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Evaluate Roosevelt dimes as silver rises

With silver at $20 a troy ounce, any silver Roosevelt dime has $1.43 worth of metal in it. Such a high basic price distorts relative rarities by compressing price differences between the scarcer pieces and the most common, like the 1964-D.

Savvy collectors should review the history of the series and take the opportunity to trade off their common silver coins for the scarcer pieces. This will help them profit from the current high bullion prices and position themselves for the return of relative rarities after the current bullion surge has concluded tomorrow, next year or 10 years from now.

Other than silver coins of 1946-1964, it is hard to get a collector audience for the series. Part of the reason may be that, in the period when 90 percent silver issues were in circulation, the Roosevelt dime was circulating alongside the Mercury dime. Given the choice between the two, collectors naturally opted for the old Mercury dime with its more interesting design and lower mintages. More recently collecting tastes have seemed to lean toward bigger coins, so we have seen silver dollars and gold eagles, among others, have periods of great interest while the dime and other denominations were passed over. Then along came the state quarter program. The quarter, which had also been relatively quiet, suddenly sprang to life.

Sooner or later the cycle will move in the direction of the Roosevelt dime. When that will be is anyone?s guess. Of course, there have in recent years been some proposals to replace the Roosevelt dime with a dime featuring Ronald Reagan. While some thought it was a good idea, the fact is that Franklin D. Roosevelt is not an easy person to replace on a coin.

In fact, no one should have been surprised at the reaction over even the idea of replacing Roosevelt. Perhaps it is the passage of time, but those who lived through the period do not forget. They do not take kindly to the idea of replacing Roosevelt. After all, Roosevelt saw the nation through both the Great Depression and World War II. Most Presidents reach a level of greatness by confronting just one crisis, and the fact that Roosevelt went through two and was elected four times is something those who lived through the times will not forget.

green04082.jpgWith the passage of time the Roosevelt dime might well be seen as more important than it is today. Today it seems normal but in reality putting Roosevelt on the dime took the process that began with the Lincoln cent a step further. The Lincoln cent had been the first circulating coin to depict a famous American. That broke with over a century of tradition of not using Americans on circulating coins.

In the years following the Lincoln cent there would be other Americans depicted on coins in the form of first the Washington quarter and then the Jefferson nickel. What Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson all had in common is that by the time they were depicted on circulating coins they had been dead for a long time. Their appearance on coins was at the time of a significant anniversary, such as the centennial or bicentennial of their birth.

In the case of the Roosevelt dime, however, the coin was an immediate commemorative celebrating the life of a famous leader. That had never happened before. Perhaps it was natural as Roosevelt had dominated the American scene for more than a decade. Roosevelt had also reached Americans through his use of the radio in a way no American President before him had done. Americans might not have seen Roosevelt, but his booming voice was a very real presence in many American homes, and it came at times of great crisis. To many, Roosevelt was closer to a father figure than a President, providing hope when it seemed to be in short supply and determination when it was desperately needed.

There was a more practical reason to break with tradition as well. It was really very simple: those he left behind who would make the decision to put Roosevelt on the dime were literally all in their positions of power because of Roosevelt. They did not have to be reminded that they owed F.D.R..
They knew it all too well, and so did many elected officials who had gained their seats in Congress primarily because Roosevelt?s immense popularity helped pull them into office. Under the circumstances, honoring Roosevelt was never in doubt. The fact that it did break with the old pattern opened the door. Years later the Kennedy half dollar and Eisenhower dollar followed in that tradition, as did the proposal for a Reagan dime.

The selection of the dime to honor Roosevelt was natural. At the time there were only two denominations in production that did not feature famous Americans, the dime and half dollar. With Roosevelt?s paralysis and interest in the March of Dimes campaign, it was simply a perfect fit that he should appear on the dime.

green04083.jpgThe only real problem was the Commission of Fine Arts. The CFA wanted a competition for the design involving Edward McCartain; James Earle Fraser, who had designed the Buffalo nickel; A.A. Weinman, who had designed the Mercury dime and Walking Liberty half dollar; Paul Manship; and Jo Davidson. In normal times the competition would have been a good idea. The problem was that they were not normal times. The idea was to get the new Roosevelt dime out in time for the start of the March of Dimes campaign of 1946.

To the minds of officials, there was no time to hold a competition, so Chief Engraver John Sinnock was ordered to create a design. That initial effort had problems, and he made changes. It all took time, which was quickly running out if the new coin was to be ready in time for an address to the nation by Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. to kick off the March of Dimes campaign on Jan. 7, 1946. The new designs were ready and CFA representative Lee Lawrie approved them, but there was no time for the entire commmission to review and approve them. The secretary of the Treasury could not or would not wait. He ordered production to begin, possibly setting the stage for additional friction between the CFA and the Treasury a few years later regarding the Franklin half dollar.

There was no doubt there would be significant demand and that brought large initial mintages for the Roosevelt dime. Philadelphia producing 225,500,000 in 1946, along with more than 61 million produced at Denver and another 27,900,000 in San Francisco that year.

There was certainly some initial saving of the new Roosevelt dime. It was a new design and it depicted a recently fallen leader. Of course, much of the saving would be on the part of non-collectors who simply wanted a souvenir of Roosevelt. Over the years the assumption has been that the 1946 dates would always be readily available, given the large mintages and likely saving. That thinking may be changing as we have seen the Philadelphia 1946 rise from a price guide listing of $2.50 in MS-65 in 1998 to $4.50 in 2003 and now to $14. Meanwhile the 1946-D has moved from $4.50 in 1998 to $15 today while the 1946-S is the most expensive of the group at a current MS-65 listing of $17.

green04084.jpgThe prices are some indication of the fact that the Roosevelt dime is a set that virtually everyone can afford, even in top grades. Only a couple dates have any sort of significant premium. The traditional leader in price has been the 1949-S. It remains that way today with a current MS-65 listing of $65 although its MS-65 price movement in recent years had been minimal. In fact the 1949-S has only increased from $55 to $65 in MS-65 since 1998. Where the 1949-S has seen a significant increase is in MS-60 where its $9 1998 listing has given way to a present listing of $40.

In an interesting and barely noticed change in Roosevelt dime pricing, the 1949-S has had a bit of competition in MS-60 from the 1950-S. Since 1998 the 1950-S has moved from $7 in MS-60 to $32 in MS-60. It?s the sort of thing that does not happen often, and here are two dates that have been around for more than 50 years. While the 1949-S still leads, the price difference between the two in MS-60 is not that large.

Roosevelt dimes in general are starting to show signs of price changes, and perhaps changes in which dates are considered more or less available. A number of other dates like the 1949 and 1951-S have climbed above $15 in MS-65, and it would not be at all surprising as more Roosevelt dimes are graded by the grading services to see traditional beliefs about what dates are available in what grades challenged.

The 1949-S and 1950-S are a good example. The 1950-S at present is slightly more expensive than the 1949-S in MS-60 where ironically the 1950-S is slightly more available according to grading service totals. In MS-65 the 1949-S remains more expensive although ironically in MS-65 and up it is seen more often than the 1950-S. It is too early to jump to conclusions, for with low prices for years, many Roosevelt dimes have not been sent in for grading. It bears watching, though, in the years ahead. We could very well continue to see some price shuffling.

It continues to be challenging to spot current trends because movements in price have generally been relatively small. That said, there have been some dates that have shown some movement. The Philadelphia 1950 has increased to a $25 listing in MS-65. That increase would not be all that significant were it not for the fact that a major dealer at the same time was running offers to buy the 1950 as well as the 1952-S in uncirculated roll quantities and the quantity involved was 10 rolls of each. No dealer would seek 500 coins of the same date if there was no market and no shortage of that date. The real question is that if found and the rolls are broken up, where will future supplies be come from for the 1950 and 1952-S?

In another case a dealer was offering to buy the 1947, 1947-D, 1949-D, 1950 and 1982-P Roosevelt dimes. What was significant was that the prices the dealer was offering to pay were higher than the listed retail prices of the uncirculated rolls of those dates. Naturally, a dealer will not buy the rolls and sell them to you for less, so it is a strong indication that at least in some instances the market prices for some dates are actually ahead of the listed prices. That meant the rolls would likely soon be heading to higher ground as well.

Some Roosevelt dimes that have not moved in price remain interesting. The Roosevelt dimes of 1955 remain a group that many watch with interest. It was a complicated situation as 1955 was designated the final year for coin production at the San Francisco Mint. As it turned out, that would not be permanent, but at the time everyone assumed that the 1955-S cent and dime, which were the only denominations produced there that year, would be the last coins from San Francisco. The two were saved in some numbers as the final coins of San Francisco. It was also discovered that the 1955 and 1955-D Roosevelt dimes had low mintages of just 12,828,381 in the case of the 1955 and 13,959,000 in the case of the 1955-D. That made the 1955 the lowest-mintage Roosevelt dime with the 1955-D being No. 3 and the 1955-S No. 4. The 1950-D Jefferson nickel was a sensation at the time because it had the lowest Jefferson nickel mintage. Thus, the dimes of 1955 were suddenly of immediate interest. There was heavy saving, and that probably prevented the 1955 dime issues from going to much higher listings than they are today.

The fact that the 1955 dimes did not skyrocket like the 1950-D Jefferson opened up still another possible twist in their story. Their prices were low enough that it would have been possible, if not likely, that any or all were melted in some numbers when the price of silver reached $50 in early 1980. We have no real idea what numbers might have been lost, and the 1955 dimes have not changed significantly in price since then, but that is not unusual as there has not been sufficient demand to see much of any major Roosevelt dime price changes. That leaves us with a situation where we cannot honestly be sure if today?s price in MS-65 of  $10 for the 1955 and 1955-D and $9 for the 1955-S are true indications of the availability of the dimes of 1955 or not.

The melting factor, which potentially looms large in the case of the dimes of 1955, looms even larger in the case of other dimes from the late 1950s and early 1960s. With their larger mintages and 90 percent silver compositions, they were naturals to have been melted in large numbers. A date like the 1957-D would have been an easy coin to sell for its silver value in any grade. The 1957-D had a mintage over 113 million. To have someone offer $3 for a 1957-D back in 1980 was like found money. No matter what the grade, few could have resisted the opportunity. Ironically, the 1957-D has jumped to $8 in MS-65 with the suspicion being that, decades after the melting, it is being discovered that the 1957-D is not found in Mint State in any numbers. Naturally, it was not the only date where this potentially happened, and that could see a bright future for some Roosevelt dime dates that were assumed to be common ? and were until they were melted for their silver.

With the elimination of silver from U.S. circulating coins in 1965, we entered a new era of Roosevelt dimes. It was not greeted with any enthusiasm. On top of the loss of silver, there were also no mintmarks from 1965-1967. Collectors in general were discouraged, and that meant that some who might otherwise have saved rolls or proof sets or mint sets did not. Later in the era of clad dimes there were far too many other offerings from the Mint to make something as ordinary as a roll or mint set seem like a good idea. The neglect has basically continued to the present day.

There are not many Roosevelt dimes from the period after 1965 that have shown signs of life, but there are some and they are worth noting. As with other denominations the proof-only San Francisco coins, which started in 1968 for the dime, have produced some dates with higher listings, such as the 1995-S which was just $2.60 in 1998 but which is $20 today, while a number of others such as the 1993-S and 1997-S are also higher.

In 1992 the options from the Mint were expanded to include silver proof-only San Francisco coins. They, too, have done well in some cases. The 1995-S proof silver dime has risen from $3.50 in 1998 to $25 today, and it has been joined at that level by the 1997-S with other dates also showing potential.

In the case of business strikes, the major increases have been from the usual suspects. There were no official U.S. Mint-produced mint sets in 1982 and 1983, and like other denominations dimes from those years have proven to be in short supply. The Philadelphia coins have led the way with the 1982-P now at $8.50, which is a dollar-and-a-half higher than the 1983-P, while the 1982-D is at $3 with the 1983-D being the least expensive in MS-65 at $2.50. Rolls are also moving upward and they are in demand.

One coin that does not get the attention it deserves is the 1996-W. This was a special creation available only in mint sets to mark the 50th anniversary of the Roosevelt dime. The 1996-W is the only dime ever made at West Point. The many other Mint product options in 1996, including a number of commemoratives, left the mint set sales at a modest 1,457,949. Even with a 100 percent survival rate, the 1996-W still has a limited availability and compares very well with other similar issues such as proof-only dates, or even the 1970-D Kennedy half dollar. At first the 1 996-W did very little, rising a dollar to $8 in MS-65, but it has recently gone to $25 and that could just be the beginning. It is hard to beat the 1996-W as a modern issue with low mintage. It could easily double in price and still not be too expensive.

Certainly the increases in the Roosevelt dimes since 1965 have been selective, but the fact is there is indication that at least in some cases supplies are not adequate. If we ever see an increase in interest, many other dates could also prove to be in short supply. If that happens, Roosevelt dimes will finally show the sorts of prices many have expected for a long time.

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