The Mercury Dime

This month’s coin highlight focuses on one of America’s most beloved coins—the Mercury Dime.  Many people, even today, remember a time in which these dimes were still in circulation, having been struck at the U.S. Mint from 1916 through 1945.  You could still find these dimes being carried around in peoples pockets all the way into the 1960s.  Today, it can be a part of many collections of U.S. coins, and is one of the most attractive coin for anyone on any level to look for, as a complete set can be assembled relatively easily and affordably.

Brief History

Around 1906, Theodore Roosevelt ordered that America’s gold coinage be completely redesigned, as the stale motifs that had been around for decades were beginning to be scrapped for newer fresh designs. During this time of redesign, some of the most beautiful pieces of U.S. coinage, such as the $10 and $20 gold pieces conceived by Augustus St. Gaudens, found their way into the U.S. monetary system.  Once the gold denominations had been revamped, the attention shifted to America’s copper, silver and nickel coinage, which soon lead to designs such as the famous Indian Head nickels.

On April 14th of 1915, Robert W. Woolley, Director of the U.S. Mint, asked Superintendent Adam M. Joyce to request the Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, Charles E. Barber, to prepare new designs for the silver half-dollar, quarter and dime.  

On December 3rd, after a meeting with the Commission of Fine Arts, which disliked the sketches drawn up by Barber, the Commission selected sculptors Adolph Weinman, Hermon MacNeil and Albin Polasek to submit proposals for the new coins.  The idea behind commissioning outside artists, as opposed to the existing engraving department of the U.S. Mint, was to avoid plain designs that were easy to strike but lacking in creativity.  The approach of holding a competition among many artists ended up being incredibly successful, as the outcome resulted in some of the most iconic coinage designs in history, such as the Lincoln cent, Buffalo nickel and Mercury dime.

The obverse (front) of the dime featured an image of Lady Liberty wearing a winged cap, which led the general public to assume it was a portrait of the Greek goddess, Mercury.  Even though this assumption was incorrect, the nickname stuck and the coin has been known as the Mercury Dime ever since.

Numismatists have long enjoyed collecting the Mercury Dime series by date; many issues are extremely affordable and even the “key” dates can be had for reasonable amounts.  The 1916-D is considered the most valuable date; values range from $500 for extremely well-worn specimens to $10k for Uncirculated coins.  Another key date is the 1942/1 overdate; this issue displays the second numeral 1 boldly over-punched with the numeral 2.  This dramatic die blunder is both scarce and relatively valuable; average circulated pieces command $500-$750.