Mercury dimes were seen in change quite often in the mid-1960s when clad coinage debuted. Silver and clad coins circulated side by side for a few years, and it was possible to find some older coins.
The oldest dime I ever received in change was a 1916 barely grading good. Many details were worn smooth, but it was a first-year coin, and I was happy to find it. Mercury dimes of almost every year of issue could be found, including mintmarked coins. Most of the coins were the World War II issues, from 1941-1945. A few turned up in remarkably nice condition, even a few with mint luster.
Collectors at the time were concerned with state of preservation, of course, but not much attention was given to fully struck coins or the full split bands that are popular now. I heard of some enterprising folks using a small knife to enhance the details on the reverse, making the coin look better at first glance. A closer look, and some experience, revealed that some of the details were added and not a real part of the coin.
I read an article in a coin magazine about a collector who put together a complete set of Mercury dimes from circulation. This happened a few years before I began my interest in coins, but I thought, anything can happen. Despite years of searching, I never found a 1916-D, any 1921 dimes, and a few others. But I was able to assemble a good partial set for face value.
A number of 1916-D Mercury dimes were part of the New York Subway Hoard, so these scarce coins did see circulation. In fact, most 1916-D dimes I’ve seen are worn, many well worn. And I’ve seen my share of counterfeit 1916-D dimes, perhaps the most counterfeited United States coin. On genuine 1916-D dimes, the mintmark is in a certain position, with a small tail on the “D.”
Even a pattern has turned up. I have heard of an Illinois collector who found one in change, circa 1959. The patterns are quite similar to the regular issue.
There were a few varieties known, with the most famous being the overdates of 1942. The 1945-S “micro S” coin, not often mentioned today, was popular years ago. The tiny size of the mintmark is apparent to the naked eye.
As time went on, and I learned of upgrading, I came to appreciate the beauty of the design. Mint State dimes, or brilliant uncirculated, were lovely little coins. Beaming with luster, sometimes showing attractive toning, a Mercury dime in top condition was indeed beautiful.
Proof Mercury dimes were struck from 1936-1942. They were in demand from type collectors as well as dime specialists. Once in a while, I’d spot one of these sets. Mounted in a black plastic holder, the set was shown off to best advantage and was a wonderful addition to a collection.
One of the best known sets of Mercury dimes was featured at a major convention some years ago. I spent much time admiring this set. The 1916-D was lovely, but it was the 1939-D that caught my eye. Luster poured off this coin. Sea green toning was visible on the obverse. Other coins in this set showed pretty toning.
During a recent holiday season, one of my favorite coin shops displayed a box of Mercury dimes in their window. Assorted dates, average circulated, the box held a few hundred Mercury dimes. From my view, I could see some higher grades, many dates in the 1940s, but who knew what treasures lay in the box? What a great gift this would have made!
Sets of the common World War II dates are offered for sale, in holders, in varying conditions. Even in circulated condition, this set is good to own. This short set can lead to an interest in the series, going back to 1916.
Mercury dime fans can pursue their interest for years, even including some modern precious metal pieces. In 2016, a special gold striking of the 1916 Mercury dime was issued. This lovely piece remained true to the design, with a reeded edge and the designer’s initials. In 2017, a Palladium Eagle was struck, with the familiar winged Liberty head on the obverse. The reverse design is based on a medal designed by Mercury dime designer Adolph Weinman. This heavy, thick piece also is true to the design, showing stunning detail.
Collectors who began looking at Mercury dimes when they still circulated found a lifetime pursuit. Those discovering this coin now can also find a lot to love in this attractive series.
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