Silver Dimes

One of the smallest American coins is the dime, a ten cent piece whose miniscule dimensions have only been surpassed by the famous three-cent coins and half-dimes of the 19th century, the former of which were known as “fish scales” because of their tiny size and thinness. These ten cent pieces are frequently bought and sold today in rolls of 50, with a nominal face value of $5, though at spot value plus premium one roll is currently worth a bit less than $200 (U.S.).

Some earlier dimes, however, are extremely rare and are worth thousands of dollars if they are in pristine, or at least good, condition. The most recent silver dimes to be struck as circulating currency were Silver Roosevelt Dimes, which began production following the end of the Second World War.

What are Silver Roosevelt Dimes?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s effigy appeared on United States dimes for the first time in 1946, and these dimes were minted in .900 fine silver because all dimes were struck out of this metal at the time. Copper was added to provide durability since the coins were meant to be circulated

An amusing tale of political hysteria enlivens the history of the Silver Roosevelt Dimes. The engraver of the image, John Sinnock, placed his initials on the coin, unknowingly laying the groundwork for a firestorm of controversy when ardent anti-communists imagined that the initials were those of Joseph Stalin! In a more inspirational fashion, Roosevelt’s image actually appeared on the dime because of his support for the “March of Dimes”, which at that point was combating the effects of polio.

Silver Roosevelt Dimes are visually indistinguishable from modern cupronickel dimes, and are usually identified by date rather than any other indicator. They are very common and are worth only slightly more than their melt value of somewhere between $2.75 and $2.90. A Silver Roosevelt Dime contains 2.25 grams of pure silver and 0.25 grams of copper.

When were Mercury Dimes Struck?

Mercury dimes are the next oldest of America’s silver dimes, and were struck during the period of the World Wars, beginning production in 1916 and continuing until they were ousted by the Roosevelt dimes. The head of the Roman god Mercury is actually supposed to be a short-haired version of the female Liberty with a winged Phrygian cap, but the face used is so masculine that most people mistook the image for that of the Roman god.

The first year’s Denver minting, bearing the mintmark D and the date 1916, are precious and valued at thousands of dollars apiece due to their rarity, if in good condition. However, there are naturally many fakes in circulation among coin dealers today, since there is a strong incentive to cheat and try to sell an altered Silver Mercury Dime for far more than it is really worth. Most Mercury Dimes are worth precisely the same as Roosevelt silver dimes, however – that is, spot value for their metals.

What is a Silver Barber Dime?

Although one might imagine that the Silver Barber Dime bears some image related – perhaps fancifully – to that profession, the dime is actually named for the Mint’s chief engraver at the time, Charles Barber. Liberty in a Phrygian cap appears on this coin also, although facing to the right rather than the left as on the succeeding Mercury dimes, and – thankfully – recognizably female.

Silver Barber Dimes still exist in sufficient numbers to keep their price at spot as well. Most are very well worn, since they were circulated and used, which also reduces their numismatic value to practically nil. The only rare dime in the series, the 1894-S, is so rare, with only 24 ever minted, that you are highly unlikely to ever encounter it. These dimes were struck from 1892 to 1916.

What Earlier Silver Dimes were Struck?

Dimes struck previous to the Silver Barber Dime are often old enough, rare enough, and idiosyncratic enough in variations due to early minting techniques to fall more into the historic coin market than the silver bullion market. Though they are obviously

Dimes were struck in the mid 19th century as part of the general line of “Seated Liberty” coinage minted at the time, and bear the graceful figure of Liberty seated on a rock on the obverse, and the eagle-supported Great Seal of the United States on the other side.

Previous to these were the Draped and Capped Bust series, which bore the fleshy image of a female socialite of the day, which is rather like striking coins with an overweight, aging Paris Hilton on them, leading one to wonder what strings were pulled to cause the adoption of such an image on national currency for many decades. Many errors were made in the strikings, including varying numbers of “state stars” on some coins, and the more outlandish the mistake, the greater the price the coin commands.

Are Silver Dimes a Good Investment Today?

Silver dimes can be divided into two broad categories – those which are worth their melt value and perhaps a very slender premium above spot – which can be considered to be ordinary bullion – and those which are so rare that each one costs a fortune. There is little middle ground in most cases. As mentioned above, Silver Mercury Dimes are worth spot value for their weight of silver and copper, except for one striking from 1916, which costs thousands of dollars in numismatic value.

Silver dimes are therefore a good investment for two kinds of people – those who are interested in silver purely as bullion, as for example to “store value” and hedge against inflationary trends in the economy, and those who are affluent and interested in buying and selling (or collecting) rare historic coins with a vast numismatic value relative to their spot value.

There is no room in the market for the middle type of buyer who might want a somewhat rare coin with ten or twenty dollars of numismatic value, which could be bought and sold over the short term. In short, as with all matters related to silver, whether or not the silver dime is a good investment for you depends mostly on what your specific purpose is for buying silver, and how large your budget is.

What conditions of Silver Dimes are Available?

Since silver dimes were used as legal tender for many years, many of those which survive (and many thousands more were melted down during the Hunt brothers’ silver adventure during the 1970s) are well worn, though this is only a concern if the wear is bad enough to greatly reduce the weight of the coin, or if the coin is rare enough to make its quality important. In most cases, silver dimes can be bought in tubes or large bags of mixed dates and conditions, as a bullion investment.

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