This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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Perhaps it is time we take a second or even a first look at some of the lower-mintage Mercury dime dates like the 1938-D. Right now the 1938-D seems fairly stable in terms of price, but you have to think that $34 for an MS-65 and $62 for an MS-65 with full split bands is awfully inexpensive when you consider its mintage and the potential for demand for a coin that is now more than 70 years in age.
The 1938-D Mercury dime had a mintage of 5,537,000. It seems unlikely that a coin with such a mintage would be overlooked, and especially overlooked for seven decades. However, the Mercury dime is a coin set that traditionally has been one date: the 264,000-mintage 1916-D. If any dates were seen as being in the same class as the 1916-D, they were not regular dates but rather the 1942/41 and 1942/41-D. If you were looking for a regular date similar in availability to the 1916-D, only in the highest grades would any dates be found. The 1916-D had been saved in small numbers at the time it was released as it was the first year of the new design. Other dates, such as the 1919-D, saw lower amounts of saving and as a result are nearly as tough as the 1916-D in MS-65 and MS-65 with full split bands.
In no discussion, however, would anyone have mentioned the 1938-D. The first reason would be that, despite being low-mintage by our standards today, the 1938-D was not all that low by Mercury dime standards. The Mercury dime saw any number of dates with mintages of less than 10 million and quite a few dates such as the 1921 and 1921-D that were below 5 million. As a result, the 1938-D attracted very little attention at the time.
Because of its relatively low price, we also cannot point to grading service totals to suggest that the 1938-D is not readily available as it is not sent in for grading in the numbers we might expect. It’s not that the coins do not exist – we honestly do not know – but until its prices rise to higher levels, we cannot be certain if the 1938-D is in short supply or if it is simply not sent in for grading since the value of the coin is not that much more than the cost of having it graded.
While the 1938-D does seem inexpensive, especially when you consider its mintage, there is still need for caution. What limited numbers there are from grading services from the 1930s show a very clear indication that the saving of Mint State Mercury dimes increased significantly during that time. Coin collecting increased significantly in popularity when the first holders and albums to house a collection appeared.
There is no way to gauge just how dramatically the saving of new issues increased during the 1930s, but it did in fact increase. It is possible that, as a result, the 1938-D is somewhat more available than might be expected. Even so, it is a low-mintage Mercury dime and even with some saving it has to be seen as a good deal at today’s levels.