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1936 Mercury Dime Proof : A Collector’s Guide

1936 Mercury Dime. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1936 Mercury Dime. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

Following several years of low demand, the United States Mint’s practice of striking and offering Proof coins for collectors ended in 1916, only to resume in 1936 to raise money for the Treasury Department. Numismatist Roger W. Burdette writes in his authoritative United States Proof Coins: 1936-1942 (2016), that it was Louis Howe, an advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt, who pushed for the program’s return after his first idea, offering some of the gold coins in the Treasury’s possession to collectors at a premium, was rebuffed.

According to Burdette, the first 1936 Proof to be struck was a Washington Quarter, presented to Howe shortly before his death on April 18. Howe must have been pleased with the specimen because Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. ordered the Mint to go forward with Proof coinage on April 16.

The 1936 Mercury Dime Proof was one of five Proof coins issued in 1936. Along with the dime, the complete set included the 1936 Walking Liberty Half Dollar Proof, the 1936 Washington Quarter Proof, the 1936 Buffalo Nickel Proof, and the 1936 Lincoln Cent Proof. These coins were sold individually, with a surcharge added to the cost of each coin plus postage. The surcharge for the 1936 Mercury Dime Proof was set at 10¢; the larger but less valuable 1936 Buffalo Nickel Proof carried a surcharge of 15¢! A total surcharge of 90¢ was required for the purchase of one example of all five denominations.

Demand for the 1936 Proofs, while minuscule by today’s standards, was considerably higher than any other Proof issue released to that point in the 20th century, and demand would increase each year from 1936 to 1942. Several factors contributed to this.

For starters, the coin-collecting hobby was growing, not just among the elite but among the working class. Despite the hardship of the Great Depression, Americans found some enjoyment in filling penny boards.

Secondly, interest in Proof issues had continued despite the Mint’s suspension of the program, and each year the Mint fielded letters from collectors inquiring about Proof coins.

And finally, the commemorative coin craze reached its crescendo in 1936. Collectors and speculators charted the course for the modern coin market by lobbying Congress to support their pet projects with the issuance of commemorative half dollars (or entire series of them). Many of these collectors were motivated to ride their hobby even further by purchasing the annual Proof issues.

1936 Proofs: A Tale of Two Finishes

The Mint was deficient in experience when it came to producing Proofs of the quality that numismatists had come to expect. Despite being offered as “perfect coins” struck on “highly polished planchets,” Proofs sold early in the year exhibited a satin finish. This disappointed some, leading the Mint to face public scrutiny in the pages of The Numismatist, primarily concerning the satin finishes found on the Lincoln Cent and Buffalo Nickel Proofs.

The silver coins were struck in a brilliant finish that would become more distinctive as the Mint continued to improve its planchet and die preparation methods.

Burdette reports 14 deliveries of Proof Mercury Dimes for 1936, with most of the deliveries occurring before July 14. These deliveries do not represent the total number of coins struck, however, as records concerning later Proof issues indicate a rejection rate of about 20%, due to quality considerations.

1936 Mercury Dime Proof Deliveries
May 14 515 May 25 203
June 1 352 June 5 301
June 9 303 June 15 303
June 25 60 July 14 303
July 23 301 August 6 503
October 5 403 December 3 101
December 9 201 December 18 303
Total: 4,130*

* Less 25 held for Assay. Source: Burdette, Roger. United States Proof Coins: 1936-1942. Seneca Mill Press. (2016)

Subtracting 25 coins held back for Assay, the United States Mint struck and sold 4,105 1936 Mercury Dime Proofs and earned $41,050 in revenue from their sale.

Walter Breen claims that no less than eight examples were struck with a satin finish.

Choosing Which 1936 Mercury Dime Proof to Buy

The combined certified population of 1936 Mercury Dime Proofs at CAC, NGC, and PCGS as of July 3, 2024, equals 3,055 pieces – just shy of 75% of the total distributed mintage. CoinWeek assumes that some percentage of this figure consists of crossovers and upgrades where the old certification number was not removed from the dataset. This percentage is likely small and does not change the fact that most Proofs of this period have been submitted for encapsulation over the past 35+ years. The certified data shows that the typical state of preservation for the 1936 Mercury Dime Proof is Proof 65, with a nearly equivalent but smaller cohort of coins grading Proof 64 and Proof 66.

Given the subdued eye appeal of some of the most highly-preserved examples, it is clear that age and storage media have not treated these coins kindly. Coins with attractive eye appeal in the grades of Proof 65 and above should therefore command higher prices than similarly graded coins with mottled toning.

But what does premium eye appeal mean for an issue that usually has a washed-out or slightly dull appearance? The answer will differ from collector to collector.

Some adhere to the philosophy that all toning detracts from the coin’s original character. We have not personally seen a 1936 Mercury Dime Proof with fully white mirrored surfaces that hasn’t been dipped at some point. For these, we advise buying coins that still have life on the surface and no evidence of residue from the non-abrasive solution used to preserve them.

Others may find excitement in toned examples. Here, be advised that not all toning is treated the same by the market. A coin must have dazzling color characteristics to appeal to collectors of toned coins. Obverse toning is more important, but to stand out, the coin must present well in photographs and in person. Avoid coins with mottled brown toning, fingerprint stains, or copper spots in focal areas.

An attractive Proof 65 graded by a leading service will likely retail for $1,350 to $1,500. The price per coin increases dramatically with each incremental step up in grade. Coins in the Proof 68 range have approached $30,000 in recent auctions. We recommend that you avoid coins graded lower than 65 as they do not present good value for money.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

The PCGS PR68+ was made sometime after May 2022.

Top Population: PCGS PR68+ (1, 7/2024), NGC PF68 (4, 7/2024), and CAC PR68 (1:0 stickered:graded, 7/2024).

  • PCGS PR68 #25602039: Heritage Auctions, June 2016, Lot 4412 – $23,500. Pop two at PCGS when offered; Heritage Auctions, July 14, 2022, Lot 3070 – $28,800. Pale diagonal streaks of gold, orange, red, purple, and blue toning on the obverse and reverse. Three small dots to the left of Liberty’s chin. Small toning speck to the right of RI in the right field on the reverse. Pop four at PCGS when offered.
  • NGC PF68 #3735254-003: Heritage Auctions, January 10, 2019, Lot 4429 – $8,400. Rust-colored toning along most of the surfaces of the obverse. The reverse is darkly toning throughout, with rainbow colors along the rim.
  • PCGS PR68 #8338008: Heritage Auctions, December 3, 2015, Lot 3122 – $29,375. Sole finest at PCGS when offered. Old Green Holder. Diagonal streaks of gold, orange, and red toning on the obverse and reverse. On the obverse, there is a small toning spot centered between the T and Y of LIBERTY.
  • NGC PF68* #3170127-001: Heritage Auctions, March 28, 2009, Lot 963 – $16,100; “The Greensboro Collection, Part V,”  Heritage Auctions, August 12, 2015, Lot 4004 – $15,275. Green, orange, and red rainbow toning along the peripheries of the obverse and reverse. Patch of orange toning on Liberty’s neck.
  • NGC PF68 #1727455-001: “The Sounder Collection,” Heritage Auctions, November 3, 2005, Lot 2090 – $20,125. Scattered green and orange toning along the peripheries of the obverse and reverse. Heritage notes that this coin has a pewter, almost satin finish.
  • PCGS PR67+ CAC #47805833: GreatCollections, August 13, 2023, Lot 1124716 – View; Stack’s Bowers, March 27, 2024, Lot 5293 – $4,320. Mottled toning throughout with nearly vertical toning striations on the obverse and splotches of dark brown toning on the reverse.
  • NGC PF67+ #6329266-002: Heritage Auctions, December 15, 2022, Lot 3228 – $3,120; “The Dr. David Harris Collection of U.S. Coins,” GreatCollections, June 16, 2024, Lot 1544830 – View. Champagne hue on the obverse and pale lilac hue on the reverse. Scattered dark spots along the left obverse field.
  • NGC PF67+ #6329256-002: Heritage Auctions, October 7, 2022, Lot 3610 – $3,600. Streaky toning in purple and green.
  • PCGS PR67+ CAC #40563749: Heritage Auctions, April 22, 2021, Lot 3394 – $8,400. Scattered toning. Hints of a fingerprint on the obverse near LI. Circular toning spots in gold and red in the lower right obverse field. Scattered dark brown toning on the reverse.
  • PCGS PR67+ #40321150: Stack’s Bowers, November 12, 2020, Lot 5141 – $5,280; GreatCollections, October 30, 2022, Lot 1251665 – View. Faint toning in pastel hues.
  • PCGS PR67+ CAC #34924255: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, May 17, 2018, Lot 499 – $7,050. Orange and red toning throughout the obverse. Chalky clay toning on the reverse.
  • PCGS PR67+ CAC #34713630: Heritage Auctions, April 27, 2018, Lot 4786 – $7,200. Mottled toning in amber and green.
  • PCGS PR67+ CAC #85199371: Heritage Auctions, November 2, 2017, Lot 16701 – $8,400. Dark peripheral toning on the obverse. Orange and magenta toning throughout the reverse.
  • PCGS PR67+ #25631238: Heritage Auctions, June 9, 2016, Lot 4411 – $5,640. Attractive vivid rainbow toning.
  • PCGS PR67+ CAC #25673719: Heritage Auctions, April 28, 2016, Lot 4159 – $5,170. Lightly toned.
  • NGC PF67+ CAC #3219424-002: Heritage Auctions, October 14, 2011, Lot 3927 – $3,737.50. Streaky amber and gold toning.

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Design

Obverse:

Sculptor Adolph A. Weinman’s design features Liberty (of Thought) facing to the left. A winged cap adorns her head. Tufts of hair curl around the base of the cap on her forehead and behind her ear. A braid of hair wraps around the base of her neck. The word LIBERTY wraps around the top of the coin with letters spaced apart.

The letters E and R are partially obstructed by Liberty’s cap. The designer’s monogram (a “W” surmounting an “A”) appears behind Liberty’s neck below and to the left of the Y in LIBERTY. The date 1936 appears below the bust truncation to the rear. A subtle basin creates a dish-like appearance in the field.

Reverse:

In the center of the reverse of the 1936 Mercury Dime Proof is the fasces, a symbol of governmental authority used by the ancient Romans. An axe blade faces to the left. A curvilinear branch of olive leaves wraps behind the fasces. Wrapping around the top of the design is the legend UNITED · STATES · OF · AMERICA. Wrapping around the bottom of the design is the denomination ONE DIME. Two five-pointed stars separate the legend from the denomination. The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM (“Out of Many, One”) appears to the right of the fasces, slightly below center.

Edge:

The edge of the 1936 Mercury Dime Proof is reeded.

Designer

Adolph Alexander Weinman was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States as a teenager. He studied and worked under such famous American sculptors as Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French. Weinman is responsible for two of the most iconic coin designs in U.S. history: the Mercury or Winged Liberty Dime and the Walking Liberty Half Dollar, both of which debuted in the annus mirabilis numismaticus of 1916. Weinman’s sons also became sculptors and coin designers, and he taught such pupils as Anthony de Francisci. Adolph Weinman died in 1952.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year of Issue: 1936
Denomination: 10 Cents (USD)
Mintmark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: 4,130
Alloy: .900 Fine Silver
Weight: 2.5 g
Diameter: 17.9 mm
Thickness: 1.35 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Adolph A. Weinman
REV Designer: Adolph A. Weinman
Quality: Proof

 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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