History of the American Dime

Posted on February 15, 2021

Also known as the 10-cent coin, the U.S. dime is the smallest coin when it comes to diameter (0.7 inch) and the thinnest (0.05 inch) of all circulated U.S. coins currently minted. The name 'dime' comes from the French word for dime, which means 'tenth part' or 'tithe' from the Latin word 'decima.' Lady Liberty found her way onto the coin during much of its existence, only to have President Franklin D. Roosevelt placed upon it to honor his work with the March of Dimes.

History of the Dime

The current dime design has been in production since 1946, making it the longest-running dime design in U.S. history, but it's important to learn more about how the dime has evolved.

Draped Bust (1796-1807)

When the Coinage Act of 1792 passed, it established the dime as a unit of currency. As America's first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton suggested six coins be issued, with one including a silver coin, 'which shall be in weight and value a tenth part of the silver unit or dollar' [1].

In 1796, the first circulated dime was the Draped Bust designed by Chief Engraver Robert Scot. The coin had the same reverse and obverse design as other coins at the time, which was referred to as the Draped Bust or Small Eagle.

Lady Liberty's portrait on the obverse was based on Gilbert Stuart's drawing of socialite Ann Willing Bingham. The reverse has a bald eagle on a cloud, surrounded by olive and palm branches.

On the 1796 coins, 15 stars surround her head that represents the Union's total number of states at the time. The 1797 coins added a star reflecting the addition of Tennessee as a state, but Elias Boudinot, the U.S. Mint director, realized that placing a star for every added state could make the coin cluttered. He ordered a redesign with 13 stars to represent the original 13 colonies. As a result, 1797 coins either have the 13 or 16 stars [2].

The Coinage Act stated that only the cent and half-cent coins have their denominations, so this dime had no value indicated. People determined the coin's value by its size since there was no numeric value. Also, this coin was made of 89.24% silver and 10.76% copper [3].

Capped Bust (1809-1837)

John Reich, who was the mint's assistant engraver, designed the Capped Bust dime. The reverse had a bald eagle grasping three arrows (which represented strength) along with an olive branch (which represented peace). The eagle's breast had a shield with 13 vertical stripes and six horizontal lines.

It also had '10C,' and this destination made it the only minted dime with its value listed in cents, as future dimes have 'ONE DIME' listed.

Capped Bust coins printed through 1828 were called the Large type because they had a broader appearance due to the way they were struck. In 1828, Chief Engraver William Kneass introduced a different way of coin production so the mint could manufacturer thicker coins. This new coin was called the Small type.

Seated Liberty (1837-1891)

Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson wanted a new design for the coin, and Chief Engraver William Kneass created the original sketches but had a stroke and eventually died. Christian Gobrecht was promoted and completed the design of the Seated Liberty.

The coin's obverse has Liberty holding a staff with a liberty cap on top while she sits on a rock. In her right hand, she has a shield with 'LIBERTY' in the inscription. The reverse has 'ONE DIME' with a wreath surrounding it. These dimes were 90% silver and 10% copper [4].

Barber (1892-1916)

Named after designer Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber, this dime shares its design with the quarter and half-dollar during this timeframe. Lady Liberty has a liberty cap, a headband with the inscription 'LIBERTY' and a wreath. Also, the obverse has the 13 stars to represent the colonies, while the reverse has a wreath and an inscription found on the previous dime.

Winged Liberty Head (1916-1945)

Also known as the Mercury dime, this dime showed Liberty as a mythological goddess wearing a liberty cap. Wings on the cap represented freedom of thought. The reverse design had fasces intertwined with an olive branch, and this was to symbolize the country's willingness for war along with its intense need for peace. Sculptor Adolph A. Weinman won a contest in 1915, and the mint used his design on the dime. He based Liberty's profile after Elsie Stevens, who was the wife of poet Wallace Stevens.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1946-present)

Shortly after the death of Roosevelt in 1945, Ralph H. Daughton, a Virginia congressman, brought forth legislation to replace the Mercury dime with one depicting Roosevelt. He chose the dime to honor Roosevelt for his work with the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which was later renamed the March of Dimes. This dime debuted on what would've been Roosevelt's 64th birthday: January 30, 1946.

Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock created the design, which has the left profile of Roosevelt, the phrase 'IN GOD WE TRUST,' and 'LIBERTY.' On the reverse, there's a torch flanked by branches with 'ONE DIME', 'UNITED STATES OF AMERICA' and 'E PLURIBUS UNUM.'

Production of the Dime

Up until 1955, the three mints in Denver, Philadelphia and San Francisco printed circulating coins. However, the San Francisco Mint ceased production in 1955, only to resume in 1968 with printing proofs. Through 1964, the 'D' and 'S' mint marks are found near the left side of the torch. From 1968, the mint mark landed near the date. Mintages have varied over the years, but no circulated coin had a mintage of less than 10 million [5].

1. Founders Online. 'Final Version of the Report on the Establishment of a Mint [28 January 1791],' https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-07-02-0334-0004. Accessed September 28, 2020.

2. Coin World. 'The Saw-Maker's Patterns,' https://www.coinworld.com/voices/gerald-tebben/the_saw-maker_s_patt.html. Accessed September 28, 2020.

3. Coin World. 'Top 10 Stories of 2019 Included Major Change to Silver Coins,' https://www.coinworld.com/news/precious-metals/top-10-stories-of-2019-included-major-change-to-silver-coins. Accessed September 28, 2020.

4. The Spruce Crafts. 'Roosevelt Silver Dime Values and Prices,' https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/roosevelt-silver-dime-values-and-prices-4056949. Accessed September 28, 2020.

5. My Coin Guides. 'Roosevelt Dimes,' https://rooseveltdimes.net/roosevelt-dime-mintage/ Accessed September 28, 2020.