Mercury Dimes: Everything You Need To Know

Posted on February 25, 2021

If you're planning to upgrade your coin collection, you may want to get the Mercury dime. This dime is highly popular among coin collectors because of its extraordinary design. In fact, it was even collected during the early days of its circulation. Find out what makes the Mercury dime so appealing and why it's worth your investment.

What Is the Mercury Dime?

The Mercury dime is an American 10-cent coin that was produced from 1916 to 1945. This coin is made of 90% silver and 10% copper and contains only 0.072 ounces of silver. It weighs 0.08 ounce and measures 0.7 inch in diameter [1].

Also called the Winged Liberty Head Dime, the Mercury dime features a unique design created by Adolph A. Weinman. The front side of the coin shows Liberty's head in profile. She wears a winged Phrygian cap to symbolize Liberty of Thought. However, the public misunderstood Weinman's intent and thought that he was depicting the Roman god Mercury, who wore a cap with wings. This would be sensible because Mercury was the god of commerce. Weinman's initials 'AW' are found on the right of Liberty's neck.

The reverse side of the Mercury dime features a design that isn't commonly seen in modern coinage. It displays a fasces that represents unity and strength and an olive branch that symbolizes peace.

History of the Mercury Dime

The United States Treasury Department held a design competition in 1916 to find a replacement for the stoic-looking dime that was in circulation at that time. Designed by the Chief Engraver of the Mint Charles E. Barber, the existing dime was introduced in 1892 and featured an image of Seated Liberty. In March 1916, United States Mint Director Robert W. Woolley announced that Weinman's design had been chosen as the winner of the competition [2]. The Mint began producing the first Mercury dimes just before the United States entered World War I.

The Mercury dime continued to be circulated until the early 1960s. At this time, bullion hoarders began to stop the circulation of coins made of 90% silver. The copper-nickel clad era started in the mid-1960s, resulting in Mercury dimes becoming rare sightings in day-to-day commerce. Nonetheless, they have successfully retained their appeal to coin collectors until today.

What Makes the Mercury Dime Unique?

If you're wondering why coin collectors are actively pursuing the Mercury dime, it's because this coin is unique in many ways. Below is a list of characteristics that set this dime apart from other American coins:

  • The Mercury dime was introduced in a unique year: The Mercury dime debuted in 1916, which was a groundbreaking year in the history of United States coinage. It was the first time ever that the Mint used different designs on the half dollar, quarter and dime.
  • Some Mercury dimes couldn't fit into regular vending machines: After the first batch of Mercury dimes was released, the Mint decided to restructure the dime because it didn't fit into many vending machines. No such modification was ever done to any other United States coin.
  • The model for the Mercury dime is a mystery: Adolph Weinman didn't explicitly reveal the identity of the model featured on the Mercury dime. He claimed that the model was the wife of a lawyer friend, but some people believed that she was Elsie Stevens, the wife of poet Wallace Stevens. Until today, nobody knows who the model is.
  • The Mercury dime was born of a mistake: Mint Director Robert Woolley commissioned Weinman to design the new dime because he misunderstood the coinage laws. He thought a coin's design must be changed after it has been in circulation for 25 years, but in actuality, the design could be changed but it wasn't mandatory.
  • The Mercury dime has a political message: The fasces and olive branch on the reverse side of the coin symbolize America's readiness for war and desire for peace, respectively. The Mercury dime was circulated throughout World War I.

How To Identify the Mercury Dime

The Mercury dime is one of the most recognizable coins in the history of United States coinage. It features an unconventional and elegant design that borrows heavily from the late 19th-century Beaux-Arts movement. It's the only American coin that shows Liberty wearing a winged hat and a Roman fasces, so it's easy to identify on either side.

Are There Any Variations of the Mercury Dime?

The Mercury dime comes in many different variations. This coin was produced in three different mints: the Philadelphia Mint, San Francisco Mint, and Denver Mint [3]. Dimes from the Philadelphia Mint don't have any special marking denoting their origin, while those from San Francisco and Denver are marked with the letter S or D, respectively.

Additionally, Mercury dimes are commonly categorized into two types: pre-1934 and post-1933. This is because the coin entered a hiatus during the Great Depression and reappeared in 1934. Dimes that were made before 1934 are far less common than those minted from 1934 onward.

There also many other Mercury dime varieties and errors that are largely unknown to coin collectors, including:

  • Doubled die dimes
  • Dimes with re-punched mintmarks
  • Dimes with trumpet-tailed S mintmark
  • Multistrike dimes
  • Partial-collar dimes
  • Dimes made with foreign planchets

Who Is Interested in the Mercury Dime and Why?

The Mercury dime attracts collectors from all walks of life because of its timeless design. The simplicity of the portrait of Liberty makes it stand out among modern coins that commonly feature overly crowded designs. Since it varies greatly in value, the dime is a great option for collectors with any kind of budget. High-end collectors can invest in rare Mercury dime sets that run into five or six figures, while collectors with modest budgets can buy coins with common dates.

The Mercury dime is truly a wonderful addition to your coin collection. It offers an appealing blend of art deco design, wide-ranging issues, and challenging pieces, making it suitable for both seasoned and novice collectors.

Article Sources

  1. PCGS. Mercury Dimes: Mercury Dime Facts Every Collector Should Know, https://www.pcgs.com/resources/guides/Mercury_Dime-web.pdf. Accessed September 9, 2020.
  2. Mercury Dime. History of the Mercury Dime, https://mercurydime.net/history-of-the-mercury-dime. Accessed September 9, 2020.
  3. Coin Mintages. Mercury Dimes Mintage, https://coinmintages.com/mercury-dimes-mintage. Accessed September 9, 2020.