PCGS 4902 - Mercury Dime (1916-1945)
Navigate to PCGS numbers: Mercury Dime (1916-1945)
The year was 1915 and there was a movement afoot to change the remainder of American coinage. With the changes to the $10 eagle, $20 double eagle, the cent and nickel, it was now time for changes to the dime, quarter and half dollar. Under 1890 law, changes could not be made to a coin design without approval from congress more frequently than every 25 years. The Barber coinage (dime, quarter and half dollar) was to reach that mark in 1916 and the mint wasted no time in making the changes, in fact starting the process before 1916.
In 1915, US Mint Director Robert W. Woolley offered the opportunity to three noted sculptors, Adolph A Weinman, Albin Polasek and Herman A. MacNeil to prepare designs for three silver coins. Outside artists, not chief engraver Charles Barber, supplied designs for the previous six changes and Woolley felt this was a great option. By 1916, Barber was 75 years old but had a track record of being hostile to outside artists designing coins he thought he should be designing. With three new designs, all replacing coins Barber himself had designed, it could have gotten unpleasant. The records suggest Barber was on his best behavior. In this case it seems he just stepped aside and let his assistant George T. Morgan, who had designed the Morgan dollar, do all the work. Maybe Barber finally just gave up or was too old too fight anymore or just recognized the beauty in the designs. Barber died in February 1917 and was replaced by Morgan.
It is assumed that Woolley intended to award a different coin to each person. It may not have been planned this way, but Weinman ended up getting two of his designs as the winning designs. One being what would become known as the Walking Liberty Half and the Mercury Dime. MacNeil won the design for the quarter with Polasek getting shut out. Adolph A. Weinman was born in Germany and came to the US at the age of 10 in 1880. He was a student of well known sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Saint-Gaudens is also credited with some truly outstanding coin designs. By 1915 when the design process began, Weinman was widely celebrated as one of the nation’s best sculptors.
The design of the Mercury dime is that of a “Winged Liberty” and is based on a bust that Weinman did in 1913 of Elsie Kachel Stevens, wife of well-known poet Wallace Stevens, who happened to be tenants of a New York City apartment building owned by Weinman. The winged cap was to symbolize freedom of thought. The reverse of the coin depicts the fasces, an ancient symbol of authority, with a battle-ax at the top to represent preparedness and an olive branch beside it to signify love and peace and authority. Production and release of the new dimes was delayed until later in the year of 1916 as the dies were not quite ready. The Philadelphia and San Francisco mint produced Barber dimes much of 1916 to meet demand while Denver ceased producing Barber dimes in 1914. Once the dies were complete, production began with both Philadelphia and San Francisco cranking out millions of dimes. Denver though produced a mere 264,000 making the 1916-D an instant rarity.
Shortly after the dime began circulating, many people began calling it a “Mercury dime” due to the wings on the cap. Mercury is the Roman god of trade, property and wealth as well as messenger to the other gods. The hat, called a Petasus, is similar to that worn my messengers during the time when Mercury was worshipped. Mercury gained his speed from his wings. Although not the original and intended name for the new time, the term Mercury stuck and that is what it is known as today.
The Mercury dime served Americans through two world wars ending its run in 1945. With the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1945, there was a strong movement to honor the president and in 1946 the Roosevelt dime began production and is still used today.
Source: Keith Scott
- Full Bands
Term applied to Mercury (Winged Liberty Head) dimes when the central band is fully separated (FB). There can be no disturbance of the separation. Also applicable to Roosevelt dimes that display full separation in both the upper and lower pair of crossbands on the torch.
One thing Adolph Alexander Weinman's design does not depict, is Mercury, the messenger of the gods in Roman mythology. The portrait on its obverse is actually that of Liberty wearing a winged cap symbolizing freedom of thought. Thus, the coin more properly is known as the Winged Head Liberty dime. But the misnomer "Mercury" was applied to it early on, and after many years of common usage, has stuck. It's generally believed that the Winged Liberty portrait is based upon a bust that Weinman did in 1913 of Elsie Kachel Stevens, wife of well-known poet Wallace Stevens. She and her husband were tenants at the time in a New York City apartment house owned by the sculptor.
The reverse of the coin depicts the fasces, an ancient symbol of authority, with a battle-ax atop it to represent preparedness and an olive branch beside it to signify love and peace.
- Weight: 2.50 grams
- Diameter: 17.9 millimeters
- Composition: Silver - 90%/Copper - 10%
- Edge: Reeded.
Prices realized from past auction lots. (PCGS Holder)
PCGS Price Guide 
- Breen, Walter H., Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U. S. and Colonial Coins, New York: Doubleday, 1987.
- Yeoman, R. S., and Kenneth Bressett (ed.), A Guide Book of United States Coins, 59th Ed., Atlanta, GA: Whitman Publishing, 2005.
- U.S. Mint