The 1916-D Mercury Dime – A Very Dangerous Dime
One of the 20th century’s scarcest coins is the 1916-D Mercury Dime. It is rare in terms of supply and demand, rather than in pure dollars. While it is a valuable Mercury Dime, it is not considered a rare coin. However, there are not enough 1916-D coins to meet the demand from collectors and investors.
In 1916, the United States Mint was an extremely busy place, not only in Philadelphia but also in the branch locations of Denver and San Francisco. The Barber series of dimes, quarters and half dollars, aptly named after designer Charles Barber, were being changed for new designs at the same time.
Design of the Mercury Dime
Adolph A. Weinman designed a beautiful dime depicting an allegorical representation of Liberty wearing a cap. On the cap were wings, meant to represent “Liberty of Thought”. As it turns out, that message wasn’t well conveyed and the public seemed to think Weinman was trying to represent the Roman God Mercury who wore a cap and sandals with wings. Mercury was the god of commerce and financial gain so it made sense to the public and Weinman’s actual meaning was lost to the ages.
During that same year, Weinman also designed the Walking Liberty Half Dollar and Hermon A. MacNeil designed a beautiful Standing Liberty Quarter. All three designs depicted versions of Liberty that harkened back to the classical coins of Rome and Greece. The update of these coin designs was inspired by former President Theodore Roosevelt who wanted more beautiful coinage for the nation but also to represent American Liberty while Europe was being ravaged by World War I.
All three coins were popular with the public but the quarter received negative review in the newspapers as Liberty defiantly had an exposed breast. The media of the day railed against it so while the quarter had to undergo a redesign in 1917, the 1916 Dimes and Half Dollars were mass produced.
In Denver, some of the production staff was reassigned from their work on the dime to focus on producing the half dollar. Additionally, some of the staff was even relocated to Philadelphia to help with the quarter production and possible re-design.
Overall, Philadelphia struck more than 22 million dimes while San Francisco struck nearly 10.5 million. But in Denver, a paltry 264,000 coins were struck while the expected estimates were 10 million coins. This coin became a modern rarity in the 1920s as coin collecting resumed in 1918 after World War I ended.
For the rest of its production, no Mercury Dime had a mintage of less than 1 million coins. With just over a quarter of a million coins produced, the 1916-D coin was highly sought after and it still is today. Even in well-worn condition this coin approaches $1,000.00!
The Most Counterfeited Coins in our Nation’s History
So why do we say this is a “Dangerous Dime?” That is because it is one of the most counterfeited coins in our nation’s history and it has been since the 1930s. Many counterfeit specimens will start with a genuine 1916 Philadelphia-struck Mercury Dime (remember more than 22 million of them were minted so they are plentiful) and a genuine “D” is shaved off another genuine Mercury Dime and added to the 1916 coin. That produces a 1916-D Mercury Dime that may look genuine to the untrained eye.
There are well-known die characteristics of 1916-D Mercury Dimes which are used to separate genuine coins from counterfeit ones. Additionally, many 1916-D Mercury Dimes are sent to PCGS or NGC for authentication and grading, which is very helpful when the time comes to sell the coin.
Although it may be a “dangerous” dime, do not let the danger stop you from owning a real 20th century key date coin. You will be one of the lucky few to own such as specimen.