The mercury dime first saw the light in 1916, and was produced until 1945. The name comes from the depiction of a young Liberty wearing a winged cap on the obverse, reminiscent of the Roman god Mercury. Mercury was the God of commerce, communication, and travelers.
The Mercury dime is a valuable coin for many reasons. One reason is its design and historical significance. The designer of the Mercury dime was Adolph A. Weinman, a well-known sculptor who also designed the Walking Liberty Half Dollar.
These coins were made out of 90% silver and 10% copper, making them valuable for their intrinsic metal value alone. The mercury dime saw a surge in popularity during World War II, when people hoarded silver as a way to protect their assets against inflation. As silver prices continue to rise, so did the value of these coins.
However, that is not the only reason why collectors covet these coins. These dimes hold historical and collectible value for several reasons. Firstly, they were minted during both World Wars, making them sought after by collectors interested in numismatic history.
In this article, you are going to learn everything you need to know about the mercury dime, from how to appraise one, to how to properly store and protect your collection.
The History of the Mercury Dime
The mercury dime was first minted in 1916, designed by Adolph A. Weinman as a replacement for the Barber Dime. The design of Liberty wearing a winged cap on the obverse was meant to symbolize freedom of thought and a modernization of American coinage. The other side (the reverse) features a fasces, an ancient symbol of unity and strength, with an olive branch, symbolizing peace.
The mercury dime was produced until 1945, when it was replaced by the Roosevelt Dime. However, in spite of its short run, the coin remains popular among collectors for its historical significance and beautiful design. Despite its name, the figure on the obverse is not actually meant to be Mercury, but rather a young Liberty. This was a little confusing for the public, and led to the coin being called both the Winged Liberty Head Dime and the Mercury Dime.
Since it was first minted in 1916 and continued through 1945, the mercury dime was produced during both World Wars. That is quite the achievement for a coin, and one that makes it extremely interesting to numismatic history collectors.
Another aspect that makes the Mercury Dime unique is its composition. It was made out of 90% silver and 10% copper, a higher percentage of silver than most other coins at the time (except for the Walking Liberty Half Dollar, also designed by Weinman). And since silver was being hoarded by the government to support the war effort, most Mercury dimes were actually melted down.
This makes the currently circulating mercury dimes even rarer and more valuable to collectors.
Now that you know about the history of this coin, let’s talk about how to properly appraise and collect them.
Evaluating Mercury Dimes
While there are professional evaluating services that will accurately assess the value of your mercury dimes, there are also some basic guidelines that you can use to get a rough estimate on your own. Knowing these will let you make informed decisions when buying or selling mercury dimes, or when you’re wondering whether the appraiser is giving you a fair deal.
Here’s what you should pay attention to when evaluating mercury dimes:
- The coin’s grade — Coins are given a grade from 1-70, with 70 being a perfect, flawless coin. The higher the grade, the more valuable the coin will be. Coins with grades up to 59 are called “circulated” and were used in everyday transactions, while coins with grades 60 and above are considered “uncirculated” and were never used. Naturally, uncirculated coins will be worth more.
- The coin’s mint mark — Mercury dimes were minted in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco. Coins with a “D” or “S” mint mark (Denver or San Francisco) are generally rarer and therefore more valuable.
- The year the coin was minted — Certain years, like 1916 and 1921, have very low mintages and are therefore highly sought after by collectors due to their scarcity.
- Minting errors — Like any coin, the mercury dime can have errors in production that make it unique and valuable. Examples include double-struck coins, off-center strikes, or missing details on the design.
- The coin’s overall looks — Of course, the appearance of the coin also plays a role in its value. Besides the obvious signs that impact the coin’s grading, some more subjective factor like luster and eye appeal can also affect the coin’s value.
Grading deserves its own section — what with its own scale, expert organizations, and even slang (a “slabbed” coin is one that has been professionally graded and sealed). But for the average collector, using these basic guidelines will give you a good starting point to determine the value of your mercury dimes.
Grading a Mercury Dime
If you want to take it a step further and professionally grade your mercury dimes, there are organizations like the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) and the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) that will do it for a fee.
But if you want to familiarize yourself with the grading process and do it yourself, here is a basic guide on how to grade a mercury dime:
First, use a magnifying glass to check for any major flaws like scratches or nicks. Next, consider the overall details of the design and lettering. Is it sharp and well-defined, or does it appear to be worn down? Look at the surface of the coin — is there any discoloration or tarnishing?
Finally, compare your coin’s appearance to the grading scale and assigned it a number from 1-70.
Here’s how the main grades look like:
- Poor to About Good (P-2, AG-3): These coins will have major damage or wear, and many details will be worn down.
- Good to Very Good (G-4, VG-8): The coin will show some wear, but most of the design details should still be clear.
- Fine to Extremely Fine (F-12, EF-45): The design will have only minimal wear, with all details visible.
- About Uncirculated (AU-50 to AU-59): The coin will have only slight evidence of wear, with all details visible.
- Mint State (MS-60 to MS-70): These coins will show no visible wear and have full, original luster. The details are sharp and well-defined.
Of course, this is just a basic guide to grading mercury dimes — for accurate and professional results, it’s best to have your coins graded by an expert organization. But learning the basics of grading can help you make informed decisions about buying and selling coins.
Editor’s note: keep in mind that the assigned grade is subjective and can vary between individuals or organizations. In fact, the same expert can grade the same coins differently on different occasions. So always use the assigned grade as a starting point, rather than an absolute assessment of value.
Here’s a video that shows a bunch of mercury dimes and gives points on how to evaluate them:
Now that you can accurately assess the value of your mercury dimes, you can start collecting them. Let’s see some sales from the past.
Collecting Mercury Dimes
Mercury dimes are not only valuable, but also beautiful and historically significant coins. They make for a great addition to any collection — whether you focus solely on mercury dimes or prefer to have a diverse collection of coins.
Let’s start from where to buy a mercury dime. Online marketplaces like eBay are a good place to start. Online auction places like Heritage Auctions also often have mercury dimes for sale. And of course, you can also find them at coin shops and even local flea markets or garage sales.
But before buying a mercury dime (or any coin), be sure to do your research on the seller — check their reviews and make sure they are reputable and trustworthy.
To better help you figure out how much to pay (or not to pay) for a mercury dime, here is a table with values of the major dates and mint marks for mercury dimes.
Editor’s note: Since there are too many variations and grades for each date and mint mark, we grouped them by timeframes of 5 years. We kept 1916 alone as it’s very significant, being the first year of mintage for the mercury dime, plus the 1916 coins minted at Denver have a very high value. This keeps the prices relevant without pushing too much data into the table. Remember, this table is only meant to be a guideline, as each auction is unique.
|Coin Year & Mint||Average Circulated (Poor to Fine)||Very Fine, Extremely Fine & About uncirculated||Uncirculated & Select Uncirculated MS-60 to MS-63||Choice & Gem Uncirculated MS-64 to MS-66||Superb & Perfect Uncirculated MS-67 to MS-70|
|1916 (P & S)||One sold for $8. A couple in Fair condition went for $11 and $21 respectively. Every other low grade coin comes from the Denver mint and costs way more.||$10–$161. An AU55 coin sold for $3,565, and a VF30 one went for $2,300||$21–$299||There were 2 sales of MS64 mercury dime for $1 (1 and 2). But realistically, prices start at $21 and go up to $2,820||Anywhere from $267 to tens of thousands of dollars (1, 2, and 3)|
|1916 (D)||A bunch of FR2 coins went for $500 (1, 2, 3, 4 and 5). AG3 coins sell for around $400 (1, 2, and 3). G4 coins easily go for $1,000 (1, 2, and 3)||Anywhere from $1,093 to $23,000. A big price point is $15,000 (1, 2, and 3)||One sold for $63. But the next lowest auction price is $3,410. Prices get up to over $20,000 for FSB versions (1 and 2)||One sold for $20. But the next lowest auction price is $3,025. Prices rise sharply, and quickly reach the $13,000 mark (1 and 2). From there, the next big price point is $20,000 (1 and 2). The record sale in this category is $88,000||Usually these coins go for around $90,000 (1 and 2). The record sale was for $207,000. There’s also this FSB coin that went for $204,000|
|1917 – 1922 (P, D & S)||$6–$132. 1919 P coins get up to $3,240||Anywhere from $10 to $1000 (1, 2, and 3)||Most go for anywhere between $17 and $1000 (1 and 2). A few break the $2,000 mark (1 and 2). There’s also this MS63 1919 dime that went for $4||Some went for as low as $1–$4. But most start around $200 and get up to $88,125||Prices start around $20,000 (1 and 2). $40,000 is another common price point (1 and 2). The highest sale ever was $182,125|
|1923 – 1928 (P, D & S)||$6–$20||$40–$303||$53–$500||Anywhere from $121 to $1000. The record sale was $105,750 for an MS66 FB coin.||Prices start around $200 and get up to tens of thousands of dollars (1, 2, and 3)|
|1929 – 1934 (P, D & S)||No recent sales||$16–$143||$33–$150||Anywhere from $37 to $528. A few reached $1,000 (1 and 2)||Prices start at $167. Many sell for $1,500-$2,000 (1, 2, and 3). $4,000-$5,000 is another big benchmark (1 and 2). The absolute record, however, is held by this 1931 M67 FB CAC coin that sold for $270,250|
|1935 – 1940 (P, D & S)||No recent sales||$8-$50||$10–$71||$30–$264||Prices start around $27 and grow up to a few thousand dollars (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5).
The record sale is held by this MS68+ FB CAC dime that sold for $364,250
|1941 – 1945 (P, D & S)||$6–$37||$6–$176. An AU58 coin sold for $456||$13–$978. Regular 1945 coins can sell for over $1,000 (1, 2, and 3). A few FB coins surpass $5,000 (1 and 2)||Prices start around $8, and go up to thousands of dollars (1, 2, and 3), reaching low 5 figures (1 and 2). The most expensive coin in this category would be this 1942-D MS64 one that sold for $9,488||There is a sizable amount of coins that sold for a few tens of dollars (1, 2, and 3).Many sell for around $1,500-$2,000 (1 and 2). The record sale was for a 1945 MS67+ FB coin that sold for $96,000|
|1936 – 1939 PR||No recent sales||Only 1 sale for $276||Anywhere between $92 and $920||One sold for only $3. But the real price starts around $120 and gets up to a few thousand dollars (1 and 2)||Expect to pay anywhere from $219 to a few thousand dollars (1, 2, and 3). Some fetch $20,000-$30,000 (1, 2, and 3). The record sale is for this PR68 coin that sold for $32,200|
|1940 – 1942 PR||No recent sales||No recent sales||$62–$207. A PR63CA coin went for $470||Most go for anywhere between $91 and $500 (1 and 2). 1942 dimes can get up to a few thousand dollars (1, 2, and 3)||Prices start around $160 (1, 2, and 3). A big price point is around $5,000 (1, 2, and 3)
The record sale belongs to this 1942 PR69 coin that went for $37,600
Mercury Dime Minting Errors
Another aspect of collecting mercury dimes is looking for any minting errors. These can be rare and valuable finds, though they can also be difficult to spot. It’s best to have an expert or guidebook on hand to help with identification.
Some examples of common errors include:
- Double strikes — the coin was struck twice in the same spot, leading to extra details or overlapping letters
- Off-center strikes — part of the design is not fully within the rim
- Clipped planchets — when a section of metal is missing from the edge, often due to improper blanks being fed into the press
- Weak or missing strikes — when the details on part of the coin are not fully struck, usually due to misaligned dies So keep an eye out for any oddities as you add mercury dimes to your collection.
- Mule errors — when two different designs were used on the obverse and reverse, only possible if one was intended for a different coin. So, for example, you could have Mercury on the observe and Roosevelt on the reverse (instead of the usual Liberty and fasces).
Warning: As much as it pains us to write this, be aware of counterfeits out there. While it can be exciting to come across a potentially valuable error, always have them authenticated before buying or selling. Since these errors are hard to spot, it’s not uncommon for counterfeiters to try to pass off fake errors as the real deal.
Collecting mercury dimes can be a fun and rewarding hobby — the thrill of the hunt for rare finds, the admiration of their historical significance and beauty, and potentially profit from sales.
FAQs about Mercury Dimes
How do I store my mercury dimes to keep them protected?
Always store coins in a protective holder or case and keep them away from moisture. For long term storage, it’s best to put them in a dry and cool location, or even consider investing in a safe deposit box at your bank.
Are mercury dimes made of actual mercury?
No, the name “mercury dime” comes from the fact that Liberty is depicted wearing a Winged Liberty cap, which resembles the Roman god Mercury’s headwear. The coins are actually made of 90% silver and 10% copper.
When were mercury dimes first minted?
The first year of production was 1916. They continued to be produced until 1945, when the design was changed to depict a young Franklin D Roosevelt. This also changed the series from Mercury dimes to Roosevelt dimes.
The Mercury dime has been very popular amongst collectors since their production over 100 years ago. Their historical significance and potential for rare mistakes or variations make them a valuable addition to any coin collection. And since many were melted down during the two World Wars, they are very difficult to come by.
Also, the design is quite unique, as the fasces on the reverse is not a common symbol found on US coins. This makes it a great piece for anyone looking to start or expand their collection.
We recommend to do your own research and consult with experts before starting or adding to your collection, and always make sure to authenticate any potentially valuable finds. You can trust professional services like PCGS or NGC for this.
Last, be extra mindful when dealing with minting errors. While they can be profitable, counterfeits do exist and it’s important to ensure authenticity before buying or selling. Good luck on your collecting journey!