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Excellent Deals on Mercury Dimes

1916-S Mercury Dime graded MS-63.

1916-S Mercury Dime graded MS-63. (Images courtesy Heritage Auctions, www.HA.com.)

By Mark Benvenuto

One of the classic series of United States silver coins that has been a solid collector favorite for decades is the Mercury dimes. Also called the Winged Liberty dimes, these little silver pieces were churned out of three Mints from 1916 to 1945, often in very large numbers. Many collectors know about the well-loved rarity right up at the beginning, the 1916-D.  In looking for bargains among these 10-cent pieces, we’ll have to steer clear of that one. But there is still a wide array from which to choose. 

When it comes to looking for bargains among the Mercury dimes, we’ll have to find some upper price limit and try to stick with it. We could shoot very low, but doing that gets us to the bags and rolls of these dimes in worn condition that are still around in abundance, and that people tend to call “junk silver.” Let’s go rather in a somewhat more upscale direction, and see just how good a set of dimes we can land if we decide that we can spend $50 for any handsome looking date or mint mark. 

The good news is that right from the starting gate, both the 1916 and the 1916-S can be found for less than $50 each, and in mint state grades. There were more than 22 million Mercury dimes minted in Philadelphia that first year, and an example in a grade like MS-63 only costs about $50 today. The West Coast facility in San Francisco came through with over 10 million that year, and even though we in the collecting community seem to always keep a special place in our hearts for that ‘S’ mint mark, one of these can be nabbed in a grade like MS-60 for less than our price ceiling. Both of these dimes serve as a good base line as we dive a bit deeper into the series.

There are no real rarities nestled in the Mercury dimes past the 1916-D, unless we want to count large or small mint mark varieties and the occasional over date. This means there are plenty of them available, again in mint state condition. Some of the very common dates can be had in a grade such as MS-63 for $50 or less, like those from Philly just about every year from 1923 onward.  Some of the ‘D’ and ‘S’ mint marks are hard enough to find in mint state grades that we may have to move down to something like EF-40 or even VF-20 if we want to stay at our price point. Yet when it comes to availability for any of these 10-cent pieces today, there is a definite break in the Mercury dimes which comes at 1931.

Almost all the years leading up to that do have good mintages, but as mentioned, also tend to be expensive as we get into grades such as MS-63 or MS-65. They are certainly not difficult to collect. But there seems to be something of an unspoken belief that if we are going to pay $100 for a silver coin there ought to be a lot of silver in it. And while MS-63, or MS-64 – or higher – Mercury dimes do look absolutely gorgeous, they just don’t qualify as “a lot” of silver. Plus, we said $50 was our limit. 

After 1931, starting in 1934 (there were none minted in the toughest years of the Great Depression in 1932 and 1933), the prices for mint state Mercury dimes dropped significantly. There is no one specific reason for this. There were very high mintages in some previous years; and there are a few years from 1931 to the end of the series where the mintage totals are not enormous, though certainly not tiny. But for whatever reason, it is now possible to get our hands on MS-65 pieces for $50 or less. It is even possible to snag some MS-65 examples with what are called FSB designations – meaning full, split bands.

Since we have come to the ‘FSB’ term, it might be wise to give this some thought.  Without a doubt, FSB Mercury dimes are the sharpest strikes that were ever made, and that a person can find today. For the collector who has not yet delved to this depth within the series, the designation means that the bands at the center of the fasces on the reverse are completely delineated, and show no weakness of strike. Since we are opting for bargains, we will probably steer clear of many of the FSB examples.

When it comes to common Mercury dimes and excellent prices, the year 1941 also becomes something of a benchmark.  That was the first year that any Mint poured out more than 100 million. The Philadelphia Mint did this in a big way, with 175,090,000 being the official total.  This is one coin where we actually can get our hands on a MS-65 FSB specimen for a bit under $50. Looking from here to the end of the design’s life in 1945, we can find several others that fall into this delightful category as well – several being as low as $30 per coin. 

Let’s mention one final possibility when it comes to Mercury dimes, one that undoubtedly will cost more than our $50 cap, but is worth looking at nonetheless.  We’re talking about the proofs. Made from 1936 to 1942, there are precious few of them but the 1940, the 1941, and the 1942 just might be available for about $200. The 1942 is the most common, if that is the right word, with 22,329 to its tally. And that number is why $200 can be considered a bargain. To have a single proof Mercury dime in a collection would definitely be to have a crown jewel. 

Mercury dimes remain a collector favorite. There are some good prices among these 10-cent pieces, up at the high end no less, for the collector who knows where to look.

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