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1916-S Barber dime a coin that shouldn’t have been

By Tom LaMarre


The 1916-S Barber dime was the coin that never should have been. The San Francisco Mint turned out nearly 1 million dimes in 1915. It looked as if there would be enough dimes to supply the demand until the Mercury design went into production. But it didn’t work out that way.

The Mercury dime, Standing Liberty quarter and Walking Liberty half dollar designs were unveiled in the spring of 1916.

“Clothed in raiment of different cut, Miss Columbia will appear in much changed costume in new mintages of coins after July 1,” the Los Angeles Herald, May 31, 1916, reported. “This was the announcement of Secretary McAdoo. The changes will be upon dimes, quarters and half dollars.”

However, the dies weren’t ready in time and the release of the new silver coins was postponed.

“Because of delays in the arrival of dies from Washington, the new silver coinage was not placed in circulation at San Francisco, as was expected,” the Red Bluff Daily News, Sept. 6, 1916, said. “At the Mint it is reported that the dies for dimes will arrive Monday and that the 10-cent piece in its new dress probably will appear on the streets during the latter part of the week.”

By then, there was a severe dime shortage in California. The Sept. 10, 1916, issue of the Sacramento Union reported:

“Dimes and half dollars are becoming so scarce on the Pacific Coast that bankers of San Francisco and other coast cities may find it necessary to order shipments of these coins from the government Mint at Philadelphia, it was learned here today. No dimes have been coined at the Mint here since March 4, 1915.

“A change in the design of the coins, coupled with delay of receipt of new dies at the local Mint, was given as the reason of the shortage.”

As it turned out, Mercury dimes were not released until late October 1916. In the meantime, the San Francisco Mint fired up the presses and used Barber dime dies. Under the heading “Mint Turning Out Small Coins Again,” the Sept. 22, 1916, Sacramento Union reported:

“San Francisco, Sept. 21. – A 24-hour working schedule is being arranged at the San Francisco Mint in order to supply the increased demand for dimes, nickels and pennies, it was announced here today. Forty additional helpers are to be employed in the new eight-hour shifts.

“The increased demand for small coins is an excellent indication of good times and liberal circulation of money according to T.W.H. Shanahan, superintendent of the Mint here.”

Visitors might have witnessed the striking of the San Francisco Mint’s final Barber dimes. According to the Mint director’s annual report, 75,763 visitors were shown through the Mint in 1916.

At a Sacramento theater, dimes attracted the attention of a small-time thief. The July 19, 1916, Sacramento Union reported:

“Fifteen dollars in dimes was the booty obtained by a stout-hearted, shabbily dressed stranger at the Empress Theater last night when he made a grab for all the money in sight at the box office during the second show. The three rolls of dimes, neatly done up for deposit, were all he got, but he got safely away at that, much to the chagrin of manager Alex Kaiser, who reported the matter to the police”

San Francisco struck 5,820,000 Barber dimes in 1916, compared to more than 18 million from the Philadelphia Mint. None were struck at the Denver Mint. Today a Very Fine-20 1916-S Barber dime is valued at less than $7.

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine. >> Subscribe today.

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