The 1949-S Roosevelt dime is one of those interesting coins that get little attention despite the fact that, at least in MS-65, it has been the most costly Roosevelt dime for many decades.
Things have been a little slow when it comes to Roosevelt dimes in recent years. You might even take it a bit further than that and suggest that no one can really remember the last time Roosevelt dimes were active.
It is not easy to explain why a coin like the 1949-S and Roosevelt dimes in general would be so quiet. Some have pointed to the fact that the dime is small and at least in recent times, smaller coins have not seemed as popular as Morgan dollars, Saint-Gaudens double eagles and other larger coins.
There is little way you can argue with that logic, although back in the 1950s, for example, the Roosevelt dime and the 1949-S were not all that hotly sought, but Lincoln cents were, and they were also small coins. Small may not help a coin's popularity, at least in the present market, but it does not seem like enough reason to explain why Roosevelt dimes have not been active.
The fact that Roosevelt dimes are modern could also be put forth as a reason for the lack of popularity and that, too, is a valid point. The problem is that Franklin half dollars actually started a couple years after the Roosevelt dime, so they are even more recent, yet there are any number of Franklin half dollars in MS-65 with full bell lines that are hundreds and even thousands of dollars. The 1953-S, for example, is $16,000 in MS-65 with full bell lines and it is more recent than the 1949-S Roosevelt dime.
If you start to put the various suggested ideas together, you might well be building a good case for the Roosevelt dime and 1949-S being overlooked for a variety of different reasons. To that list can be added that there were no especially low-mintage Roosevelt dimes, including the 1949-S. It had a mintage of 13,510,000 and that makes it the second lowest-mintage Roosevelt dime released into circulation, but realistically, back in the 1940s and 1950s, that mintage did not seem very impressive.
Looking back and at the 1950-D nickel, and assorted quarter and half dollar mintages from the 1950s, you will see that a mintage under 10 million would be low, but that was not enough to impress many people. Of course, it is not fair to compare dime and half dollar mintages, as the commercial needs of denominations are different.
There were 31 different Mercury dime dates with lower mintages than the 1949-S. That is not a small number. Moreover, at the time the 1949-S was being released, the only one of those 31 Mercury dime dates viewed as particularly tough was the 1916-D, with the 1921 and 1921-D also being seen as slightly more difficult, but the other 28 were seen as available.
Under those circumstances, there was no reason for a large saving of the 1949-S, or even the saving of any extra Mint State examples. Certainly, there were probably a few rolls set aside, but not many and the number of mint sets sold in 1949 was estimated to be just 5,200.
Historically, the 1949-S has been seen as the toughest of the otherwise very ordinary Roosevelt dimes in top grades. Back in 1998, it was priced at $9 in MS-60 and $55 in MS-65. Today, the MS-60 is up to $33.50, while the MS-65 is $60. Those changes are interesting, as normally it would be the MS-65, and not the MS-60, where you would see the greater increases.