One vivid memory of my very early childhood back
in the 1960’s was of driving to church on Sunday mornings with my
family. Since my
grandparents lived close to us, Dad would always swing by and pick them
up, and we’d all carpool together. It was the job of “Little Danny” (as
I was affectionately nicknamed back then) to sit in the backseat,
wedged snugly between Grandpa and Grandma.
As if some sort of ritual, every Sunday Grandma
would fish though her
purse to find goodies for me and my older brother. Grandma almost
always carried Wrigley’s chewing gum, though once in a while we had to
settle for a cherry-flavored cough drop. For a bonus treat, Grandma
gave each grandson a coin to go in the piggybank.
There were a few
instances when I received a dime featuring a lady who sported a
wild-looking hairdo, or at least that’s how it appeared to a
4-year-old. On one occasion, Grandma explained to me the coin was
called a Mercury dime. She was a coin collector of sorts, and I credit
her with encouraging my first interest in coins. Even though it didn’t
mean much to me at the time, this was my first lesson on Mercury dimes.
|Here are the Mercury dimes
Grandma gave me. All these years, they've been stored in a 19 cent
Calumet baking powder can. All the dimes are common date, some badly
worn. To the casual observer, these coins probably don't merit a second
glance, but to me, they helped stimulate a lifelong interest in
With the passage of years, I gathered more
knowledge on Mercury dimes.
For example, I learned the face on the obverse really wasn’t that of
Mercury, the male Roman messenger god, as the public has largely
believed ever since the dime was first released in 1916. Instead, the
coin’s designer, A.A. Weinman, intended to portray a rendition of Lady
Liberty crowned by a winged cap, to symbolize liberty of thought.
However, the “Mercury dime” moniker stuck, and is still by far the most
common reference for this beautiful ten cent coin. The correct name,
Winged Liberty Head dime, is used much less frequently. Oh well, at
least I can congratulate myself, for even as a small child, I was able
to recognize the person on the dime as a woman, not a man!
Another important fact about Mercury dimes worth mentioning is that
back when Grandma was coin collecting, not much attention was focused
on the degree of separation and roundness seen in the horizontal bands
holding together the bundle of rods on the reverse side. Full Split
Bands (abbreviated "FSB") resulted from striking by fresh dies, and
have proven to be much rarer than blended, flattened bands. Generally
speaking, if a Mercury dime displays fully separated and rounded bands,
it can generate prices far above less distinctive specimens of the same
date, mintmark, and grade. For the last 10-15 years, most Mercury dime
value guides have carried an FSB category for mint state grades.
Recently, I decided to chart the value trends of Mercury dimes over a
long period of time, for the purpose of identifying Mercs that have
historically demonstrated the best gains. My theory is that coins that
have shown the strongest price increases consistently in the past are
the same coins most likely to accomplish the same in the years ahead. I
don’t advocate purchasing Mercury dimes or any other coins for the sake
of measuring ROI, but speaking for myself, if I ever decide to add to
my Mercury dime collection, I want to make selections designed to (A)
please my numismatic taste buds, and (B) stimulate competitive bidding
amongst future generations of collectors.
To quantify past performance and to evaluate Mercury dimes best
positioned to experience strong future price advancements, I called
upon a mathematical analysis I developed to reach similar objectives
for other coin series.
First, I researched Mercury dime retail values for individual coins as
they were reported in the year 1950, covering a wide range of
conditions, and entered this data on a computer spreadsheet. Moving
forward in time, values from the years 1980, 1995, and 2000 were
similarly captured. Finally, estimated selling prices in 2005 were
placed adjacent to matching data from those earlier years. Because
grading terminology has evolved over the 55 year period, certain
assumptions were made to progressively track price movements throughout
the time spectrum (e.g. an “Uncirculated” value in 1950 is equivalent
to the “MS-60” of today). The highest grade inserted into the analysis
was MS-65, for which I was able to list relatively complete data
starting in the 1995 data column. Because I deemed “FSB” data to be
somewhat sporadic, I elected not to include it in this study for the
sake of stability.
For each date and condition, compounded annual return rates were
computed from 1950 to 2005. Return rate computations were likewise made
from 1980 to 2005, 1995 to 2005, and 2000 to 2005. For each Mercury
dime, the data was placed in tabular format. Next, I calculated a
“composite” score for each date by averaging all the compounded return
rates computed for that date. I then ranked all the “composite” scores.
The Mercury dimes with the top five highest scores are:
|1942 (2 over 1)
|1942-D (2 over 1)
It should surprise no one that the kingpin of
the Mercury dime series
is the 1916-D. Long considered one of the classic rarities of the 20th
century and a favorite of collectors, we now have some statistical
evidence to support this claim. Experienced Mercury dime collectors
probably would expect to see the other dates making the “Top Five”,
though the 1945-S (Micro) will cause some head scratching. At the
opposite end of performance, there is a logjam of dimes crowded into
the 2.50-3.50 range. The value of these coins is dominated by their
silver bullion content and merit only small numismatic premiums, with
the exception of higher grade specimens.
Okay, let’s say you’re fascinated with the history and style of the
Mercury dime. You’ve decided its time to add a few to your coin
gallery, yet at the same time, you’re afraid of spending money on
something doomed to stagnate in value over time. Bottom line solution:
purchase a member of the “Top Five” ranked above. Yes, they’re a bit
pricey, but instead of buying many of the less expensive Mercury dimes,
save your cash and get a single example of a proven winner. You will be
pleased with this strategy as the years roll buy. Buy the absolute best
grade you can afford, and always, always obtain coins that are
problem-free and CERTIFIED by a reputable grading service. Sadly, many
fakes and alterations exist.
Thinking back again to those childhood days, I can’t begin to remember
what happened to most of the coins Grandma gave me on our Sunday
morning drives. Somehow, over the decades, I’ve managed to keep
preserved in a special place a tiny handful of Grandma’s Mercury dimes.
All common dates, there’s not a 1916-D in the bunch, but their
sentimental value to me is incalculable. These coins were a heartfelt
gift from someone close to me who departed from this world long ago and
they helped inspire in “Little Danny” a lifelong enchantment with a
You know, come to think of it, let me add one more bit of advice: while
you’re bagging a “Top Five” Mercury dime, you ought to stop by the
Bargain Bin and pull out a few 1944-D’s for your children or
grandchildren. You just never know what you might get started.
About the Author: Daniel J. Goevert
is the webmaster of US Coin Values
Advisor, specializing in coin value trends and listing bullish US
coins. The site also includes detailed coin collecting advice and an
illustrated history of the US Mint.