The coins of the United States have seen some interesting, educational, and just plain fun changes in the past few decades. An entire generation of collectors has come of age collecting quarters with reverses that change several times a year. Our five-cent piece has seen several different designs in the past two decades. Our humble cent has undergone some changes on the reverse in the past few years. We even have several different possibilities for dollar coins, although we’ll have to admit not many of us see them in change on a daily basis.
Yet in the midst of all this, our ten-cent pieces, our work horse dimes, have sported the same design for 75 years now. That may seem a bit boring – but that also may be a great starting point for a type set of dimes that doesn’t cost too much to assemble. Let’s begin with the present, and look back to see just what the best dimes might be for a person to gather up. What is the best dimes set we might be able to assemble?
The Roosevelt dimes are the design we just mentioned, the one that has not changed in 75 years. That’s quite a run, and in that entire time there has never been a circulating date which qualifies as rare. As well, there have been a lot of proof Roosevelts pounded out, starting with a modest number in 1950. By 1957 there were over a million proof Roosevelt dimes produced, all as part of annual proof sets, many of which were broken out of those sets. And while there was a dip in the number in 1958, after that year the proof coin program of the United States Mint has routinely pounded out millions, making these dimes very inexpensive, whether in sets or as individual pieces. Curiously, we are beginning to look at how a type set of dimes might be put together; but it wouldn’t be too tough, or too expensive, to go from a single Roosevelt in an excellent proof state to an entire date run of such proofs. These alone can make a beautiful set.
If the Roosevelt dimes get overlooked too often, it is because they remain firmly in the shadow of their much more famous siblings, the Winged Liberty dimes, also known as the Mercury dime. The artistry is that of Mr. Adoph A. Weinman, and it remains a favorite among collectors today. Produced from 1916 to 1945, many collectors are keenly aware of the grand rarity of the series, the 1916-D. We might be able to argue that with 264,000 of these having been minted, they can’t actually be particularly rare. Yet the simple fact that Mercury dimes have remained darlings for collectors means that the ’16-D will always be a costly coin. So, let’s take a deep breath, gaze at the series a bit deeper, and look elsewhere.
The 1941 Mercury dime is the flip side of the 1916-D (bad pun intended). Minted to the tune of just over 175 million, this dime will probably remain common for the next couple of millennia or so. Specimens in mint state grades are not particularly costly. Plus, as an interesting side note, it’s not the most common date within the entire series. It actually rings in at fourth place, which means there are several other inexpensive Mercs to be had. Right here we have some wonderful possibilities of classic dimes that can be added to a growing type set.
To take a phrase from late night television, we can say: “But wait, there’s more!” The Mercury dimes saw seven years within their time span in which proofs were made. The numbers are tiny compared with what gets minted today, with a low of 4,130 in 1936 and a high of 22,329 in the final year, 1942. But surprisingly, the price tags can be low as well, particularly for the last two years of the seven. Now none of these proof dimes will cost just a few dollars – meaning all will cost at least a couple of hundred. But think of what that couple of hundred dollars can net for us. A 1941 or 1942 proof Mercury dime is definitely both a rarity and a beauty. It is certainly far less common than that just-mentioned, highly hyped 1916-D. Yet it is at least ten times rarer, and costs far less. Without a doubt, these proofs are both undervalued coins and great possibilities as additions to any type set collection of dimes.
The Barber design
Minted from 1892 to 1915, the dimes named after their designer, Mr. Barber, generally sport the same set of price tags as the Mercury dimes do, although we might have to step down a notch or two and go for good looking, higher circulated grades to keep in a comfortable price range. Several of the dates in the series saw mintages of ten million or more, which means we’ll have plenty from which to choose.
Stepping back even farther in time, we get to Mr. Christian Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty design, an image that saw several varieties as the design was changed over its long life. Many collectors don’t try to gather a full set of any of the Seated Liberty denominations, from the tiny half-dimes all the way up to the big silver dollars. The reason is simple enough: there are always some rare ones in the mix. But there are also several years and mint marks with more than a million to their tally. The 1853, with a total of more than 12 million, is always a coin we’ll be able to land with ease. And the 1842-O, with a mintage of just over 2 million, is the first U.S. mint marked dime to go so high. It can be costly in higher grades, but affordable if we are willing to tolerate a bit of wear on any piece we lasso in.
The Seated Liberty silver coins are always considered an older, classic U.S. series, which tends to make many of us think of the Capped Bust series which came before as something that will be hideously expensive. We do have to concede that when it comes to the Capped Bust dimes, there are definitely some rare, rather expensive pieces – and all of the mint state coins will be costly. But there are also five dates within it that are very close to a million, or that are above that “magic” number. A million of any coin is enough to satisfy the collector community today, although based on past Census counts in the U.S. a million of a coin – like these dimes – may not have been all that big a number when they were being made and used. But the 1820 has a mintage just under a million, while the 1821, the 1827, the 1835 and even the ’36 all have totals that do get into the seven-figure zone. No, we will not be able to get mint state examples inexpensively, but good looking pieces in grades such as fine (F-12) or very fine (VF-20) will not be out of reach, even for the collector of modest means.
The Draped Bust dimes
Okay, we have now gotten as far back as a person can go when it comes to a type set of United States dimes. The Draped Bust design is the first ever used for our ten-cent pieces, and we can make the claim that it was never used all that much, which means the annual mintages were always pretty low. Produced from 1796 to 1807 at the young Mint in Philadelphia, and with a major change in reverse design from the small eagle to the heraldic eagle having been made very close to the beginning, even worn examples of this United States classic will cost thousands of dollars. This is due to a combination of two factors: first, that there simply were not many made; and second, that the collector community has a continual love affair with any United States coin dated 1799 or before. The best of luck to any of us who go hunting for one of these early birds. The rest of us will have to sigh and move on.
Not two-cents worth – fifty cents worth!
This waltz through time and history has shown us that when it comes to dimes, there are quite a few possibilities for the interested collector. We have Roosevelts that are as common as common gets, Mercurys that are undervalued, plenty of attractive Barbers, and even some good possibilities among the Seated Liberty and Capped Bust designs. Even leaving off the earliest ten-cent pieces from any growing cluster, we have found that there are at least five dimes we can assemble into a sharp looking type set. Why not give it a try?