 percent silver three-cent piece which they suggested would be handy for buying stamps.
Congress delayed as the country suffered through a severe coin shortage. The mints were really in a difficult position. If they produced more coins to try to solve the coin shortage, they lost more money in the process. If they didn’t do anything to solve the coin shortage, they were not doing their job as the only thing a mint can do is produce coins.
As 1853 dawned, both the Philadelphia and New Orleans mints did make some coins, but only in modest numbers. The New Orleans mint managed to produce just 160,000 half dimes when the order came from Congress that the silver content had been reduced. That meant a new half dime and to show the change, arrows were added at the date.
New Orleans produced a mintage of 2,200,000 of the new slightly lighter half dimes with the arrows. The higher mintage 1853-O with arrows at the date is available in reasonable numbers depending on the grade. The 1853-O with no arrows is a different issue. It is rarer to find due to its lower mintage numbers.
Coins from the New Orleans mint are notorious for being tough to find in Mint State. Another reason is that the 1853-O was also heavily remelted down. The branch mints functioned on tight budgets and if they could save some silver, it would have been foolish not to melt down whatever silver coins they had as they could make far more silver coins of the new size.
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