The 1921 Mercury dime is an interesting story as a semi-key Mercury dime, but it is also part of a larger story that makes it even more interesting as a sign of the times. This combination makes it a nice addition to any collection.
The 1921 Mercury dime had a mintage of just 1,230,000. There has not been a lower mintage of dimes from Philadelphia since 1921 or stretching all the way back to 1895. To be the lowest mintage dime from Philadelphia for more than a century suggests there was something unusual going on at the time.
Actually, there was something unusual going on in Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco back in 1921. The three facilities were turning out coins 24 hours a day, six days a week. They were all busy producing silver dollars.
The situation was a result of the Pittman Act of 1918. The act allowed for the melting of up to 350 million silver dollars. Just over 270 million were destroyed, but that still created a problem.
The economics of the Pittman Act looked OK as the silver was going to be sent to India and the U.S. would get its money back and some good will besides. There was basically no reason to not do it. The silver dollars were actually costing money to store.
However, the silver dollars had a purpose. Silver Certificates called for payment in silver dollars. Without silver dollars, the certificates would have to be retired, and no one wanted that. To avoid this, short-term notes were taken out by the government, but the interest was 2 percent and that was driving Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon crazy. He wanted the notes retired immediately, but to do that someone had to make about 200 million silver dollars. That process began in 1921 and went on for a few years.
That explains why a lot of silver dollars were made in 1921. What happened to dimes? Well, the economy was in a severe recession and demand for coins was down. There were so many low mintages, the 1921 Mercury dime would not stand out and be saved in large numbers. It had a higher mintage than the 1921-D Mercury dime whose mintage was at just 1,080,000. There were other low mintage denominations as well.
Both the 1921 and the 1921-D were allowed to simply circulate for years as there were not that many dime collectors at the time. They were still circulating in large numbers in the 1940s, as the New York Subway Hoard purchased by the Littleton Coin Company in the 1990s reportedly had 600 examples of the 1921 and another 450 of the 1921-D. Those are very large numbers from a hoard begun roughly 20 years after the 1921 was originally produced.
The 1921 and 1921-D have historically been closely related in price, which is natural when you compare the mintages. In G-4, however, perhaps reflecting the New York Subway Hoard, the 1921 is currently at $60 while the 1921-D is at $78. It tends to be that way throughout circulated grades as the 1921-D is a bit better than the 1921.
The price gap between the two closes a bit in Mint State. That makes sense as in Mint State the collectors in 1921 would have probably saved roughly equal numbers of each.
In MS-60, the 1921 is at $1,175 while the 1921-D is $1,300. In MS-65, there is only a $150 difference between the two. In MS-65 with full split bands, the 1921 is $4,350 while the 1921-D is $5,200. In that grade, the grading service numbers seem to support the price spread.
In any grade the 1921 is one of the best Mercury dimes. It is not the toughest in Mint State, but the 1921 still remains a premium-priced date and an interesting one to boot.