Collecting Draped Bust Coins

Dollar in Extra Fine condition

Half dollar in Very Fine condition




Among collectors, Draped Bust coins, particularly dollars, are very popular right now. An early dollar is truly a majestic coin. At 39 to 40 mm in diameter (the largest of any U.S. coin struck for circulation, more than a millimeter larger than Morgan, Peace, and Eisenhower dollars) and 26.96 grams in weight, a Draped Bust dollar is hefty, a marvel to hold in your hand.

Scores of die varieties exist in the various denominations of Draped Bust coins because the dies back then were tooled by hand. The biggest design variation, though, resulted from a change in silver Draped Bust coins from the Small Eagle reverse, considerably rarer today, to the Heraldic Eagle reverse, considerably more attractive. This occurred in 1798, with both versions of the dollar minted that year. It's thought that this change was brought about to make the design more consistent with the Quarter Eagle reverse design of 1796 and with heraldic European coins of the time.

The Heraldic Eagle reverse was taken directly from the Great Seal of the United States, though interesting differences were introduced. On the Great Seal, the eagle is holding the arrows, symbolizing war, in its left claw and an olive branch, symbolizing peace, in its right claw. On Heraldic Eagle coins, these positions are reversed.




Quarter in Very Fine condition

Quarter in Fine condition




As with all early coins, you need to take care when buying Draped Bust coins. Many Draped Bust dollars, for instance, were holed during the 1800s and made into jewelry or buttons. When the coins began significantly appreciating in value in the 1950s, large quantities were filled with silver plugs. Plugged dollars are still collectible but are worth roughly one-third the value of undamaged coins. Holed yet unplugged coins, as you'll see two pages down, can be more desirable than plugged coins.

The existence of any plug should be mentioned in the description of the coin but sometimes isn't. A plug can sometimes be difficult to spot, though it can be given away by slight irregularities around the plug and a dark appearance or pits in the fields caused by heat used in the plugging process.

Other Draped Bust coins have been reworked in other ways, including having initials or scratches removed, weakly struck or worn areas enhanced, and rim dings filled in. From 20 to 35 percent of early dollars have been damaged and retooled in some way, according to the book The United States Early Silver Dollars, 1794 to 1803 by Jules Reiver. A repaired coin is always worth less than an original one.




Quarter in Very Good condition

Dime in Good condition




Outright counterfeits can also be a problem with Draped Bust coins. Look for poorly executed designs, dull, lifeless surfaces, or seams along the edge of the coin. More detail about this later.

Overgrading, particularly at online auctions, is another sore spot. You can find great deals at online auctions on both slabbed (in certified holders) and raw (unslabed) Draped Bust coins, but make sure you have return privileges from the seller in case the coin in person looks different from the coin on screen. Also, be careful about fringe slabbing services that may be valuable to certain sellers but habitually overgrade coins. This is another topic covered more fully later in this site.




Cent in Extra Fine condition

Cent in Very Fine condition




The issues of toning and cleaning are also key in evaluating Draped Bust coins. Many collectors of these coins value authenticity and originality to the extent that they abhor any attempt to change a coin's appearance, including cleaning.

Dipping, for instance, strips a coin of toning, which in silver coins typically results from the reaction of silver with hydrogen sulfide in the air or sulfur in coin albums or bags to form silver sulfide. In copper and bronze coins, the copper typically reacts with sulfur to form copper sulfate. Toning can impart beautiful color to a coin, but it can also turn it into a muddy or splotchy mess.

Many Draped Bust coins were cleaned at least once in their lives--it's estimated, for instance, that 75 percent of early dollars have been cleaned, also according to Reiver. Some cleaned coins have retoned, either naturally or artificially (artificial toning is often very dark and may have been used to cover evidence of repair work or harsh cleaning). Some coins were cleaned recently and look artificially white. Some cleaned harshly long ago are forever defaced with ugly scratch marks or have been permanently clouded by overdipping. Some coins in About Uncirculated or higher grades with ugly toning could probably benefit from a light dipping. As a general rule, though, uncleaned Draped Bust coins are valued higher than cleaned ones.




Cent in Fine condition

Half cent in Very Good condition




In Fine condition with decent eye appeal, you can expect to pay about $1,200 for a Draped Bust dollar, $160 for a half dollar, $375 for a quarter, $700 for a dime, $950 for a half dime, $110 for a large cent, and $85 for a half cent. For higher grades prices can escalate quickly.

Here are some other Draped Bust coins that passed through my own collection.



Draped Bust


Anne's Life

Anne's Death

1804 Dollar


Dollar Set






Other Images

More Info

Other glomworthy coins:

Oldest Coins

 Athenian Owls

Alexander the Great Coins

Medusa Coins

Thracian Tetradrachms

House of Constantine

Draped Bust Coins

Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles

Coin sites:
Coin Collecting: Consumer Protection Guide
Glomming: Coin Connoisseurship
Bogos: Counterfeit Coins

© 2014 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.