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 considering its mintage and the potential for demand for a coin that is now more than 70 years old.
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 unlikely that it would be overlooked for seven decades. However, in the case of the Mercury dime you have a coin set that traditionally has basically been about 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. overdates.
If you were looking for a regular date similar in availability to the 1916-D, only dates in the highest grades would 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 saw lower amounts of saving and, as a result, there are some dates like the 1919-D that are as tough if not tougher than the 1916-S 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 mintage by Mercury dime standards. The Mercury dime saw any number of dates with mintages of less than 10 million and quite a few dates below 5 million. As a result, the 1938-D attracted little attention.
Because of its relatively low price, we can’t point to grading service totals to suggest that the 1938-D is not readily available as it has not been sent in for grading in the numbers we might expect. 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.
While the 1938-D does seem inexpensive in light of the mintage, there is still need for caution. What limited numbers there are from grading services from the 1930s clearly indicate that the saving of Mint State Mercury dimes increased significantly during the 1930s. At the time, coin collecting increased significantly in popularity as 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, but it did in fact increase and as a result it is possible that the 1938-D is somewhat more available than might be expected. Even so, the 1938-D is a low mintage Mercury dime and even with some saving it has to be seen as a good deal at today’s levels.