Background and History
The 1916-D Mercury Dime represents one of the most well known key date coins of the 20th century. During a time when the hobby of coin collecting was increasing in popularity, many beginning collectors sought to acquire the coin from circulation to complete their sets. With a mintage of just 264,000 pieces, the likelihood of encountering the issue in loose change was remote but not impossible. Whether or not the search was successful, the thrill of the chase and the appreciation for low mintage issues would provide a shared foundational experience for a generation of collectors.
The design for the Mercury Dime was created during the so-called Renaissance era of United States coinage. During his Presidency, Theodore Roosevelt had started the process of redesigning the various denominations with the goal of elevating America’s circulating coinage to objects of beauty and expressions of national identity. The process began with the redesign of the gold denominations in 1907 and 1908, but would have to wait until 1916 for the silver dime, quarter, and half dollar. These denominations carried similar designs created by Charles E. Barber, which had been introduced in 1892 and were required under statute to be used for a minimum of 25 years.
A competition was declared to find suitable designs for each of the three denominations. Designs created by Adolph A. Weinman would be selected for both the dime and half dollar, with a designed by Hermon A. MacNeil selected for the quarter.
Weinman’s design for the dime featured the head of Liberty facing to the left and wearing a Phrygian cap adorned with wings to symbolize freedom of thought. The inscription LIBERTY appeared widely spaced above, with IN GOD WE TRUST to the left and the date at the truncation of the neck. The reverse design featured Roman fasces, or an axe tied to a bundle of rods, with an olive branch intertwined. The inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and ONE DIME appear surrounding, with E PLURIBUM UNUM to the right of the fasces. Once released, the public immediately associated with obverse design with the Roman god Mercury and referred to the new coins as “Mercury Dimes”.
During the first year of issue in 1916, the Philadelphia Mint struck more than 22 million dimes bearing the new design, however the Denver Mint would strike only 264,000 pieces. This would continue to represent the lowest mintage for the series until its completion in 1945.
The mintage of the 1916-D Mercury Dime is by far the lowest of the series and in fact the lowest mintage for a circulating dime of the entire 20th century. The Denver Mint struck just 264,000 examples of the coin which were delivered in November 1916. At this time it is believed that a decision was made to focus production on the quarter for the duration of the year and forgo other denominations. This is supported by delivery reports which show a sudden increase in quarters for both November and December 1916.
The low mintage of the 1916-D Mercury Dime captured the attention of collectors only after most of the coins had experienced heavy wear from circulation. As coin collecting gained in popularity within the United States, the demand for this key date has increased resulting in steadily climbing prices. Unfortunately, this situation has led to a relatively large number of counterfeits which are known to exist, including added mint marks (added to a genuine 1916 Mercury Dime struck at the Philadelphia Mint) and struck counterfeits.
The reverse, being the location of the mintmark, is particularly important when authenticating any 1916-D Mercury Dime, and comparing the style of the mintmark with the coin being authenticated is an important method when determining if a given coin is genuine. It must be noted that various mintmark styles exist, making professional authentication strongly advisable, for coins in all grades.
Finest Known and Values
The majority of examples of the 1916-D Mercury Dime immediately went into circulation after being struck, resulting in only a small number of uncirculated survivors. Coins graded MS65 and higher are particularly difficult to find. Circulated examples are more available, but remain expensive, due to the high demand for this rare issue.
The value of heavily circulated examples of this key date in very low grades can be as much as $500 each. For lightly circulated pieces, the price shows a strong increase. As an example, a nicely circulated VF specimen, certified by PCGS, can easily bring $3,000 to $4,000 at public auction.
The finest known specimens with the “Full Bands” designation (FB, determined by the sharpness of the bands in the fasces on the reverse) are seven pieces graded MS67FB by PCGS and two graded MS 67 FB by NGC. It appears that the first number is influenced by at least a few resubmissions, with no more than four or five coins in the grade actually available. One of the coins graded PCGS MS67FB displaying original toning sold for $195,500 in August 2010, representing a record price for the issue. One of the examples graded NGC MS 67 FB sold for $97,750 in July 2009.
While the majority of uncirculated 1916-D Mercury Dimes have been certified with the FB designation, there are also some high grade examples without the designation. These coins usually trade for much smaller amounts than the examples that have been certified with Full-Bands, although they remain far from easy to find, and offerings are scarce. PCGS has graded a single MS66 as the finest example with just a handful graded MS65. NGC has graded two examples in MS66 as the finest without the FB designation.