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1916 Mercury Dime : A Collector’s Guide

1916 Mercury Dime. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1916 Mercury Dime. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

The Mercury or Winged Liberty dime (1916-1945) has long stood as an iconic coin in the U.S. series. The coin’s elegant design draws heavily from the French Beaux Arts movement of the late 19th century. Its release immediately preceded the Roosevelt dime (1946-Present), and it is the last U.S. dime to be struck entirely in .900 silver.

In the year of the coin’s initial release, Americans were introduced to three iconic U.S. coin designs. The other two were the Walking Liberty half dollar (also designed by Adolph Weinman and the basis of the American Silver Eagle bullion coin’s obverse design) and the Standing Liberty quarter (designed by Massachusetts-based sculptor Hermon Atkins MacNeil). These coins joined the Indian Head (Buffalo) nickel, the Lincoln cent, the Indian quarter eagle and half eagle by Bela Lyon Pratt, and the Saint-Gaudens $10 and $20 gold coins.

It was truly a golden age of U.S. coin design.

A Brief History of the Mercury (Winged Liberty) Dime

The original Winged Liberty dime entered circulation at the end of October 1916 and remained in production for nearly 30 years.

Heralded for its beauty, the Winged Liberty dime, often called the Mercury dime due to its classically-inspired headgear, saw the country through World Wars and the Great Depression. Its unmistakable design was attached to the March of Dimes anti-polio campaign and countless Charles Atlas advertisements in the back of comic books and magazines. When “Yip” Harburg wrote the song “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”, it was the Mercury dime he was talking about.

The dime’s use in circulation carried on without incident. The design didn’t have the striking problems of the Buffalo nickel or the Walking Liberty half. Although specialists might seek out perfectly struck examples with Full Split Bands on the reverse (scarce for some issues), the Mercury dime is remembered as an elegant and practical coin; a successful coin that served its purpose and elevated the image of American money.

The Mercury dime’s term of service came to an unexpected end when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. Almost immediately, a movement began to honor Roosevelt on a circulating coin. The dime was the obvious choice as the denomination recalled Franklin’s battle with polio and his work with the March of Dimes.

So, the stellar 30-year run of the Winged Liberty dime came to an end. Over the next few decades, coins in circulation were worn down, Mint State examples were hoarded, rare dates and varieties were cherrypicked, and by the time silver coins exited the scene in the mid-to-late 1960s, only the most worn examples continued circulating.

Untold tens of thousands of original Mercury dimes—including some scarce dates—were melted in the silver run-up of the early 1980s. While a number of conditional rarities exist, the series is generally remembered for two key dates: the 1916-D and the scarce 1942/1941 overdate.

The 1916-D Is Scarce; What About the 1916-P?

1916 heralded the release of three new coin series. The Mercury dime was produced at three mints. At Philadelphia, 22,180,080 coins were struck. At San Francisco, the mintage was 10,450,000. The Denver Mint, however, produced only 264,000 pieces. Collecting coins by mint mark was relatively uncommon among collectors, so most of Denver’s paltry mintage found its way into circulation. Still, coins from all three mints were hoarded to some extent, with the Philadelphia Mint’s emission being the most widely encountered in quantity in Mint State.

Despite being first-year issues, the 1916-P and the 1916-S Mercury dime are common in all grades. The finest known examples of the issue have been graded MS68 Full Bands by PCGS and NGC.

Online auction records indicate that the record price paid for a 1916 Mercury dime in MS68 was $14,687.50 USD, which was realized at Legend Rare Coin Auctions Regency 28 Sale, held in September 2018. This particular example features beautiful rich rainbow toning on the obverse and reverse and was CAC-approved. A brilliant white example in an NGC holder brought $3,249.60 at a January 2024 Heritage auction. GreatCollections sold an attractive rainbow-toned coin that had crossed from NGC MS68FB CAC to CACG at the same grade for $9,001.12 in October 2023.

These prices only apply to coins graded amongst the finest known. The retail price of a certified example in grades MS63 to MS65 will typically fall within the $70 to $90 range, and circulated examples are worth a few dollars more than the coin’s intrinsic silver value.

We caution against buying raw uncirculated coins unless you can discern the difference between original surfaces and coins that have been dipped, harshly cleaned, or tooled to show Split Bands; buying an uncertified Mint State example of this issue for less than $50 is possible.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Top PopulationPCGS MS68+FB (1, 3/2024), NGC MS68+FB (1, 3/2024), and CAC MS68FB (8:1 stickered:graded, 3/2024).

The PCGS MS68FB population stood at three coins in June 2001, seven at MS68FB through January 2011, and 15 by the summer of 2015. As of March 2024, the population in that grade stands at 16. One coin made MS68+FB at some point before the summer of 2020. Several coins that have appeared at auction since 2003 have been reholdered or crossed over.

  • PCGS MS68+FB CAC #39478604: Stack’s Bowers, August 2020, Lot 1180 – $20,400. Dusting of dark red and green toning on the obverse and reverse.
  • NGC MS68FB #1600523-002: Heritage Auctions, February 2007, Lot 2973 – $2,990; Heritage Auctions, January 10, 2024, Lot 3329 – $3,249.60. Brilliant with tick behind mouth, small scratch on neck.
  • PCGS MS68FB #22059122: “The Larry Shapiro #1 All-Time Finest Mercury Dimes Full bands Basic PCGS Registry Set,” Heritage Auctions, January 2006, Lot 1866 – $6,325. Larry Shapiro on insert; Heritage Auctions, February 7, 2013, Lot 3764 – $10,692.50. Reholdered; “The Samuel Zavellas Collection,” Heritage Auctions, November 16, 2023, Lot 3025 – $10,800. Brilliant. Die crack along bust truncation. Tiny tick on chin. Top of TES flatly struck.
  • NGC MS68FB #147657-001: Heritage Auctions, February 12, 2002, Lot 13177 – $2,415; Heritage Auctions, November 22, 2002, Lot 6862 – $1,840; Heritage Auctions, February 3, 2011, Lot 3441 – $3,220; Stack’s Bowers, November 16, 2023, Lot 6091 – $3,120. Brilliant. Die crack at 6 o’clock through neck.
  • CACG MS68FB #932304114: As NGC MS68FB CAC #5748804-004. Heritage Auctions, July 14, 2022, Lot 3065 – $7,800; Heritage Auctions, December 15, 2022, Lot 3425 – $7,200; As CACG MS68FB #932304114. GreatCollections, October 22, 2023, Lot 1453375 – $9,001.12. Rainbow toned on obverse and reverse.
  • PCGS MS68FB CAC #36777014: GreatCollections, September 8, 2019, Lot 730930 – $9,286.88; Legend Rare Coin Auctions, May 14, 2020, Lot 131 – $9,693.75; Heritage Auctions, February 24, 2021, Lot 3671 – $9,900.  Darkly toned red and gold.
  • NGC MS68FB #4626461-003: Heritage Auctions, October 18, 2019, Lot 3551 – $2,880. Light scattered toning over a mostly brilliant coin. Ken Bresset signature label.
  • PCGS MS68FB CAC #35734616: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, September 27, 2019, Lot 425 – $14,687.50. Periphery rainbow toning on bottom of obverse, and all around on reverse.
  • PCGS MS68FB #36099536: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, September 26, 2019, Lot 212 – $8,225. Light rainbow toning on left field. Cert no longer active
  • PCGS MS68FB #31814077: “The Charles McNutt Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 11, 2019, Lot 4971 – $7,800. Light coating of gold and magenta toning.
  • PCGS MS68FB #25392890: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, September 27, 2018, Lot 345 – $10,281.25. Hallet on insert. Light peach toning. Cert no longer active
  • NGC MS68FB #633993-001: Heritage Auctions, July 7, 2017, Lot 3602 – $6,462.50. Brilliant.
  • PCGS MS68FB #25669709: Heritage Auctions, October 29, 2015, Lot 3156 – $6,462.50. Rainbow toning in the fields from 2 o’clock to 7 o’clock. Light toning on the reverse.
  • NGC MS68FB #3815377-001: Heritage Auctions, August 12, 2015, Lot 3716 – $2,820. Red and gold toning on both sides.
  • NGC MS68FB #563089-002: As NGC MS68FB. Stack’s Bowers, August 7, 2010, Lot 401 – $2,530. As NGC MS68FB #563089-002. Heritage Auctions, April 22, 2015, Lot 3999 – $2,702.50. Dark red and orange toning, with hints of magenta and green.
  • NGC MS68FB #1716460-001: “The Free Tilly Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 7, 2015, Lot 3877 – $3,760. Brilliant. Cert no longer active.
  • NGC MS68*FB #654714-012: Heritage Auctions, September 22, 2005, Lot 2481 – $1,897.50; Heritage Auctions, November 6, 2007, Lot 455 – $2,990; “The Pannonia Collection,” Heritage Auctions, September 5, 2014, Lot 3979 – $4,406.25; Legend Rare Coin Auctions, December 12, 2015, Lot 226 – $4,230. Dark olive toning with rainbow toning in left field of the obverse.
  • NGC MS68*FB: Stack’s Bowers, August 13, 2011, Lot 8465 – $6,325. Brilliant.
  • PCGS MS68FB CAC #21465056: “The Joshua II Collection of Mercury Dimes, #1 All-Time Finest PCGS Registry Set,” Heritage Auctions, August 12, 2010, Lot 4489 – $10,350. Brilliant.
  • PCGS MS68FB #21264108: “The Stephen and Dianne Stokely Collection,” Heritage Auctions, July 2003, Lot 6651 – $4,140. Stokely on insert; “The Joseph C. Thomas Collection,” Heritage Auctions, April 29, 2009, Lot 268 – $10,350. Reholdered. Brilliant.Cert no longer active
  • PCGS MS68FB #05948106: Heritage Auctions, July 12, 2007, Lot 570 – $8,625; “The Oliver Collection,” Heritage Auctions, August 12, 2011, Lot 7085 – $9,200. Dark toning on obverse and reverse. On obverse, brown toning mostly covers the bottom and left field, with hints of green near IB. Reverse brown toning along periphery.
  • NGC MS68FB #115987-001: Heritage Auctions, April 2007, Lot 567 – $2,875; Heritage Auctions, June 4, 2010, Lot 904 – $2,990. Brilliant. Fleck of toning (or hit) just to the top right of I of LIBERTY. ATES of STATES flatly struck. Cert no longer active.
  • NGC MS68*FB #1939197-001: Heritage Auctions, November 3, 2005, Lot 1066 – $2,070; Heritage Auctions, September 27, 2007, Lot 1056 – $2,645. Brilliant.
  • NGC MS68FB #1937597-001: Heritage Auctions, July 12, 2007, Lot 571 – $2,760. Brilliant.
  • NGC MS68FB: Stack’s Bowers, August 11, 2006, Lot 369 – $2,875.
  • PCGS MS68FB #71041787: Heritage Auctions, November 4, 2004, Lot 6315 – $6,037.50.
  • NGC MS68FB #1747252-001: Heritage Auctions, January 29, 2004, Lot 5651 – $1,897.50; Heritage Auctions, March 25, 2004, Lot 5545 – $2,012.50. Brilliant.
  • NGC MS68FB #1747254-001: Heritage Auctions, January 29, 2004, Lot 5650 – $1,897.50.
  • NGC MS68FB #182711-046: Heritage Auctions, July 26, 2003, Lot 6737 – $2,530. Lightly toned. Cert no longer active.
  • NGC MS68FB #182711-048: Heritage Auctions, January 9, 2003, Lot 6497 – $2,300. Toning spots to left of nose, below chin, and along left periphery of the obverse. Cert no longer active.
  • PCGS MS68 #3699816: Heritage Auctions, August 8, 2001, Lot 5755 – $13,225. Brilliant. Cert no longer active.

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Design

Obverse:

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 Phrygian cap on her forehead and behind her ear. A braid of hair wraps around the base of her neck. 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) for “Adolph Weinman” appears behind Liberty’s neck below and to the left of the Y in LIBERTY. The date “1916” appears below the bust truncation, to the rear. A subtle basin creates a dish-like appearance in the field.

Reverse:

As with the obverse, the reverse is adapted from Weinman. In the center, the fasces are a bundle of rods bound with leather around a central axe. The blade faces to the left. A curvilinear branch of olive leaves wraps behind the fasces. Mercury Dime 1916 ReverseThe legend is wrapped around the top of the design: UNITED · STATES · OF · AMERICA. 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 the center.

Edge:

The edge of the 1916 Mercury dime is reeded.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1916
Denomination: 10 cents (USD)
Mint Mark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: 22,180,080
Alloy: .9000 Fine Silver
Weight: 2.5 g
Diameter: 17.9 mm
Thickness: 0.053″ (1.35mm)
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Adolph A. Weinman
REV Designer: Adolph A. Weinman
Quality: Uncirculated

 

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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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8 COMMENTS

    • @Ed Tucson As the article notes, the lettering on the front is a combined A and W which is the monogram of the coin’s designer A. A. Weinman rather than a mint mark. In any case the West Point Mint didn’t strike circulating coins until the 1970s, long after Mercury dime production ended.

      A 1944 dime in worn condition would probably only be worth its melt value. You’d need to provide more information about its condition and mint mark to get a better estimate.

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