By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for PCGS ……
The Winged Liberty Head Dime, better known as the “Mercury” Dime, was struck by the United States Mint from 1916 through 1945 and became one of the most beloved coins of the 20th century. The Mercury Dime was designed by Adolph A. Weinman, a renowned sculptor who also lay artistic claim to the Walking Liberty Half Dollar. Weinman’s coins were in production during a colorful time in American history, a period that saw two world wars, the Great Depression, and the rise of coin collecting among the masses. The Mercury Dime enjoyed tremendous popularity as a collectible during that time, cementing its place as an iconic collector series today.
While the Mercury Dime captivates collectors from sea to shining sea, there are relatively few issues in the series that could be considered categorically rare, at least in the absolute sense. Certainly, almost every issue is a conditional rarity at some grading threshold (usually around MS65 to MS66 or better) and many are scarce with Full Bands (or Full Split Bands) – a grading designation bestowed upon specimens with fully defined horizontal lines in the bands wrapping the fasces seen on the reverse. However, when it comes to key dates and rarities, there simply aren’t many to be found in the series.
Yet there are a few, and they are highlighted here:
The Mercury Dime series may boast but a handful of true date-and-mintmark rarities, but the 1916-D is number one as both the major key date and as a rarity on par with the 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent. Only 264,000 examples were struck, and they are scarce today. Given the coin’s rarity and high demand, it’s best to buy this coin authenticated and graded to prevent buying a counterfeit or altered piece. Most common in circulated grades, the 1916-D offers a decent number of survivors in uncirculated grades, with PCGS having graded 327 designated with Full Bands. A low-grade 1916-D Mercury Dime in Good-4 might set a collector back $650 to $800. The record price for this coin is $207,000 paid in 2010 for a PCGS MS67FB example.
The 1921 Philadelphia Mercury Dime is a sought-after semi-key date with a mintage of 1,230,000 pieces. A recession in the early 1920s warranted lower production figures across the board for the Mercury Dime as well as other series – except in the case of the 1921 Morgan Dollar, which saw extraordinarily high mintage figures to help meet production requirements. The 1921 Mercury Dime is most often found in low circulated grades, where prices are about $70 for a Good-4 specimen. MS65FB specimens trade for $3,000. Many examples feature a weak strike. PCGS has graded only 351 Uncirculated specimens featuring FB details.
As with the 1921 Philly specimen, the 1921-D Mercury Dime saw a small mintage. Only 1,080,000 were made, making the 1921-D the second-lowest regular-issue business strike in the series, behind only the rare 1916-D. As a sought-after semi-key date, the 1921-D Mercury Dime is a tough coin all around, particularly in better grades. PCGS has graded 320 with the coveted FB designation. Collectors can expect to pay about $75 for a Good-4 example and approximately $4,250 for an MS65FB.
With a mintage of 1,520,000, the 1926-S Mercury Dime reigns as a semi-key date, though it is one of the most affordable pieces listed here in circulated condition. Prices start at around $15 for a Good-4 example but soar upward of $6,250 for an MS65FB. Those who want a high-quality specimen will need to be diligent in their search, as the 1926-S is notorious for its weak strike. PCGS has awarded the FB designation to only 150 uncirculated pieces.
Overdates are scarce in the arena of 20th-century United States coinage, yet the Mercury Dime series saw the release of two such pieces, both in the same year. A quintessential favorite among coin collectors, the 1942/41 Mercury Dime is not necessary for the completion of a regular circulation-strike set of Mercury Dimes but is often included anyway given its popularity and status as a double variety – both an overdate and a doubled die. Scarcer in circulated grades and extremely rare in uncirculated condition with Full Bands, the 1942/41 Mercury Dime sells for about $450 in Good-4 yet realizes $50,000 in MS65FB.
This special Denver-minted overdate and doubled die anomaly is as popular as its Philadelphia counterpart. Just as well, it is relatively common in the circulated grades and challenging, if not downright rare, in Mint State. PCGS has graded 152 with the FB designation, a much smaller number than what can satisfy collector demand. While a Good-4 example trades for approximately $325, an MS65FB sells for more than $25,000 in MS65FB.