By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek …..
[Editor’s note: An earlier version of our analysis first appeared in the PCGS E-Zine newsletter of October 23, 2012. —CoinWeek]
Eight years ago, we took a deep dive into the clad years of the Roosevelt dime series in search of a list of candidate coins that one might call the “keys” to the series.
Now, you might be saying to yourself: Clad Roosevelt dimes cost 12 dimes for a dozen, how could any of them be considered a ‘key’?
And that thinking certainly fits in with what one might call conventional wisdom. Yet even though we are now 55 years into the clad era, the dust has yet to settle when it comes to clad dimes, quarters, and half dollars. And as we continue to see broad generational changes in coin collecting, we also see a lessening of the apathy that ’50s and ’60s-era collectors had for America’s post-1965 coinage.
Three major factors play into this shift.
The first one was the arrival of commercial third-party grading in the mid-1980s. While third-party grading in its infancy cast coin collecting as an attractive investment opportunity for Wall Street types, it later became a revolutionizing force for the way collectors approach collecting. With incremental grading, strike attribution, and publicly available population data, collectors saw value not only in collecting popular classic coins like Morgan dollars and Bust halves, but also in collecting certified examples of modern coins, like Jefferson nickels, Lincoln cents, and yes, somewhere down the list, Roosevelt dimes.
The second major factor was the publication of Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton’s Cherrypicker’s Guide to Rare Die Varieties. First published in 1990, this handy reference opened the door for non-expert collectors to see minute differences in coins that might otherwise go unnoticed and provided the incentive that a collector might need to break out the glass and closely scrutinize everything that they came into contact with. The Cherrypicker’s Guide was the perfect book released at the perfect time.
And finally, the third major factor was the introduction of the online Set Registry. PCGS launched the Set Registry in February 2001, with NGC followed suit shortly thereafter. The Set Registry gave coin collecting a valuable online social element and provided collectors the opportunity to not only compete with each other (this leading to the establishment of many eyebrow-raising auction records) but also the ability to compare their coins to the coins of other collectors around the country and world. Set registries also allowed for the creative curation of a number of set types that gave the hobby more structure than it had previously.
With these three developments–commercial grading and strike attribution, the popularization of modern coin die varieties, and the structure of a competitive and comparative Set Registry–clad coins like the Roosevelt dime (which is chock full of interesting dates, conditional rarities, strike rarities, and varieties) would finally have the foundation they would need to establish their own identities within the popular collecting landscape.
So what coins make our 1965-to-present list? And how have they performed in the past decade? Let’s break it down.
The Modern Low-Mintage/Low-Value Paradox: 1996-W
We start with a coin that the United States Mint issued as a “freemium” add-on to the 1996 Annual Mint Set. Struck to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of the Roosevelt dime, the Mint struck circulation-quality versions of the dime at the West Point Mint. More known for striking bullion coins, the West Point Mint (before it had official Mint status) handled production overflow for the Philadelphia Mint through the 1970s and ’80s. The coinage struck at West Point at this time lacked a distinguishing mint mark.
The 1996-W dime, therefore, had the distinction of being the first “circulating” coin bearing the W mintmark.
Just under 1.5 million of these dimes were minted, a large number in absolute terms, but an exponentially low one in contrast to the 1.4 billion pieces struck at both the Philadelphia and Denver Mints. Even the San Francisco Mint struck more dimes in 1996 for that year’s annual Proof sets.
All 1996-W dimes were included as an insert to the 1996 Uncirculated Set and as a Mint Set coin, it is highly unlikely that we will see significant attrition for this issue anytime soon. Nor do we expect dealer stock levels of this coin to diminish to the point where there are more buyers than sellers, which would give the coin upward pricing momentum. In raw form, nearly all 1996-W dimes appear to be well-struck and carefully handled. There are no conditional rarities for this issue until you get to the nearly perfect grade of MS-69.
Furthermore, the 1996-W dime is the most submitted (by a wide margin) of any of the clad Roosevelt dimes, save the rare and highly prized collectible 1982 “No P” variety. A quick overview of PCGS or NGC clad-era Roosevelt dime population totals is a great primer into the mentality of the mainstream coin market makers, as the 1996-W dime could not become the most submitted clad-era dime, by such a wide margin, without institutional dealers submitting the coin in bulk.
The price level of this issue has receded somewhat as the total number of certified examples has dramatically increased. Today, an MS68FB example will likely sell for $100 – $120 on eBay.
So, if the key to the series is not the 1.5 million-minted not-intended-for-circulation 1996-W commemorative circulation strike dime, which coin is? We propose that it is one of the following candidates.
The first clad era dime we think of in terms of true opportunity is the 1975 Philadelphia dime.
Lost in the excitement of the 1975-1976 Bicentennial production run of quarters, half dollars, and dollar coins, the 1975 dime is a typical product of mid-1970s clad production. With a production run of 585,673,900, this is not the type of coin that casual passers-by would assume is scarce, and it’s not. Most of the preserved population of this year, based on our experience, would grade MS-63 or MS-64. The strike tends to be mushy, and incomplete detail on the reverse is the norm (washed-out torches and the “-US” in PLURIBUS are not uncommon).
Since there’s been little interest in this date, each BU roll should contain a few gems. Finding Superb gems, specifically any fully-struck Full Torch piece in MS-66 requires access to many, many rolls. There haven’t been many recent auctions of the 1975 Roosevelt dime in MS66 FB, nor has there been an appreciable increase in certified populations (16 in 2012, 24 today). About 10 years ago, this issue would command a price of about $150-$200 per coin but we imagine that this wasn’t a hard figure. One slipped through the cracks in a 2017 Heritage auction, realizing just $45. You would need to buy scores of Mint Sets and submit a bulk order of 1975 dimes to get a coin to grade in the MS66-MS67 range. $45 is basically getting a tough coin for a bargain price.
In MS68FB, the 1975 Roosevelt dime has thin demand and only four coins in PCGS holders extant. The most recent sale occurred in January 2020, where an example from the Maltese Collection brought $1,700. This is a significant decline from the $2,820 that another MS68FB example brought in 2015. The certified population has only gone up one coin in the past decade but none of the top sets in the PCGS Set Registry include an example above MS67FB.
For this coin to really shine, it will take competition among the top set builders to push the price up. Right now, that pressure does not exist and those speculating on this issue at MS68FB may need a refresher on the way markets work.
The Non-Mint-Set Years: 1982-1983
Roll hoarders and coin dealers saved 1982 and 1983 Mint output because of the discontinuation of Mint Sets for these two years. The most notable dime from this period is the rare, thought to be one die, “No-P” variety.
The 1982 “No-P” was the result of a Mint slip-up when one of the working dies used to strike coinage was not punched with the Philly “P” mintmark. The oddity was discovered in late 1982, and, according to PCGS’ Jaime Hernandez, found to have been distributed in parts of Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Boston. It is the most-submitted clad Roosevelt dime outside of the 1996-W, but unlike that Not-Intended-For-Circulation novelty coin, the “No-P” is genuinely scarce and desirable from a numismatic standpoint. It’s a coin we wholeheartedly recommend as it is a variety that has cross-over appeal for non-variety collectors.
Of all of the submitted “No-P” dimes, only 4% qualify as Full Band, which is par for the course for this date. Certified ratios from the general population of 1982-Ps show an artificially higher distribution of fully struck pieces, but this is merely the result of highly selective submissions on the part of dealers and specialists trying to encapsulate higher-quality coins.
As fascinating and coveted as the 1982 “No-P” is, fully struck dimes from both mints from 1982 and ’83 are equally challenging to find. The good news for dime enthusiasts is that dealers and sellers tend not to hold this type of material in high regard, which means that a patient and determined collector can hunt through rolls and dealer stock for choice pieces with the potential for significant upside down the road. There is no Mint Set premium for ’82s and ’83s, but this pricing model tends to affect the larger denomination coins more noticeably.
The Special Mint Set Years: 1965-67
Because the Mint issued hybrid Proof/business-strike quality Special Mint Sets in 1965 through 1967, the majority of certified dimes from this era are SMS releases. Business strike specimens of common-date Roosevelt dimes are hardly on anyone’s radar, not particularly searched out or traded in certified holders, and are therefore what we consider an “at-risk” clad type coin.
In terms of possible varieties alone, the Denver Mint had to churn out over one billion 1964-D dimes as the silver era came to a close. The heavy workload led to scores of doubled dies and RPMs. Production from 1965 through 1967 continued at the same pace, but so far PCGS’s Variety Vista has only verified a handful of varieties, and only one, DDO FS-101 (FS-019), is listed in the Cherrypickers’ Guide and attributed by PCGS and NGC. Who’s to say dozens more aren’t out there?
Ignored coins have a poor history of being preserved in sufficient numbers to satisfy demand once they become considered scarce. How many years will we go before collectors start to desire coins from the beginning of the clad era? The first three dimes released in the clad era may have been made in an effort to stop hoarding and loosen up the flow of coinage in circulation, but if it turns out that this effort was successful, then there may be fewer high-quality dimes available from this period than we suspect.
Dimes of a More Recent Vintage: 2005-2020
The Mint’s decision to strike satin finish coins for their annual Mint Sets didn’t sit well with many collectors. While it’s true that the matte finish 1994-P Jefferson nickel from the 1993/1994 Thomas Jefferson Coinage and Currency Set and the 1998-S matte finish Kennedy half from the Kennedy Collector’s Set are liked by some as interesting one-year specimen coins, the decision to produce satin finish business strikes on a larger scale turned off collectors who felt that they did not satisfy the requirement of being an actual minted-for-circulation type coin.
As such, these satin finish hybrid specimens created a new category of numismatic collectible and one (according to some) that we have seen the last of (for now). Of course, all of this just makes actual circulation strikes from 2005-2020 that much more prone to attrition, and judging by the scant amount of material from these dates being certified by PCGS and NGC up to this point, it will take a number of years to figure out what the prospects are for dimes from this period on the secondary market.
Our guess is that, in the long run, the Mint’s satin finish experiment will only add to collector confusion as new collectors enter the marketplace. Following the “low-mintage/low-value” paradox outlined earlier, we feel that the equally low mintage satin finish coins will remain abundantly available and over-slabbed, while business strike dimes will be harder to find in higher grades and much more desirable. As to which will be the scarcest of the lot, we’re not sure. The 2009-D has the lowest mintage with just under 50 million but with modern coins, it’s anybody’s guess.
A Possible Key Date Emerges: 1969
Finally, we arrive at the coin that we favor as being the key to the clad series: high-quality, fully-struck Philadelphia dimes from 1969.
With a mintage of 145,790,000, the 1969 is the lowest mintage clad dime. It is behind both 2009 issues, and like the 1975 dime, 1969s tend to come in MS-63 and MS-64, with MS-65s being on the upper end of typical production and MS-66s and above being scarce.
PCGS has attributed only nine coins to be Full Torch, while NGC has registered just 17. These figures are implausibly low, but the general mushiness of the date and normal attrition will place a hard limit on the possible number of high-end Full Torch coins on the market. That Mint Sets containing 1969 dimes also include a 40% silver clad Kennedy half dollar raises the specter of risk that many of these perceived “low value” sets will be broken apart and destroyed without regard to saving better-preserved dimes.
Further adding to the mystique of the 1969 dime is the relatively newly publicized reverse die variety (CONECA: RDV-002), which apparently uses the high relief Proof reverse of 1968 on certain circulation strike dimes (the Philadelphia Mint would do the same thing three years later with the 1972 Eisenhower dollar reverse). How many of these RDVs got out into the wild? And as interest in the date is still relatively small, we may have to wait for a clearer picture of things. But for you thrill-seekers out there, this is a golden opportunity.
As we said before, we are 55 years into the clad era and much is still unknown. But by diving seriously into series like the Roosevelt dime, you are in some respects ahead of the curve. The low-hanging fruit is still out there to be had at reasonable prices if one employs patience, common sense, and tenacity as one looks through countless rolls and loose pieces.
Buying top pop coins with populations this low is a highly speculative matter. Those that typically bash moderns as being abundantly available are right insofar as we accept that the vast majority of what’s being held back is MS-65 or poorer, that less than half are fully struck, and that fewer still are problem-free.
Nevertheless, the time comes for every series once viewed as common when collectors realize certain dates aren’t as available as previously thought. It is inevitable that this will happen to the Roosevelt dime. Whether you are buying now for cheap or buying later when collectors turn their eyes towards this great series is up to you.
Have at it and happy hunting!