Skip to main content

Early Philadelphia Roosevelts gain value


It’s probably natural that for most of the more than 60 years that the Roosevelt dime has been in production the Roosevelt dimes of Philadelphia have received very little attention. You could perhaps make a case that Roosevelt dimes in general have received very little attention, but coming from the main facility in Philadelphia at least for much of the six decades of Roosevelt dimes the general assumption has been that there is nothing special about the coins produced at Philadelphia.

In fact in a time like the 1950s, that was the case more often than not as Philadelphia as the main facility was more likely to have higher mintages than either Denver or San Francisco. Interestingly enough, while it was generally the case it was not always that way and once San Francisco stopped producing coins after the production of 1955 in the case of dimes it was generally Philadelphia and not Denver that would have the lower mintages.

While a lower mintage in 1963 might not result in a higher price, the fact remains that it is not really possible to generalize about Philadelphia Roosevelt dimes and that makes them an interesting group to both study and to collect. If you have not looked at prices in several years, you might be surprised to see current values of some of the earlier dates.

Let’s start with the first Roosevelt dime, the 1946. It was Philadelphia that had the highest mintage by far. That was to be expected as the demand for the first Roosevelt dimes especially in the population centers of the East Coast and in Franklin D. Roosevelt's home state of New York was expected to be high.

Nowadays we can forget that the Roosevelt dime was really a unique issue as it was the first time an American was being honored with a coin immediately after his death. In the case of Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson who were the others on coins at the time, their depiction on a circulating coin came long after their deaths. Of the three, only Lincoln appearing just under 45 years after his death would have been a figure any Americans alive at the time of the introduction of the coin could have potentially remembered.

No one at the time of the introduction of the Washington quarter or Jefferson nickel would have also been alive at the time of their deaths, but in the case of Roosevelt it was all very different as almost everyone had been alive during the Roosevelt years as President.

In fact, as these Americans had elected him to four consecutive terms as President, it was safe to assume that they were going to want a new Roosevelt dime as a keepsake. That had never happened with a circulating coin in the past and it was likely there was going to be a totally unique demand for the Roosevelt dime.

The Philadelphia Roosevelt dime mintage in 1946 was perilously close to a record at 225,250,000 pieces, a total topped only by the 1944 Mercury dime mintage, which was over 231 million.

With such a mintage, the 1946 Roosevelt dime has historically been assumed to be both common and heavily saved. Only in recent times has there been any real price movement in the 1946 as it has moved up to $3.50 in MS-63 and $14 in MS-65, which is interesting as it puts the Philadelphia 1946 lower in price even if only by a dollar in MS-65 than the 1946-D, which had a mintage of just 61,043,500.

Just how strong are the supplies of the 1946 in top grades is an interesting question. In fact, relatively few MS-65 examples are reported for any Roosevelt dime simply because a coin likely to be graded MS-65 is not worth grading as the grading cost can be more than the coin's value even if it comes back in the grade expected.

What we see with the 1946 is that it has been graded in MS-66 757 times by the Professional Coin Grading Service along with 86 examples in MS-67 and a couple in MS-68. Those totals are good to remember as they give some benchmark in terms of availability by which we can at least gauge the numbers of other Philadelphia Roosevelt dime dates.

In the case of the 1947, there was a mintage of 121,520,000, just over one-half the 1946 total. Today the 1947 lists for $6 in MS-63 and $15 in MS-65. There is actually some indication in the numbers graded that there probably was the normal decrease in saving in the second year of the new design as PCGS has seen about 279 examples in MS-66 and 66 in MS-67, which in both cases are lower than the 1946.

In 1948 the mintage would fall again to a total of 74,950,000. That was low for a Philadelphia Roosevelt dime, but it was not the sort of total that was going to make any difference to the collectors and dealers of the time for a couple reasons. The first was simply that as so often happens very few were interested in Roosevelt dimes because they were the current design. It is a mistake but almost every generation has repeated it figuring that the coins being issued at the time have little or no chance of ever being an interesting collection or increasing in value. Moreover, a Roosevelt dime for many of the young collectors of the day was beyond their budget.

It was a time of dedicated cent collectors. A few might graduate to nickels, but generally speaking, silver coins were just beyond their budgets.

Even if a young collector of the day could afford dimes, the Roosevelt dime was not a likely choice. There were still plenty of Mercury dimes in circulation. Even if they were unable to find a 1916-D, the bulk of the Mercury dime dates were available and in some cases the mintages were much lower than the Roosevelt totals so as a result there was not heavy saving even if a Roosevelt dime had a lower mintage. That was certainly the case with the 1948, which lists today for $6 in MS-63 but $15 in MS-65, with PCGS showing 310 examples in MS-66 and another 59 in MS-67.

The mintage decline was even more dramatic in 1949 as that year Philadelphia produced just 30,940,000. That was still not low enough to impress a generation of collectors and dealers who really considered a low mintage to be below 1 million and not above 30 million.

The 1949 today is definitely among the best Roosevelt dime with a price of $28 in MS-63 and $50 in MS-65. That MS-65 listing puts it behind only the traditional key 1949-S and the 1950-S in MS-65 and for many it is surprising that a Philadelphia date could sneak into the top three Roosevelt dimes in MS-65. The 1949 deserves to be in the group, but the supply available based on the recent price movements appears to be suspect at best especially in the grades desired by most.

The 1950 had a higher mintage of 50,181,500, although that was still lower than some of the prior dates. The supply available today remains the important issue and the 1950 is also better with an especially high $15 price in MS-63 while an MS-65 is $25. The MS-66 total at PCGS is just over 300 and the MS-67 total is just under 100. While the grading service totals will not reflect it, the MS-63 price, which is far higher than average dates, suggests that throughout the lower Mint State grades the 1950 is a problem.

The 1951 totals are higher as would be expected with its mintage topping the 100 million mark. That puts an MS-63 at $4 while an MS-65 is $10 and the 1952 is at similar levels. In both cases, the lower prices have been rising slightly in recent times probably because the dates were assumed to be available but with added demand in recent years especially for top quality examples, the supply has not turned out to be as strong as was once believed.

There is a similar pattern with the 1953 and 1954, with the MS-65 price of each being $8 and $7, respectively. The 1955 is higher at $10 in MS-65, but its story is very different. The Philadelphia 1955 would play a role in what would turn out to be a special year in American numismatics in terms of new issues.

When most think of 1955 today, they think of the 1955 doubled-die cent and that is certainly appropriate as the 1955 doubled-die obverse was by far the major coin to emerge from the 1955 mintages. That said, it was still only the major part of what was a very interesting year.

The first significant factor in the year was the announcement that 1955 would be the final year of coin production at San Francisco. This was made possible by the fact that improvements in production capacity at Philadelphia and Denver seemed to make the San Francisco facility unnecessary for future coinage needs. That was very big news back in 1955 as the generation of young collectors at the time seeking to fill Lincoln cent sets from circulation knew San Francisco as the facility where the better Lincoln cents were produced. That made the change big news and the San Francisco coins of 1955 became very special in many minds.

San Francisco did not disappoint anyone that year, with the lowest Lincoln cent mintage in over a decade and the 1955-S dime was also low mintage, with a total production of under 20 million pieces. Those two coins alone would have made for a good story, but there was much, much more.

As it turned out, 1955 was one of those years where low mintages were common across the board. The denomination that really stood out, however, was the Roosevelt dime as even though the San Francisco mintage was low, it turned out to be the highest dime mintage of the year, with Philadelphia producing just 12,828,381 dimes, while Denver added only 13,959,000. Put into some context, the Philadelphia mintage was the lowest Roosevelt dime mintage in history while the Denver total was behind only the Philadelphia 1955 and the 1949-S.

A coin with the lowest mintage of the type back in 1955 was extremely important and the Philadelphia 1955 qualified, being lower mintage than any other Roosevelt dime. The driving force behind the interest in 1955 would have been the 1950-D Jefferson nickel, which was the lowest mintage Jefferson nickel in history just as the Philadelphia 1955 Roosevelt dime was the lowest mintage Roosevelt dime in history.

The 1950-D Jefferson nickel would have been an enormous factor in training the minds of young collectors or new collectors as by 1955 it was the darling of the rare coin market. It had been rising steadily in price since the day it was minted. It would actually seem even better than it was because an enormous number, perhaps surpassing 50 percent of the entire mintage, had been hoarded. The fact that a lowest mintage date of any type could soar in price was certainly not going to be lost on the collectors and dealers of the day who were already saving rolls of new issues as they appeared in the hope of having the next 1950-D.

In the 1955 Philadelphia Roosevelt dime, all those hoping to have the next 1950-D had the real thing in their minds as the 1955 was the lowest mintage Roosevelt dime in history and that meant it was promptly hoarded.

In fact, all 1955 dimes were heavily hoarded as they were all among the top four lowest mintage Roosevelt dimes and coin shops at the time started to carry small holders with the three low mintage 1955 Roosevelt dimes and such holders were unusual as many local coin shops of the period did not even bother with current issues simply because their customers could easily find such coins in circulation. Times were changing.

The heavy hoarding of the period not unlike the earlier hoarding of the 1950-D would make a difference in supplies found in circulation as the 1955 Roosevelt dime was not as available as might be expected, but like the 1950-D Jefferson nickel, its long-term impact would be to hold down the price as it would never be too hard to find a 1955 Mint State Philadelphia Roosevelt dime.

The situation for the 1955 as well as virtually all Philadelphia Roosevelt dimes from the first in 1946 through the 1964, which was the final Philadelphia Roosevelt dime business strike with a 90 percent silver composition would come full circle in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the price of silver would rise briefly to $50 an ounce.

The 1955 as well as virtually all other 90 percent silver Roosevelt dimes were sitting in large numbers in various small accumulations and hoards and suddenly with $50 an ounce silver, any 90 percent silver Roosevelt dime could be sold for $3 or more. That meant almost any Roosevelt dime including proofs, uncirculated rolls and dates like the 1955 could potentially be sold at a nice profit. Millions were. They were worth more as silver than they were worth as a coin to a dealer or collector. Now they are gone.

That situation leaves us with one giant question mark over the 1955 as well as the other Philadelphia Roosevelt dimes stretching back to the 1946 and ahead to the 1964. We cannot be certain of their supplies and the grading services cannot help as virtually no one sends in coins worth a few dollars even in the highest grades for grading. As a result, at today’s low prices buying them now seems to carry little risk as we simply do not know if the numbers available will be adequate for future collectors. We frankly do not know what numbers of what dates are left after all the melting around 1980.

The situation with Philadelphia Roosevelt dimes made with no silver in their composition, which started in 1965 is not much clearer. In the case of the clad Roosevelt dimes from 1965 to the present day, we have not had melting but we have had a very uncertain situation in terms of the amount of saving by collectors.

With dealers and collectors acting now as they have throughout history, new issues of the clad Roosevelt dimes have been easy to overlook.

Moreover, especially since the 1980s, there have been many other issues to chase after, including commemoratives, American Eagle bullion coins and other special offerings to divert funds that might normally have been used to save uncirculated rolls and bags of new issues.

Until his dying day in 1988, R.S. Yeoman, the creator of the Red Book believed early clad coins would be in short supply in high grades in the future precisely because they were overlooked by the collectors of the time, who were disappointed to see silver coins pass into history.

We see some proof of the potentially tight clad situation as the mint set offered each year has become basically the source for some Mint State examples of new issues if the supply of rolls or bags proves to be inadequate. What we have seen is that without those yearly mint sets, with sales usually above 1 million sets, the supply of some dates has proven to be inadequate.

We see the 1982-P currently listing at $8.50 in MS-65 and the 1983-P at $7. With most dates around $1 in MS-65, the 1982-P and 1983-P have to be so much higher for a reason and that reason is that there were no mint sets offered those two years and consequently there is no reserve supply of nice examples of the 1982-P or 1983-P in Mint State.

Other dates where mint set sales were low also have moved to prices well above the average of $1 or less and this is a trend that is really just beginning.

We simply cannot be sure in the case of virtually every Philadelphia Roosevelt dime what sort of supply there might be today in top grades.

Moreover, it could vary significantly from one date to another. That fact will make Philadelphia Roosevelt dimes a very lively area of the market in the future as while a complete set of Philadelphia Roosevelt dimes is easily possible in top grades today, we cannot be sure what dates will be available in the future and what ones will be tough. That makes a set of Philadelphia Roosevelt dimes an interesting one to assemble today while the assumption is they are all available. That assumption might not last too many more years.