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The New Dime

By Michael Garofalo - June 3, 2021

It all started with Teddy Roosevelt!

After the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency and filled McKinley’s term. In 1904, President Roosevelt called American coinage “artistically of atrocious hideousness!”

Roosevelt wanted his friend, the world-renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, to elevate United States coinage to capture the beauty and artistry of early Greek and Roman coins. American coinage, especially under the leadership of United States Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber was traditional and, well, uninspiringly boring. Because more than 25 years had passed since many American coin series had been first struck, the designs could be changed without Congressional approval.

In 1907 and 1908, all circulating U.S. gold coins (quarter eagle, half eagle, eagle, and double eagle) were redesigned completely. In 1909, the 100th birthday of President Abraham Lincoln was the occasion for a new one-cent coin to be designed and struck. The year 1913 saw the five-cent coin transformed from Barber’s Liberty Head Nickel to James Earle Fraser’s iconic American Buffalo nickel. As 1916 approached, the 25th anniversary of the minting of the U.S. dime, quarter, and half dollar coins would pass – meaning that they were ripe for the changing.

The United States economy was strong in 1916, and the average working American was making around $700 per year. While the typical worker may not have owned a home, a car was within reach at $360 for the basic Model T Ford. The lowly dime in 1916 had the purchasing power of having $2.78 in today’s dollars in 2021.

Meanwhile in Germany…

Adolph Alexander Weinman was born in 1870 in Durmersheim, Germany. After his father’s death, Adolph, his brother Gustav, and their mother immigrated to America in 1880. Eventually, Weinman had become an American citizen and his talent for art, carving, and sculpture was gaining notice. As construction for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago was beginning in 1890, Weinman had the good fortune to work on some of the enormous architectural buildings and statuary.

Adolph A. Weinman working on his famous statue of Abraham Lincoln. Click to enlarge.

By 1898, Weinman had studied under Saint-Gaudens at the Art Students League and worked closely with him in his studio. When Saint-Gaudens left for France to sculpt, Weinman had found that Daniel Chester French had need of an assistant. French was an accomplished artist and served on the Commissions of Fine Arts, which oversaw U.S. coinage designs. This association was to play an important role later in 1916.

By 1904 Weinman was self-employed and had a studio of his own. He had the good fortune to design an awards medal for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair that was struck by the United States Mint in Philadelphia. In 1905, Weinman again met up with Saint-Gaudens and together they created a medal for Teddy Roosevelt’s inauguration. With his health declining, Saint-Gaudens left the modeling to Weinman. This helped Weinman gain recognition in medallic circles and, especially with the United States Mint.


The Competition

By 1916, the 25-year coining statute on the Barber Dime, Quarter, and Half Dollar had been met, and the Treasury and the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) sought to redesign those coins – much to Barber’s chagrin. The CFA invited Weinman and two other accomplished sculptors to submit designs for all three of these coins. Barber also submitted designs, but his designs were roundly rejected. How unfortunate for Barber, at the tail end of his career, that he had to work on coin designs by other artists that were used to replace his own coin designs. Recall that one of the former members and the former president of the CFA was Weinman’s colleague Daniel Chester French, so Weinman’s talents were highly regarded by the CFA.

Weinman was awarded the commission for the dime and the half dollar while the quarter design went to Hermon A. McNeil, who created the Standing Liberty Quarter series. Weinman’s designs for the other two coins had a common thread that was unrecognized at the time.

Weinman’s bust of Elsie Kachel Stevens. Click to enlarge.

Weinman owned a building in New York City, and two of his tenants were the poet Wallace Stevens and his wife, Elsie Kachel Stevens. It is believed that Weinman created a bust of Mrs. Stevens in 1913 and used her facial features for his dime and her full figure on his half dollar coins.

The design for the dime that Weinman submitted was begrudgingly modified by Barber. The coin finally became ready for production, which commenced, after many U.S. Mint delays. Prior to the coin’s distribution, U.S. Mint Director Robert Woolley described the new dime to the Treasury Secretary in this manner:

“The design of the dime, owing to the smallness of the coin, has been held quite simple. The obverse shows a head of Liberty with winged cap. The head is simple and firm in form, the profile forceful. The reverse shows a design of the bundle of rods, with battle-ax, known as "Fasces", and symbolical of unity, wherein lies the nation's strength. Surrounding the fasces is a full-foliaged branch of olive, symbolical of peace.”

Public Reaction

The coins were released on October 30, 1916. The designs for all three newly designed coins were highly praised, but the dime received the highest of praise in the press.

The announcement of THE NEW DIME, in the December 1916 issue of The Numismatist. Click to enlarge.

The famed numismatists of the day gushed over the beauty of this coin, with Farran Zerbe stating, “I am delighted with this new dime.” J.W. Scott said, “The new dime is the best piece of work that the United States mint has turned out in a century.” Henry Chapman offered, “I think the new dime is a creditable production and am glad to see such an artistic coin come out from this country.” Meanwhile, Wayte Raymond remarked, “I think very favorably of the new dimes. The head of Liberty has considerable resemblance to some coins of the Roman Republic and is very artistic. The only criticism I have to make is the fact that the words ‘In God We Trust’ and the date seem to be placed on the die as an afterthought, as there is really no place for the obverse.”

However, it was incorrectly reported in the press that the subject of the coin was not an allegorical representation of Miss Liberty; rather it was erroneously said to be a representation of the Roman male god, Mercury. This confusion was created by Weinman’s use of a Phrygian cap with wings on the sides.

Even the American Numismatic Association’s venerable publication, The Numismatist, printed numerous letters questioning whether Miss Liberty was actually Mercury. Weinman, himself, addressed the issue in a letter to the editor of The Numismatist, published in the December 1916 issue, as follows:

Dear Sir—

In response to your letter of November 14, requesting a word of explanation as to my reasons for selecting a winged female head for the design of the obverse, and the fasces for the reverse of the new dime, permit me to say that the law on the coinage of the United States stipulates that on all subsidiary coins there shall appear upon the obverse a figure or representation of Liberty. Hence the head of Liberty, the coin being obviously too small in size to make the representation of a full-length figure of Liberty advisable.

The wings crowning her cap are intended to symbolize liberty of thought.

As to the reverse of the dime, the law does not stipulate what is to appear upon this side of the coin, while it does specifically state that upon the reverse of the quarter dollar and the half dollar shall appear the figure of an eagle.

I have selected the motive of the fasces and olive branch to symbolize the strength which lies in unity, while the battle-ax stands for preparedness to defend the Union. The branch of olive is symbolical of our love of peace.

Very truly yours,
A.A. Weinman

Regardless of the protestations of the designer himself, the original name of the “Winged Liberty Head Dime” could not supplant the nickname “Mercury Dime” in the minds of collectors or of the general public, and to this day this coin is universally known as a Mercury Dime.

Collection Rarities

The three United States minting facilities in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco struck the coins with mintage figures routinely in the tens of millions of coins each. The most notable exception is the 1916 dime struck at the Denver Mint. This issue had a scant 264,000 examples struck and is quite scarce.

A 1916-D Mercury Dime, MS65, PCGS. Image is courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.

The 1916-D dime is considered the “key” to the Mercury Dime set and is valuable in even a well-worn state, with prices of $750 in G4. There are three other scarce dates as well as two varieties that are actively included in all Mercury Dime collections today.

The 1921 coin struck at Philadelphia has a low mintage of only 1,230,000 coins. While that may not be scarce by some standards, it is the third-lowest mintage in the entire series. Also struck during 1921 was a Denver specimen that boasts the second-lowest mintage after the 1916-D; only 1,080,000 examples of the 1921-D were struck, so collectors always look for any Mercury Dime dated 1921.

The 1926-S coin struck at San Francisco is the fourth and final Mercury Dime considered to be scarce. There were only 1,520,000 specimens of the 1926-S Dimes struck, and it is valuable in all uncirculated grades.

As for the error varieties, both the Philadelphia and Denver Mints struck 1942 dimes with dies also bearing the 1941 date. The variety was created when two obverse dies were impressed, first with a 1941-dated hub and later by a 1942-dated hub. This Philadelphia Mint variety was first discovered by numismatists in August 1943 and it is the most popular error coin of the Mercury Dime series.

A 1942/1 Mercury Dime, MS67+, PCGS. Image is courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.
A Close-up of the overdate. Click image to enlarge.

However, the companion variety struck at the Denver Mint was not identified until sometime in 1960! The Denver overdate is not quite as clear as it is on the Philadelphia specimen, and it is also slightly less valuable than its Philly counterpart – yet it is also seemingly harder to identify. It is not known to exist in higher grades, so that may also explain why it is somewhat less valuable.

A 1942/1-D Mercury Dime, AU55, PCGS. Image courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.
A close-up of the 1942/1-D Mercury Dime. Image courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.

In the close-up of the 1942/1-D, the important details to look for are a stem next to the bottom of the number “4” as well as a small piece of the number ”1” displaying below the actual number “2.”

What are Full Bands?

An example of a Full Bands Mercury Dime. Image courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click to enlarge.

A decision for many collectors of Uncirculated Mercury Dimes is whether to seek dates that display the characteristic that is called “Full Bands” or “Fully Split Bands.” In order for a Mercury Dime to qualify as having Full Band details, it will absolutely need to have fully separated horizontal bands on the central part of the fasces, which is the bundle of rods on the reverse with the axe in the center. There must be no interruption of the depression across the full length of the bands due to wear, weak strike, any type of planchet problems, or by contact marks. Otherwise, the coin cannot qualify for the Full Band designation by PCGS. However, there is no requirement to have full roundness to the bands.

Mercury Dimes with Full Bands can be exceedingly more valuable than those without this detail. For example, assembling a complete set of Mercury Dimes in MS65 without the Full Bands designation would cost close to $100,000. However, the same set in MS65FB could set one back by over $300,000! Quite an amazing difference in price, which is solely attributable to the rarity of some dates that rarely are encountered with Full Bands.

Condition Rarities

Besides mintage-related rarity, coins can be “condition rarities.” A condition rarity is an issue that may be categorically common but becomes exceedingly rare or expensive at or above a certain grade threshold. A prime example is a recently auctioned 1938-S Mercury Dime. The San Francisco Mint struck 8,090,000 coins and in a lofty MS67 condition the coin has a retail value of about $180 according to PCGS CoinFacts. An example of that same exact date and mintmark but spectacularly toned and graded PCGS MS68+FB brought an incredible $364,250 dollars in a major public auction in June 2019. If you want the very best, it is available – for an astounding price!

The 1938-S Mercury Dime, MS68+, FB, CAC, PCGS. Image courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.

If you think that was an aberration, you are sadly mistaken. The pre-auction estimate was $10,000 to $12,500. There is not only a flight to quality, but a fight for quality. In this same auction, a 1931-S Mercury Dime graded PCGS MS67+FB realized $270,250 versus a pre-sale estimate of $22,000 to $25,000. Open your wallet – very wide, please – if you truly want the finest coins in existence.

Where’s the Proof?

One additional consideration is whether to add proof coins to your circulation coin collection. Proof Mercury Dimes were first struck in 1936, with the proof run continuing only until 1942.

Proof coin mintages increased each year and 1936 started with 4,130 coins and the series of Mercury Dime proofs ended seven years later in 1942 with a mintage of 22,329. The 1936 date is the most expensive at around $900 in PR65, but the prices are commensurate with mintages and the 1942 coin in PR65 is less than $200. It is a small but easily acquired collection.

Is There a Registry Set for That?

Of course, there are lots of PCGS Registry Set options for Mercury Dime collectors. Mercury Dimes are part of that so-called “1900-1930 Renaissance of Designs in American Coinage.” Mercury Dimes are very popular and widely collected, so they receive equitable treatment in the world of PCGS Registry Sets.

Currently, PCGS has 1,585 Registry Sets of 15 different types of collections based around Mercury Dimes. From a short set of coins from 1940 through 1945, which has 270 Registry Sets competitors all vying for the highest rankings, to a complete set of Mercury Dimes from 1916 through 1945. There is a PCGS Registry Set for every type of Mercury Dime collection imaginable.

The seven-coin Mercury Dime Proof Registry Set is relatively easy to complete, but it could be difficult to amass the highest point totals against the existing competitors. And if you think that no one is trying to complete a Mercury Dime Full Bands set because of the differences in price and availability, think again. There are some 500 PCGS Registry Sets for collectors assembling different versions of Full Bands sets.

For the collector who craves completeness, there is a competition among more than three dozen collectors to acquire every Mercury Dime, including all major varieties and all proof and circulation issues. Indeed, the “New Dime” is here to stay and is very much in demand!

Article provided by PCGS at
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