What is a Mercury dime? The Mercury dime holds an intriguing place in American history. Minted from 1916 to 1945, these silver coins showcase the Winged Liberty Head design by famed sculptor Adolph Weinman on the obverse. If you’ve stumbled upon a Mercury dime and want to know more about these vintage coins, you’ve come to the right place.

In short – a Mercury dime is a ten-cent coin produced by the United States Mint from 1916 to 1945. The coin features a portrait of Liberty wearing a winged Phrygian cap, leading to the ‘Mercury’ nickname despite not actually depicting the Roman god Mercury.

History and Origins of the Mercury Dime

Why the Mercury Nickname?

The Mercury dime, minted from 1916 to 1945, is one of the most popular and widely collected U.S. coins. But how did it get its unusual nickname? The obverse image depicts a young Liberty wearing a winged Phrygian cap, but many mistook her for the Roman god Mercury.

The mythological Mercury, the messenger of the gods, wore a similar hat with wings. Over time, the Liberty dime became known colloquially as the “Mercury dime.” Both names remain in use today by numismatists and collectors.

The 1916 Design Competition

The early 20th century sparked renewed interest in redesigning U.S. coinage. In 1915, sculptor Adolph A. Weinman entered a design competition seeking new dime concepts. His inspiration came from Elsie Kachel Stevens, a young Broadway actress & artist’s model.

Her classic facial features and sculpted hairstyle brought Weinman’s winged Liberty design to life.

Weinman aimed to symbolize “Liberty in the form of a young goddess, striding forward proclaiming liberty throughout the land” (The Numismatist). Lady Liberty replaced the former Barber dime design used in 1892. Weinman won the competition, and his Mercury dime entered production in October 1916.

Weinman’s Winged Liberty Design

Weinman’s Mercury dime design is regarded as one of the most beautiful in U.S. coinage history. It features a left-facing bust of Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap representing freedom and revolution. Her wings symbolize “flight and liberty of thought” (U.S. Mint).

Dictated by the competition rules, the reverse retains the Roman fasces emblem used on dimes for decades.

Key design aspects include:

  • Date and wording along the rim, unobstructed by other elements
  • Sharp relief and depth, showcasing Weinman’s sculpting prowess
  • Balance between symbolic representations of liberty and unity

Weinman’s Mercury dime was an artistic achievement that reinvigorated U.S. coin designs. Nearly 50 years after its retirement, the iconic Mercury dime remains beloved by collectors and historians alike as a beautiful tribute to Liberty.

Minting Information and Details

First Year of Issue – 1916

The Mercury dime was first minted in 1916, making it one of the older coins still found in circulation today. The coin was issued to mark the new design by sculptor Adolph A. Weinman, whose depiction of Liberty wearing a winged cap was inspired by the Roman god Mercury.

This design quickly led to the coin’s popular name – the “Mercury dime.”

Composition and Size Specs

The Mercury dime has a standard composition of 90% silver and 10% copper. This gave the coin a distinctively bright, silvery appearance when newly minted. The coins have a diameter of 17.9 mm and a mass of 2.5 grams.

Mint Marks

Mercury dimes carry mint marks indicating which US mint facility struck the coins:

  • P – Philadelphia Mint
  • D – Denver Mint
  • S – San Francisco Mint

Coins struck in Philadelphia carried no mint mark early on, making identification trickier for 1916-1942 issues.

Mintage Figures Over the Years

The Mercury dime was minted in large numbers for most of its 30 years of production. Over 1.2 billion coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint alone. Other notable production figures include:

1921 Over 19 million coins were minted across all mints
1930 More than 159 million struck altogether – a record year
1916-1945 Average annual mintage of over 100 million coins

This high mintage contributes to why many Mercury dimes remain available for collectors today. Lower mintage dates and mint marks like the 1921, 1930-S, and 1945 are more valuable.

Key Date Mercury Dimes and Values

Most Valuable Mercury Dimes

Some of the most valuable Mercury dimes include the 1916-D, 1921, 1921-D, and the 1942/1 overdates. The 1916-D is the holy grail with only 264,000 produced in its single year of issue at the Denver Mint.

High-grade examples can sell for over $1,000, while circulated pieces still fetch a few hundred dollars. The 1921 issues had tiny mintages under 2 million each, making them keys as well. Graded specimens of the 1921 fetch into the mid-hundreds.

Condition and Grading

When determining the value of a Mercury dime, the grade or condition is extremely important. Those classified in higher preserved Mint State (MS) grades will command the strongest premiums. However, most surviving examples grade in circulated condition, with grades ranging from Good to About Uncirculated.

Grading services like PCGS and NGC provide accurate and consistent assessments of a coin’s state of preservation.

Auction Sale Record Highlights

Some exceptional Mercury dimes have sold for remarkable prices at major numismatic auctions over the years:

  • An MS67 FB 1916-D Mercury dime sold for $996,000 in October 2020 at an auction by Stack’s Bowers.
  • The sole PCGS MS68FB example of the 1923-S brought $3.96 million in August 2021 at a Heritage sale.
  • In January 2021, Legend Rare Coin Auctions sold an MS66FB 1921-D dime with a green CAC sticker for $384,000.

These represent some of the highest prices paid for the iconic series designed by Adolph A. Weinman.

The End of the Mercury Dime Series in 1945

The popular Mercury dime series issued by the United States Mint came to an end in 1945 after being minted for just 15 years. First issued in 1916, the Mercury dime featured a winged Liberty “Mercury” head wearing a Phrygian cap on the obverse side.

The reverse depicted a fasces symbol and an olive branch, signifying unity and peace.

By 1945, the threats of war had dissipated after the Allied victory in World War II. With peace restored, the Mint and Treasury Department desired a new dime design more emblematic of democracy and freedom.

Thus, the Mercury Dime series was concluded in 1945 and replaced by the Roosevelt Dime in 1946 featuring President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Wartime Changes to the Mercury Dime

During World War II from 1941 to 1945, the United States rationed key industrial metals like copper, nickel, and chromium which were crucial to the war effort. To conserve these metals, the Mint changed the Mercury dime’s composition in 1942 from 90% silver and 10% copper to an alloy of 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese.

This alloy change gave the wartime Mercury dimes a gray tone instead of their usual brilliant luster. After the war ended, the 1946 Roosevelt dimes returned to the pre-war 90% silver and 10% copper composition.

Total Number of Mercury Dimes Minted

In total, over 2.7 billion Mercury dimes were minted for circulation from 1916 to 1945. With many melted down over the years, the coins are still readily available to collectors today in lower-mint-state grades.

However, high-grade and rare date Mercury dimes like the 1921 and 1916-D are scarce and expensive. The most common Mercury dime is the 1944 Philadelphia issue with around 231,410,000 pieces struck.

Collecting Mercury Dimes Today

For modern collectors, Mercury dimes offer an affordable series to assemble a complete date and mintmark set due to their smaller size and low price point compared to earlier dime types.

Late-date examples in nice uncirculated condition can often be bought for around $5-10 each. Key date rarities though like the 1921, 1921-D, and 1916-D fetch substantial premiums into the thousands of dollars.

The brief but beautiful Mercury dime series serves as an interesting bridge between the old Barber coinage first struck in 1892 and the modern Roosevelt dimes still being minted today over 75 years later.

Collecting Mercury Dimes Today

In this modern era, Mercury dimes remain one of the most popular collectibles for numismatists. From building complete data sets to hunting for rare varieties, there are many engaging ways to pursue these historic 90% silver coins originally minted from 1916 to 1945.

Building a Date Set Collection

Many collectors enjoy the challenge of assembling a full date and mintmark set of Mercury dimes. This entails hunting down all 35 individual date and mint combinations that were produced in the series.

While most dates are easy to locate, key dates like 1921, 1921-D, 1921-S, and 1916-D can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars each in higher circulated grades. Some enthusiasts focus on just assembling circulation finds, while others are willing to fill gaps with certified Mint State examples.

Variety Collecting

There are also many intriguing varieties to discover within the Mercury dime series.

These include coins with misplaced dates, repunched mintmarks (like the 1943/1943-D and 1945/1945-S over mintmarks), and dramatic doubled dies. The most famous variety is the 1942/1 overdate, with only a few confirmed specimens known.

Some specialists collect only Mercury dimes with Full Split Bands—meaning the central fasces bands on the reverse are fully separated and rounded. Just finding common dates with this sharp strike is a fun pursuit.

Top Coin Albums and Folders

To store a growing Mercury dime set, the Whitman Mercury Dime Folder 1916-1945 is a top pick. This allows you to showcase your coins in a clearly labeled folder packed with historical information.

More advanced collectors may enjoy the Dansco Mercury Dime Album 1916-1945, which offers spaces for all dates and mintmarks, plus popular varieties like the 1942/1 overdate and Full Split Band coins worth highlighting.

You can also pursue raw Mercury dimes graded by PCGS or NGC that encapsulate and certify your coins. 

What Is A Mercury Dime – Conclusion

From their rich origins to the key dates highly valued by collectors today, Mercury dimes have an intriguing history. These iconic silver coins showcase stunning American coin designs as well. We hope this complete guide has provided all the details you wanted on Mercury dimes – their minting details, background, value information, and collecting tips.

With vibrant history and artistry, Mercury dimes make excellent additions to any U.S. coin collection.

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