If you were living in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, you would probably agree that US coins weren’t very exciting. President Theodore Roosevelt couldn’t agree more. During his presidency between 1901 and 1909, Roosevelt wanted to change the designs of US coins. Unfortunately, most circulating coins would need to be approved by Congress since they had only been minted less than 25 years. The Liberty Nickel had only been around since 1883 and the Barber Dime, Quarter and Half Dollar began in 1892. The exception was the Indian Head Cent which had been minted since 1859.
President Roosevelt asked sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create new designs for coins. He designed two new gold coins, the Indian Head Eagle ($10 gold coin) and the Double Eagle ($20 gold coin) which would bear his name. Saint-Gaudens was also in the process of designing a new cent coin to replace the Indian Head Cent. One design was used for the Indian Head Eagle. Before he created more designs, Saint-Gaudens past away on August 3, 1907.
Of course, the Indian Head Cent would continue to be minted until 1909 when the Lincoln Cent would be introduced. In 1913, the Liberty Nickel was replaced by the Buffalo Nickel. This left the 3 Barber coins. 1916 would be the 25th year that the Barber coins would be minted, though no Barber Half Dollars would be minted after 1915. This would be the perfect opportunity to design 3 new circulated coins. Before the year was over, the United States would be introduced to the Walking Liberty Half Dollar, Standing Liberty Quarter and the Mercury Dime.
Brief History of the Mercury Dime
In 1914, there was talk about replacing the dime with a new design after the recent changes to the cent and nickel. Lincoln cent designer, Victor D. Brenner, was thinking of new designs for the dime, but was presented to deaf ears, including the Secretary of the Treasury. With a war stirring in Europe, coin designs were low priority.
It wouldn’t be until April, 1915, when Robert Wooley became Director of the Mint. He would get the Superintendent of the Philadelphia to talk to Chief Engraver Charles Barber, the same man who designed the Liberty Nickel and the current dime, quarter and half dollar, and have him prepare sketches of new designs. In December, Wooley submitted Barber’s sketches to the Commission of Fine Arts for review. The Commission disapproved all of his sketches and selected 3 sculptors to submit new designs. One of these sculptors was Adolph Weinman, a German born sculptor who year before studied at the Art Students League of New York under none other than Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
The 3 sculptors would submit designs in February, 1916. By February 28th, Weinman was the big winner with his designs to be considered for the new dime, half dollar and reverse of the quarter. The Commission didn’t think it would be a good idea for one sculptor to design all 3 coins. So one of the other sculptors, Herman MacNeil, would have the honor of designing the new quarter.
On March 3, 1916, Mint Director Wooley wrote to Barber that all his designs were rejected by the Commission and submissions by Weinman and MacNeil would arrive in Philadelphia by May 1st to design the new coins. As you can imagine, Barber was not happy to hear this news. It’s been said that Barber would not make it easy for these sculptors to work on the new coins, but he couldn’t stop them. They would get some help from engraver George T. Morgan who was the designer of the Morgan Dollar.
There has never been any proof of who the “Winged Liberty” that Weinman would put on the obverse of the dime, but some believe that the model was Elsie Stevens, a neighbor of Weinman who he designed a bust of in 1913. Though Weinman called his obverse design “Winged Liberty”, most people thought it looked like the Roman god Mercury and would called the coin Mercury Dime. The first time “Mercury Dime” was used to name the new coin was from the publication “The Numismatist” in January, 1917. The wings on Liberty were meant to symbolize a “liberty of thought”. The reverse displays a fasces in the center with an olive branch. A fasces is a bounded bundle of wood with an ax in the middle and the ax’s blade showing on the top. Once used by the ancient Romans and Greeks, Weinman included the fasces to symbolize war and justice while adding the olive branch to symbolize peace with the United States staying out of World War I until the following year. He used Roman style lettering with his initials on the obverse above the year and the mint mark on the reverse at the bottom between the “E” in ONE and the olive branch.
On July 15, Mint Director Wooley resigned to become publicity chairman for President Woodrow Wilson, who would be running for reelection. Over 6 months through the year 1916 and no new designs ready to mint, they had no choice but to release the Barber Dimes and Quarters to keep up with consumer need. Between July and October, the Mercury would go through lettering and thickness issues and the Barber Dimes would be produced and halted in between. The new dimes would go into production in early October and by October 30, the Mercury Dime was released to the public and the Barber Dime was stopped for good. People approved the new look on the dime as they would the Half Dollar. The first Standing Liberty Quarters had an issue that offended people, but would be resolved in 1917.
If you’ve been collecting coins for some time, you’ll know the rarest Mercury Dime is one of the most popular sought after US coins, the 1916-D. As there were a lot of dimes minted in Philadelphia and San Francisco in 1916, there were only 264,000 minted in Denver. This was because of a demand for quarters and the new Mint Director told the Denver mint to produce quarters until the quota was met.
A couple of other key dates would be the 1921 and 1921-D at over a million minted each. 1922 would see no new dimes minted for the first time in almost one hundred years. The 1926-S would be a semi-key with a low mintage but reasonably priced. During the Great Depression, there were low mintages, especially from 1930 and 1931, but prices are comparable to most years. Mintage stopped in 1932 and 1933, and resume in 1934.
FYI…there were no 1923-D or 1930-D dimes minted. They are counterfeit coins.
A well known error with the Mercury Dime occurred at the Philadelphia and Denver mints in 1942 when the 1942 date was over 1941. A more common error was in San Francisco in 1945 with what would be known as the “Micro S”. This is because some of the “S” mint marks appear smaller than normal.
There is a grading designation to show betting striking dimes. “FSB” stands for Full Striking Bands which is for the full details on the bands of the fasces on the reverse side of the coin.
Survivor of Two World Wars and Great Depression
The Mercury Dime started a year before the United States entered World War I, survived the Great Depression and lasted through most of World War II, until April, 1945 with the passing of President of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. With Roosevelt’s association with the March of Dimes, it was decided to put his face on the dime starting in 1946. The Mercury Dime made it past the twenty five years needed to not have to be approved by Congress to change the design. As it was a popular design, I wonder how much longer it would had been on the dime if President Roosevelt had lived past 1945.
In 2016, the mint released gold coins depicting the Mercury Dime, Standing Liberty Quarter and Walking Liberty Half Dollar. The Mercury Dime was the only one to be fully released. As you can see, the design is the same as Adolph Weinman’s original.
What do you think of the Mercury Dime?
I see that coin collecting is just as popular in the USA as it is here in the UK. I am not really sure what the value of the DIME is in the american currency but like with all coins that are minted they usually represent a certain period in the era that they are made.I see that it is called the Mercury dime due to the design of the head, just like the Indian headed coin, all very nostalgic.
The dime is 10 cents here in the US. In fact, the first Coinage Act of Congress back in 1792, they created a monetary system similar to that in the UK. There were Half Cents (until 1857), Cents (larger than the current cents), Half Dimes which eventually changed to Nickels, Dimes, Quarters, Half Dollars and Dollars. Between 1850 and 1890, we would see other denominations including Two Cents, Three Cents and Twenty Cents.
US coin collectors should be thankful to President Theodore Roosevelt and Augustus Saint-Gaudens who were the originators of changing the look of our coins.
Thanks for the comment!
Great article! Lots of interesting information here. I did not how much history there are in coins until I recently saw a friend’s collection and had my mind blown. I will definitely be keeping my eyes open for some mercury dimes now!! I love the look of the 2016 re-print, I may have to add one to my new collection 🙂
There is a lot of history when it comes to coins. Mercury Dimes are definitely an important part of it. Like I said, it survived two wars and a great depression.
I like the 2016 gold dime as well. I didn’t get it but my friend was able to order it the day it was released.
Thanks for the comment!
My Dad collects coins and he is a fanatic about them, but he does not have any mercury ones. The history behind them is quite fascinating. I never knew that there could be so much you could learn about an amalgamation of different types of metal.
I have a question though. Christmas is coming up and I want to get my Dad a present. What would you recommend as a great present? Thank you in advance and I hope you have a wonderful day!
That’s great that your dad collects coins. Not knowing what your dad likes, I would try the US mint website, usmint.gov. They have the yearly mint and proof sets, commemoratives, medals, silver and gold coins. I’m sure you could find something he would like there. Thanks for the comment!