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HomeUS CoinsThe 1916-D Mercury Dime : A Grading Guide from AG3 to VG8

The 1916-D Mercury Dime : A Grading Guide from AG3 to VG8

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

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek …..
Due to its cost and status as a key date, the 1916-D Mercury dime is one of the few coins in that series to have a devoted following in the very lowest grades. The entire mintage of 264,000 was struck after the Denver Mint had already struck over 6.5 million dimes using the Barber design. The entire mintage was released into circulation in November of that year.

The term circulation is key here, as population data at CAC, NGC, and PCGS demonstrate that most 1916-D dimes that survive show signs of significant wear.

This a table of the grade distribution of 1916-D Mercury dimes from January 2024.
Data current through January 22, 2024.

The table above expresses the certified population of low grade circulated 1916-D Mercury dimes at CAC, NGC, and PCGS. It’s important to understand that the CAC data includes coins that have been encapsulated by CAC and coins encapsulated by NGC and PCGS that also have been awarded the CAC-approved sticker.

What this data shows is that roughly three-fourths or more of all 1916-D Mercury dimes certified fall into these lower population grades. What we take away from this is that a substantial period of time passed between the coin’s mintage and the when the majority of 1916-D dimes that survive were pulled out of circulation.

The 1916-D Mercury Dime Not Understood to Be Scarce Until the Late 1930s

Throughout his career, numismatist David Lange wrote extensively about the impact that coin boards and coin albums played in expanding the popularity of the coin collecting hobby. Joseph Kent Post devised the first coin board in 1934 while working as an engineer for the Kimberly-Clark Corporation. He self-funded a small business selling the boards at various local and regional stores before selling the invention to Whitman Publishing. Whitman expanded upon Post’s concept and distributed coin boards, and later coin albums, nationally.

Early coin board collectors quickly realized that finding a 1916-D Mercury dime, or a 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent, posed more of a challenge than locating other dates, but the average grade of a circulating silver dime pulled from circulation after 10-15 years of use would not have been AG3 to Fine. Instead, we have to look at the exploding popularity of coin collecting in the 1950s and the nationwide race to pull every coin of value out of circulation and sell them at a profit.

By this logic, it was probably young collectors and aspiring coin dealers that sought out and found 1916-D dimes in low grades, just as it was a group of unsavory hustlers and con artists who, around the same time, began to add D mintmarks to otherwise common 1916 Mercury dimes from Philadelphia.

That so many 1916-D dimes survive in grades AG3 to F10 is a testament to the entrepreneurial vision of a generation of paper delivery boys and cashiers-turned-coin weenies.

Before You Grade Circulated 1916-D Mercury Dimes, Authenticate!

The first step to grading any coin is authentication. This is especially true for coins that have been as frequently counterfeited as the 1916-D Mercury dime.

Finding fakes is easier with Mint State coins, as the design details are all present. With heavily circulated coins, you have fewer things to go by. At a minimum, you should check the coin’s size and weight, and check that the design details that remain are correct, and that the position of the D mintmark is correct. Even if a coin clears the bar on all of these facets, it is understood that it will not trade on the open market at the same level as it would if it was backed by the authenticity guaranty of a reputable third party grading service.

An Illustration of a Fake and a Real 1916-D Mercury Dime.
To a trained professional, the coin on the left would appear to be an obvious fake.

The Mercury dime measures 17.9 mm and has a struck weight of 2.5 grams. In well-worn condition, it is not unusual for a silver coin to lose approximately 3-4% of its original weight. All raw 1916-D Mercury dimes should be treated with suspicion–even more so if they do not weigh at least 2.4 grams in well-worn conditions.

The 1916-D Mercury dime uses the same mint mark punch that was used to strike the 1914-D Lincoln cent. In well-worn grades, the details of the mintmark will be worn flat. A close examination of the mintmark is strongly advised.

Grading Heavily Circulated 1916-D Mercury Dimes

Common Mercury dimes are worth much more than their stated value due to the basal weight of their 90% silver planchets. At the present silver spot price of $22.29 (as of January 22, 2024), a 90% silver dime has a silver value of $1.61 each, or 16 times its legal tender value. As a collectible coin, it is not unusual to see common date Mercury dimes sell for $4 to $6 in grades of About Good to Good.

The 1916-D Mercury dime is not a common dime; certified examples in AG3 condition regularly sell for prices between $800 and $1,000.

So how do professional graders determine whether a 1916-D Mercury dime grades AG3 or VG10? Let’s break it down.

About Good (AG3)

This is a photograph of a 1916-D graded AG3.
Image: CoinWeek.

An AG coin will be heavily worn. The rim will be almost completely gone and the flatness of the coin will encroach halfway into the letters. In this grade, the date may only be partially visible and the rim will be flattened to the point where it touches the base of the 6 (at a minimum). Liberty’s eyes and lips will be visible, but most of the detail on the cap and her hair will be worn flat. On the reverse, the mint mark may be worn down to the point where the opening inside of the D is indistinguishable from the raised part. The fasces will be worn flat and the branch will show a silhouetted outline but no fine details.

It is not unusual if coins in this grade exhibit stains or light circulation damage

Good (G4)

This is a photograph of a 1916-D graded G4. Image: PCGS.
Image: PCGS.

Wear along the rims stops at the beginning of the letters. Outlines of the wing on Liberty’s cap may show some soft detail, faint separation between Liberty’s jaw and neck will be visible. Separation of some of tips of the feathers will be visible and the indention at the curl of Liberty’s hair will be present (to the left of where her ear would appear, if visible). On the reverse, faint outlines of some of the fasces bands are visible along the edges. The leaves and the branch are less flattened than they appear in AG3, but lack detail.

It is not unusual if coins in this grade exhibit stains or light circulation damage

Good-6 (G6)

This is a photograph of a 1916-D graded G6. Image: PCGS.
Image: PCGS.

Coins graded G6 are a skosh better than those in the base grade of Good-4. Letters and the date are now fully visible. There is separation between the rim (or what’s left of it) and the devices. Sporadic hair and wing details are apparent. Nothing is consistent, detail-wise, at this grade.

Very Good (VG8)

This is a photograph of a 1916-D Mercury Dime graded VG8.
Image: Great Souther Coins / eBay

1916-D Mercury dimes graded Very Good still appear well-worn, but they will exhibit more details than coins graded Good-6. Starting at the rims, Very Good Mercury dimes will have complete rims that show clear separation between the edge of the rim, the field, and the peripheral lettering. The date will be clearly separated from the rim. The curvature of Liberty’s face is not much better defined, but the jawline is clearly defined. Feather and hair details will remain scant. On the reverse, the pit in the D mintmark should be conspicuous. The fasces lines at the edges will be more visible, although not necessarily complete. The outline of the bands will start to show at the edges. Leaves appear to have more detail. At this grade, look for coins with pleasing color and blemish-free surfaces.

At this grade, examples sell for about twice the cost of a Good-4, so it’s a good idea to be able to tell the difference.

* * *

Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker
Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker
Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker have been contributing authors on CoinWeek since 2012. They also wrote the monthly "Market Whimsy" column and various feature articles for The Numismatist and the book 100 Greatest Modern World Coins (2020) for Whitman Publishing.

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