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Why is a Dime Called a Dime?

Updated on March 2, 2015

Adjusting to a new currency is often challenging and for visitors to the US this is true of the dime coin. Nowhere on the coin does it say its value And the name does not give any clue to its worth. It is the smallest coin so must be of the smallest worth, right? wrong.

The Dime


What is a Dime?

A dime is a ten cent, silver colored coin. It is the smallest coin in the US currency, both in size and width. It was also the first coin to be made by the US Mint, although not in a US Mint building. Washington ordered dimes to be made before the first Mint building was completed. It was produced on a borrowed coin press in the owners basement in 1972.

Including the 1972 dime, there has been seven major design types through the dimes history.

Why it is Called a Dime?

In 1792 a Coinage Act was passed to authorize the minting of the US coin system. Earlier in 1785 Thomas Jefferson had proposed a currency for the US based on the dollar. One of the coins suggested was the disme. The word disme comes from the old French word dsime or Latin decima meaning one tenth. Some believe it originates from the custom of giving disme or tithes to the local church or land owner, which was usually one tenth of your income. The pronunciation of the disme was the same as it is today.

1792 Disme

First Disme
First Disme | Source

Design History of the Dime

Dime Name
1792 disme
In 1792 a limited number of dismes were minted but never circulated.
Draped Bust
1796 - 1807 The Drapped Bust dime was designed by Robert Scot. It had the portait of Liberty on the obverse and a Bald Eage on the reverse. The denomination was not marked on the coin.
89.24% silver and 10.76% copper 18.8 millimeters in diameter
Capped Bust
1809-1837 The Capped Bust design saw changes on both the obverse and reverse sides. The reverse side new design had the Bald Eagle holding three arrows and an olive branch. A US shield covered the Eagles breast. It also had 10c lettered on it for the first time. In 1828 the size of the Dime was also adjusted, the close collar method of coining was introduced and standardizing of the diameter to a reduced size.
89.24% silver and 10.76% copper 18.5 millimeters in diameter
Seated Liberty
1837-1891 The design was completed by Christian Gobrecht after the original engraver William Kneass was too ill to finish them. On the obverse Liberty is sitting on a rock, holding a staff and wearing a liberty cap. The reverse had the words ONE DIME surrounded by a weath. The size was again reduced. Thirteen stars were added to the perimeter of the obverse side of the coin. The Mint Act of 1873 added a small amount of mass to the dime.
90 percent silver and 10 percent copper 17.9 millimeters in diameter
1892 - 1916 Named after the designer Charles E Barber. It had the Liberty picture on the obverse. with the inscription LIBERTY. It also had the 13 stars for the first 13 colonies. The reverse displayed a wreath and an inscription.
90% silver and 10% copper 17.9 millimeters diameter
Winged Liberty Head
1916 - 1945 Sometimes called the Mercury Dime, the obverse had a design of the mythical goddess Liberty wearing a phrygain cap. It was designed by Adolph A Weinman, many of the coins have striking defects which can make them collectable.
90% silver and 10% copper 17.9 millimeters in diameter
Franklin D Roosevelt
1946- today designed by engraver John R Sinnock and released on January 30th 1946, Roosevelt's birthday. Roosevelt is on the obverse and the symbols of a torch, olive branch and oak branch on the reverse.
The Coinage Act of 1965 changed the composition of the dime to an alloy of 75% copper and 25% nickel

1936 Winged Liberty Head


Dimes in Circulation Today


Todays Dime

The President Roosevelt dime is currently in circulation. After his death it was decided to have a coin bearing his image. It is thought that the dime was chosen because of Roosevelt's link with the coin. He was a strong supporter of the March of Dimes an organization that raises money to find a cure for Polio, of which Roosevelt became ill with when he was 39 years old. People were encouraged to send dimes to the organization as a way to raise money.

His image took the place of Liberty on the coin, having the words 'In God We Trust' and 'Liberty' and the date of minting included. It was released on January 30 1946 and has the design of a torch, olive branch and oak branch on the reverse.

Did you Know Modern Coins are not Made of Silver?

Did you Know Modern Coins are not Made of Silver?

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Melting/Hoarding Dimes

The 1965 Coinage Act changed the composition of the dime so that it was no longer made of silver. This was also the case with silver quarters and half dollars. These coins began to disappear from circulation as people began hoarding them. In the late 1970s the price of silver reached record levels and further coins disappeared.

Collectable Dimes

As well as collecting dimes for their silver value, some coins are particularly collectable because of their rarity or striking defects.

The Mercury series of coins have several issues with striking defects that make them popular. Coins with the line separating the two horizontal bands in the center of the faces missing are collectable. Also an over date, where 1942 stamped over 1941 is very collectable.

In 1982 the Philadelphia mint left the P off a small number of dimes in error, these are now very valuable. The 1916-D issue of the Mercury Dimes are highly valuable because the majority of the dimes struck at the Denver Mint carried the preexisting Barber design.

Sayings with the Word Dime in Them.

A Dime a Dozen - worthless/in plentiful supply

Nickel and Dimed - to spend little money, small time

Can you think of any others?

© 2014 Ruthbro


Submit a Comment
  • crazybeanrider profile image

    Boo McCourt 

    5 years ago from Washington MI

    That is some interesting history on the story of the US dime. I love dimes. I wish all our coins were that small. ;) Enjoyable hub!

  • profile image

    Bronwyn Hansen 

    5 years ago

    Hi Ruth. Thank you for another interesting Hub. In Australia we do not have the nicknames for our coinage that you do in the States. At least, we have not since going metric.


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