Your Guide to Buying Mercury Dimes

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Your Guide to Buying Mercury Dimes

For as long as coins have been made or minted, people have collected them for their monetary value. In later times, these collectors began accumulating coins as a hobby. Coin collecting became known as the "Hobby of Kings" thanks to collectors such as Petrarch, Louis XIV, and other members of European royalty being counted among its ranks. A pursuit that was previously reserved for the extremely well-to-do, coin collecting evolved over time and increased in popularity between the 19th and 20th centuries. The first international coin collectors convention was held in 1962 in Detroit, and coin collecting is now considered by many to be the "King of Hobbies."

Mercury dimes are one particular type of coin that's considered worthy of collecting. They were produced in the United States between 1916 and 1945, after a design by sculptor Adolph Weinman was chosen by the Commission of Fine Arts as a new mint design. Mercury dimes can have several unique variations by year that add value to the pieces and can make for a great addition to any coin collector's portfolio.

History of Mercury Dimes

In 1915, the Assistant Secretary to the Treasury announced that the following year would see new mints of silver half-dollars, quarters, and dimes, since the last time new versions of those coins were issued was in 1892. All of the designs of that time were done by the Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, a man named Charles Barber. These were not popular designs, and the new designs that he submitted for the 1916 mint were met with disapproval as well. Eventually, Weinman's designs for the half dollar and the dime were selected from the submissions of three potential sculptors. Historians have noted that Barber (who was to have supervised the implementation of the accepted sketches) became increasingly difficult to work with as a result, since the new designs would be replacing his own work.

Design of the Mercury Dime

The obverse (or face) of the mercury dime is a depiction of Lady Liberty wearing a winged cap called a pileus. Although the artist never confirmed it, it is widely believed that the model for Lady Liberty was the wife of a friend of Weinman, and this depiction also created the confusion that led to the misnomer "Mercury dime," as people confused the image of Lady Liberty with the Roman god, Mercury. In Roman mythology, Mercury is the messenger god of trade, thieves, and travel.

The reverse of the coin (or back) contains the image of the Roman fasces, which is a bundle of wooden sticks with an axe blade that signifies strength through unity. The fasces is wrapped in an olive branch, which itself is considered a symbol of peace.

Making and Releasing the Mercury Dime

Between Barber's resistance to the new designs and an illness that struck the designer, the Mercury dime faced a rough start. After the first run of production, pay phone and vending machine companies complained that the dime was incompatible with their machines. Combined with design criticism in the press, the Treasury experienced a good deal of pressure to make changes to the design. Adjustments were made to the dies and the dimes were re-released, while the original, defective coins were melted.

Collecting Mercury Dimes

All Mercury dimes are worth at least ten times their original value, but the worth of some far surpass that amount, depending on the year they were minted as well as on some other characteristics like mint marks, key dates, the coins' condition, and whether or not they are proof coins.

Mint Marks

The letters that appear after the year on the Mercury dime stand for the city in which the coins were minted. In these instances, "D" stands for Denver and "S" stands for San Francisco. Mercury dimes minted in Philadelphia bore no mint mark. Mint marks are crucial to understanding the value of coins and can mean a large difference in monetary value.

Key Dates

Key date coins can be very difficult to obtain and therefore their value tends to be higher than that of other coins of the same make. For Mercury dimes, these include 1916-D, since only 264,000 were minted, and 1942/1, since the 1942 date was stamped over 1941. Semi-key dates also include the following: 1921, 1921-D, 1926-S, and 1931-S.


The most significant determiner of value for Mercury dimes as well as for any collectible coin is its condition. If the coin is in excellent condition, its value will tend to be higher. If the coin is worn and details are no longer visible, its value will tend to be lower.

Grading Mercury Dimes

To better determine the condition of coins, collectors and experts use a loupe, which is a small, handleless magnifying device that allows its user to see details of wear more closely. American coins are graded on a 70-point scale; the higher the number, the better the condition of the coin. For most collectors, a rating of 60 is near-perfect (or mint) condition, usually meaning that the coin is uncirculated. Also included with the numerical rating is a letter designation. Each letter rating fits in a range of the numbers and is based solely on the coin's condition and not on other factors like mint markings or rarity.

Coin Condition



Very Good


Very Fine

Almost Uncirculated








Numerical Range between 0-70





20, 25, 30, 35

50, 55, 58

One specific feature that is considered a sign of good condition is found on the reverse of the Mercury dime. If the ties that hold the fasces together are clearly separate, these Mercury dimes have a higher value than those that have no definition of separation.

Proof Coins

Proof coins are another type of valuable Mercury dime. In general, a proof coin is a specially-cast coin where the die is polished and, in some cases, treated to achieve a frosted finish. A dime with a frosted finish is a specific type of proof coin known as a cameo. These coins are then cast at least twice, which also makes for sharper edges of the design and includes a rim that is set up from the rest of the coin. This is known an upset rim, as it is created by an upsetting machine. Proof coins are never intended for circulation, since they are produced for collectors and are sold for more than face value.

The key date when considering Mercury dime proof coins is 1936. Proof coins have their own specific rating letters as they are all uncirculated coins. These ratings are are all based on the abbreviation BU (Brilliant Uncirculated) and include gem BU, choice BU, and premium BU.

How to Buy Mercury Dimes

Buying collectible coins, especially ones as old as Mercury dimes, is different than purchasing current coins in that they are not available for purchase through the United States Mint. To purchase Mercury dimes, collectors should seek out reputable dealers through other collectors and through online message boards. Some trade shows and brick and mortar stores do sell these coins, and collectors should do their research on these as well so as to make educated investments. Online trading posts are also a great place to find Mercury dimes to fill collections, while auction websites such as eBay offer several listings from reputable dealers as well.

How to Buy Mercury Dimes on eBay

When visiting eBay to peruse Mercury dime listings, you can begin your search on the homepage. Use the upper left-hand menu of categories and select Collectibles & Art. Next, choose Coins & Paper Money, followed by Coins : US. From here, you're presented with a few possibilities. You can choose Dimes, and then Mercury (1916-45), which will lead you to specific Mercury dime listings, although you can also choose Mint Sets, Proof Sets, and Errors, which may also contain Mercury dime listings. You can also choose to use the search bar at the top of most eBay pages at any point in your search as well.
You can search and read listings on eBay without an account, but if you wish to save any listings or bid on any items, registration is required. Registering for an eBay account is free and only requires creating a unique username and password, as well as providing both an email address and a shipping address.

When bidding on and purchasing collectible coins on eBay, there is a wide variety of listings based on condition. While all Mercury dimes, regardless of condition, are worth 10 times their face value, some that are more rare and in better condition can be worth much more. To guarantee the authenticity of these more valuable listings, eBay recommends the services of independent evaluators through their authentication and grading services. Several listings may also include the gradings of reputable coin graders. These grading services are respected in the coin collecting world, and you should check the names of the grading services mentioned on eBay's list of authentication companies.

Should you run into any problems, eBay offers eBay Buyer Protection to help protect transactions. Should your purchase either differ from what was described in the listing or not arrive at all, eBay will issue you a full refund (plus shipping costs) provided that you used an eBay-approved payment method when making your purchase. While buyers and sellers are encouraged to work out any issues together, buyers can also contact eBay's customer service for assistance.


Collecting Mercury dimes is both a wonderful way to learn about a period in American history and is a great place to either start a coin collection or add to an existing one. Coin collecting is a hobby that's enjoyed by both young and old. When collectors know exactly what to look for when collecting Mercury dimes, both novice and expert coin collectors can confidently pursue these valuable pieces as additions to their collections.

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