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Mercury Dime (1916-1945) Collectors Guide

Updated on December 16, 2014
1936-D Mercury dime.
1936-D Mercury dime. | Source

Introduction

This is a guide for Mercury Dimes, which were minted from 1916 until 1945. The purpose of this guide is to give the collector, whether novice or long term numismatic, a basic understanding of the Mercury Dime series. In this guide, I will cover the history, major rarities, and some basic information on values.

History of the Series

In 1792 the first United States coinage act was passed which allowed for the production of "disme," now known as dimes. The proposal for a decimal based coinage system was brought about by the collaborative efforts of Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin and David Rittenhouse in 1783. They were originally equivalent to one tenth the part of a unit of silver.
By 1796 dimes were composed of approximately 89% silver and 11% copper. Dimes had to be made small in order for their silver value to remain smaller than their face value. The use of a more expensive alloy made it necessary for dimes to shrink from their previous size of 18.9 millimeters to their current size of 17.9 millimeters in diameter. By 1965, a coinage act removed all of the silver from dimes, to be replaced by copper and nickel.

In 1916, the old Liberty Head or Barber design of the three silver coins which were in use at the time, the dime, quarter, and half dollar, were revamped. They had, up to that time, been identical on the obverse and reverse side. This, however, was falling out of favor with the general public. The design would have been changed before 1916 had it not been for a law passed in 1890, which required a design to be used for 25 years before it could be changed.

Like they did with the Barber coinage, the US Treasury held a contest, open to sculptors, to submit their ideas for the design of the new dime. The design of Adolph Weinman was selected. It is widely believed that Weinman used Elsie Stevens, wife of the lawyer and poet, Wallace Stevens, for his model. His design depicted a young Lady Liberty, wearing a Phrygian cap, but, the design was often mistaken for the Roman God Mercury and the name Mercury dime stuck.

The reverse side of the dime shows fasces, which represent strength and unity, and an olive branch, which stands for peace. The design was beautiful, but since vending machine manufacturers were having difficulty making this new dime work in their machines, it was slightly modified to alter the weight. The coin was minted until 1945 when the Treasury ordered a new design which featured Franklin Roosevelt, who was newly deceased.

Rarities of the Series

The Mercury dime series is like virtually every series of U.S. coins, in that, there a few dates that standout as being rare and sell for a large premium over the common date coin. The rarest of all the Mercury Dimes is the 1916-D (Denver mint). Only 264,000 of these were minted. The value of these coins is worth anywhere from $700 in Good condition to $18,000 in choice mint condition. Other scarce dates to look for are the1921 worth $1,800 in Choice BU condition and the 1921-D up to $1,850 in Choice BU or MS63 condition. In Good condition both the 1921 and 1921-D dime can be purchased for around $50.00. The 1926-S sells for around $1500 in MS63 condition. It is advisable to purchase expensive high grade rare coins from a reputable dealer and purchase coins that have been professionally graded and encapsulated by one of the services like: ANACS, PCGS, NCG, or ICG.

High Points on the Mercury Dime where wear first appears.
High Points on the Mercury Dime where wear first appears. | Source

Mercury Dime Grading Tips

Since the value of a coin is so dependent on the grade, it is important to have a basic understanding of coin grading.

Good-4 (G4 or G-4) will be a heavily worn coin over all. Lettering may be faint. Liberty's face shows a basic shape, but little detail. The fasces will be well worn or nearly flat.

Very good- 8 (VG8) is still well worn, but the word "LIBERTY" is separate from the edge, the letters on the back are also separate from the rim. Some vertical lines will still be visible on the fasces.

For a grade of Fine-12 (F12) the coin will have moderate wear over the whole of the surface. Some of Liberty's hair and feathers are visible but lack distinction.

Coins with a rating of Very Fine- 20 (VF20) show minimal wear. Most of the details of Lady Liberty are discernable. Three quarters of the wing details are present. The lines on the fasces are distinct.

Extra Fine-40 (EF40, EX40) will have sharp details and some of the luster. All details will be crisp but the higher points of the coin may show slight wear.

About Uncirculated (AU50 to AU59) – The coin will have some wear on the high points of the design. On the obverse, the high points are the cheek and high points of hair and front of ear. On the reverse, the diagonal bands are the high points of the design.

Mint State (MS60 to MS70) – Absolutely no trace of wear. The coin may or may not have original luster. Depending on how the coin has been stored over the year it may have toning, which is, a natural oxidation process for silver. Depending on how the toning looks it may increase or decrease the value of the coin. Unless you have a lot of experience with coin grading to get an accurate grade for an uncirculated coin it is best to have these professionally graded by one of the following services: PCGS, NGC, ANACS, or ICG. Your local coin dealer should be able to help with grading.

Mercury Dime with Full Split Bands Reverse

Mercury dimes that are well struck have fully formed horizontal bands on the fasces.
Mercury dimes that are well struck have fully formed horizontal bands on the fasces. | Source

Full Split Bands on the Reverse

When Mercury dimes were struck at one of the mint facilities not all of them were created equally. Some were struck with full pressure on the minting press and the features of the coins were fully developed. If the minting press wasn’t quite up to par then the coin came out of the press with not all the details showing. Collectors are will to pay a premium for coins that are fully struck and show all the details of the design. The way collectors determine if the coin is fully struck is by examination of the horizontal bands of the fasces on the reverse side. All three horizontal bands must be split and rounded before a dime can be designated with full split bands. The central band being split is the more important of the three bands that are required to be split and fully formed.

Some of the dates of the Mercury dime are more common with Full Split Bands (FSB), such as, the 1940, 1943-D, 1944-D, 1945-D, and additional dates. In some of the dates FSB details are very rare, take for example the common date 1945 dime. The 1945 is rarely found in choice brilliant uncirculated condition with full split bands. Expect to pay nearly $4000 for a 1945 MS64FB dime. The coin must be graded and encapsulate by a professional service to fetch this lofty price. A 1945 MS64 without full bands can be purchased for around $20.00. Not all dates have such a dramatic difference between the coin with full bands and one without.

Die Varieties

Probably the rarest and hardest to find die varieties of the series are the 1942, 2 over 1, and the 1942-D, 2 over 1, both are worth hundreds of dollars in circulated condition and thousands of dollars in uncirculated condition. Some other die varieties of the series include: 1941-S with a small S and the 1941-S with a large S; 1943-S with Trumpet Tail mintmark; 1945-D with D over horizontal D; 1945-S with S over horizontal S; and the 1945-S with a micro S mintmark. The 1945-S micro S dime typically sells for around $90 in MS65 condition, whereas, the 1945-S with a normal mintmark is worth $25 in the same condition.

Specifications

Weight: 2.50 grams Composition: 0.900 silver and 0.100 copper by weight. Actual silver content: 0.0723 Troy ounces Diameter: 17.9 mm with reeded edges. Minted in Philadelphia (no mint mark), Denver (D), and San Francisco (S). The mint mark is on the bottom left of the fasces.

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    • mactavers profile image

      mactavers 2 years ago

      Great information for anyone interested in collecting coins.