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Mercury Dime, 1916-1945 | CoinWeek

1940-S Mercury Dime. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1940-S Mercury Dime. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

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

The Mint Act of 1890 allows the design of a United States coin to be changed every 25 years. Thus, in 1916, there was interest in replacing United States Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber’s dime, quarter, and half dollar designs. Mint Director Robert W. Woolley invited three renowned sculptors from outside the Mint to produce designs for the three denominations. Though perhaps intending that each coin would display the efforts of a different artist, Adolph A. Weinman, a former student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, completed two of the three designs–one for the dime and another for the half dollar. Hermon A. MacNeil’s design was chosen for the quarter.

The new designs were representative of the artistic vigor of the early 20th century that was displayed on a group of U.S. coins – a group that, along with Weinman’s dime, included the Lincoln cent; the Indian Head (Buffalo) nickel; Weinman’s Liberty Walking half dollar; the incuse Indian Head $2.50 quarter eagle and $5 half eagle gold coins; Saint-Gaudens’ Indian Head $10 eagle and eponymous double eagle; and several commemorative issues, such as the Panama-Pacific Exposition silver and gold pieces.

Modeled after Elsie Stevens, wife of the poet Wallace Stevens and a tenant of a New York City apartment house owned by the sculptor, Weinman’s Liberty on the dime wears a Phrygian cap, a soft, somewhat conical device that became known as a symbol of freedom. The cap also displays a small wing on the facing side. Together, the image represents freedom from bondage, specifically freedom of thought. However, the fact that this dime is almost universally known as the Mercury dime demonstrates the potential pitfalls of too-clever symbolism. The Roman god Mercury (analogous to the Greek god Hermes) was a deity of trade and commerce, the messenger of the gods who traveled swiftly between tasks via the wings on his hat and shoes. Though Mercury’s hat was a hard, brimmed piece worn by a male god, those details were overwhelmed by the symbolic wing.

The symbolism of the reverse fasces was also dramatic, but one that had an unintended association.

The 1923 Italian 100 Lire gold coin was issued to mark the one-year anniversary of the establishment of Italy's fascist government. Image: NGC / Adobe Stock.
The 1923 Italian 100 Lire gold coin was issued to mark the first anniversary of the establishment of Italy’s fascist government. Image: NGC / Adobe Stock.

Representing power and authority, the fasces dates possibly to Etruscan times and was later adopted as a symbol by the Roman Republic. The bundle of rods represents strength through unity (many rods being much stronger than a single rod), with the axe denoting authority, particularly the power over life and death. Unfortunately, it was also a symbol used by the Italian Fascist Party in the 1930s and ’40s. The symbol was also popular in early 20th-century American art, and the fasces remain present on several government symbols and buildings, including the seal of the U.S. Senate and the frieze of the facade of the United States Supreme Court building.

Weinman’s depiction was not fascist by intention. With the fasces wrapped in an olive branch, it presented a “desire for peace but [readiness] for war” message on the eve of America’s entry into World War I. Regardless of possible mixed messages, the design produced by Adolph Weinman is considered one of the best modern U.S. coin designs–particularly on such a small palette–and the dime remains a collector favorite.

A Brief Overview of Certified Mercury Dimes

CAC, NGC, and PCGS have combined to certify nearly 400,000 business strike Mercury dimes, including a few Prooflike pieces. The most commonly certified dates are from the mid-1930s onward and the heavily hoarded 1916 Philadelphia issue.

Mercury dimes with Full Bands (FB)/Full Split Bands are not especially rare but are preferred by collectors. The key date 1916-D Mercury dime, which has a lower Mint State survival rate than any other date in the series, is more frequently found with Full Split Bands than without, while the 1918-S, the 1919-S, the 1926-S, the 1927-D, and the 1927-S are tougher dates to find fully articulated strikes.

How Much Are Mercury Dimes Worth?

Every Mercury dime is struck on a 90% silver planchet, and as such, even common dates in well-circulated condition have a basal value linked to the current spot price of silver. Based on April 10, 2024’s spot price of $28.28 USD an ounce, a Mercury dime is worth a minimum of $2.04.

The D. Brent Pogue 1916-D Mercury Dime, from his personal collection. Image: Stack's Bowers.
The D. Brent Pogue 1916-D Mercury Dime, from his personal collection. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

As a collectible coin, common date Mercury dime values are modest for many dates through the grade MS66, particularly from the early 1930s forward. Issues released prior to the ’30s can sell for significant premiums with Full Split Bands in grades MS65 or finer. The key to the series is the 1916-D, which sells for over $1,000 even with most of its details worn off. Be advised that this is a heavily counterfeited coin; no example should be purchased unless it has been certified by CAC, NGC, or PCGS. As the 1916-D approaches Mint State grades, prices increase dramatically. At MS63 with FB, examples sell at auction for $20,000 to $30,000. An example in MS67FB sold at a March 2020 Stack’s Bowers auction for $204,000!

The 1921 and 1921-D are expensive in grades finer than MS63. The 1926-S is expensive in grades finer than MS63. The 1942 2 Over 1, discovered years after its release, is expensive in grades finer than XF40. Coins designated with Full Split Bands by the major grading services sell for strong premiums over coins without, especially in Gem or better grades.

Brilliant Proof Mercury Liberty dimes were minted from 1936 through 1942, with quantities ranging from 3,837 to 21,120. Despite these low mintages, prices for Mercury dime Proofs are modest for most years through PR66 and PR67. Mercury dime Proofs with Cameo contrast are rare; CoinWeek believes these are undervalued.

Varieties

The Mercury dime series offers cherrypickers with several doubled die varieties, repunched mintmarks, and overdates, including the 1942 and 1942-D 2 Over 1; the 1945-S Micro S; and other minor die variations.

In-Depth Mercury Dime Date Analysis by CoinWeek Notes

1942 Mercury dime graded PCGS MS68FB. Image: David Lawrence Rare Coins.
1942 Mercury dime graded PCGS MS68FB. Image: David Lawrence Rare Coins.

CoinWeek Exclusive Mercury Dime Coverage

Grading circulated 1916-D Mercury dimes.
If only it were this easy. Image: CoinWeek.

With the majority of the surviving examples of the 1916-D Mercury dime in the lowest Sheldon grades, Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker provide valuable grading tips to ensure you get the best possible coin for the grade.

Coin expert Greg Reynolds provides his take on the Mercury dime series and presents a collecting strategy that will allow a collector to assemble a modestly-priced set without compromising quality.

In this article, Greg tackles the series from a slightly different perspective, providing a roadmap on how to collect Mercury dimes on a $500 per coin budget.

Semi-keys are scarce coins from a series but not the most difficult ones to acquire. Coin writer Al Doyle, always looking out for the budget-minded collector, writes this piece about how to collect the Mercury dime semi-keys.

CoinWeek Exclusive Mercury Dime Grading and Counterfeit Detection Videos

 

 

 

 

 

Design

Obverse:

On the obverse, Liberty faces left, most of her hair covered by a soft cap with a soft peak folded toward the front. The cap has a small wing extending from the base upward to the back. The word LIBERTY, with E and R partially covered by the top of the cap, encircles around slightly more than the top half of the coin just inside the flat rim. IN GOD WE TRUST, on two lines of two words each, with centered dots separating the words on each line, is to the lower left. The date is at the lower right, mostly below the truncation of the neck. The designer’s initials AW appear as a monogram to the lower right, about halfway between the Y of LIBERTY and the date.

Reverse:

A fasces, its axe pointed to the left, occupies the center of the reverse. The bundle of rods is bound by horizontal banding at the top (three bands), in the middle (two bands), and at the bottom (two bands), with a single band diagonally across the bundle in the each open area between the horizontal bands. An olive branch with berries curves from the left front behind the bundle of rods to appear again at the top right. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, the words separated by centered dots, is concentric to the flat rim around slightly more than the top half of the coin; ONE DIME, the words separated by the bottom of the fasces and the olive branch, completes the circle at the bottom. A five-point star separates ONE and UNITED on the left, and DIME and AMERICA on the right. Winged Liberty dimes were minted in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco; D and S mint marks are located to the left of the end of the olive branch and are oriented in alignment with the curve of ONE and DIME.

Coin Specifications

Mercury Dime
Years of Issue: 1916-45
Mintage (Circulation): High: 231,410,000 (1944); Low: 264,000 (1916-D)
Mintage (Proof): High: 22,329 (1942); Low: 4,130 (1936)
Alloy: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: 2.5 g
Diameter: 17.9 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Adolph A. Weinman
REV Designer: Adolph A. Weinman

 

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Additional Resources

Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of Mercury Dimes, Standing Liberty Quarters, and Liberty Walking Half Dollars. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

Guth, Ron, and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

Lange, David W. The Complete Guide to Mercury Dimes. DLRC Press.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S. and Jeff Garrett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.
 

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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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1 COMMENT

  1. Hi my name is Harold Goodyear I have a couple mercury dimes and buffalo nickels of wheat pennies 43 still 44coppers And a bunch more coins I love my coins and I hate to sell them

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