Among the many false rumors spread about U.S. coins over the years was that the appearance of the "fasces," an ancient Roman symbol of authority, on the Mercury dime (1916-1945) was linked to a secret support of fascism in this country.
Why? Well, even though the Mercury dime went into circulation prior to the rise of fascism in Italy under Benito Mussolini, by the 1920s, some began to notice that the fasces, which was by then being used as a symbol of fascism, also appeared on the back of the U.S. dime.
"Anyone who denounces Mussolini for the adoption of a battle-ax as the symbol of the Fascisti, says Representative Sol Bloomsays, better take a look at our dime," wrote the Chicago Evening Post in 1926.
In 1936, a letter sent to the chairman of the House Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures (reproduced in the October 1936 issue of The Numismatist, the monthly publication of the American Numismatic Association), warned that:
"The fasces, which is the emblem of Fascism, the present form of government in Italy, strangely enough appears on the reverse of our dime. Although it appears on this coinage as early as 1916, and although it was not adopted by Mussolini and his followers until 1919, future world historians delving into the past through numismatics, as is often the custom, are liable to draw the conclusion that the United States and not Italy was the birthplace of fascism."
For the artist's part, Adolph Weinman, whose coinage designs reflected the mood of the nation as it faced the possibility of entry into World War I, the fasces on the dime's reverse were "to symbolize the strength which lies in unity, while the battle-ax stands for preparedness to defend the Union. The branch of olive is symbolical of our love of peace."