Key Date Mercury Dimes: 1916-D, 1921, 1921-D
The Mercury dime spanned two world wars: it was struck from 1916 through 1945 during the Renaissance of American Coinage. This period kicked off in the early 1900s with an artistic renovation of every circulating United States coin.
The Mercury dime was designed by Adolph A. Weinman, the same renowned artist who created the acclaimed Walking Liberty half dollar. Weinman's art-deco-inspired dime was originally called the "Winged Liberty Head" dime design. It adopted the "Mercury" name of the Roman god, whom many felt the Miss Liberty figure on the dime uncannily resembled.
1917 Mercury dime. Although a second year-of-issue, not quite a key date for the series.
The reverse design uses the traditional Roman symbol of the fasces, an embodiment of strength and authority. It is surrounded by an olive branch, a traditional symbol of peace. The reverse of the coin is also where the mint mark is located.
Key Dates Are Highly Collectible
Mercury dimes have been popular collectibles since the series was still in production. Some of the first coin boards ever published in the mid-1930s were designed for building a complete collection of Mercury dimes. It was through these coin boards that many American collectors became familiar with the series key dates. Most collectors could often fill up most of the board in a matter of weeks or months from the dimes they encountered in pocket change. Usually, only a few certain holes remained for which they could never seem to find the right coin.
It was in this manner that many of the most famous 20th-century rare coins gained widespread popularity. In the case of the Mercury dime, collectors quickly realized that a handful of dates were nearly impossible to find in circulation. Demand for those rare dates sent their prices through the roof.
These are the so-called key dates. They are the make-or-break rare coins that every Mercury dime collector must eventually find or pay for if they wish to build a complete set.
Mercury Dime Key Dates
Among Mercury dimes, collectors have identified one key date, two semi-keys, and a handful of scarce varieties.
Almost all Mercury dimes are conditionally rare at a certain high grade. However, we will only be examining key dates and other scarce coins here that are scarce or valuable across all grades.
1916-D Mercury Dime
1916-D Mercury dime
The 1916-D Mercury dime is the key date for the entire series. Only 264,000 were made, and far fewer exist today, making it one of the rarest regular-issue, circulation-strike coins of the 20th century.
While its core audience as a collectible are the countless individuals who are building sets of Mercury dimes, this coin's popularity extends well beyond the hobby. Even many non-collectors know that the 1916-D Mercury dime is both rare and valuable.
Problem-free examples of the 1916-D Mercury dime are worth about $1,000 and up, even in well-worn grades. It is highly recommended that those who wish to purchase a 1916-D buy examples that have been authenticated and graded by reputable third-party coin-grading companies. There are too many convincing fakes out there to go buying a raw example from just anyone.
1921 and 1921-D Mercury Dimes
1921 Mercury dime
While not as rare as the 1916-D, the Mercury dimes of 1921 are highly scarce. These two dates are better classified as semi-key dates rather than keys. This is because they are much more common and are more widely accessible (cost-wise, at least) than their 1916-D counterpart.
1921-D Mercury dime
The 1921 from Philadelphia was minted to the tune of 1,230,000 pieces. Meanwhile the 1921-D from the Denver Mint saw a lower output of 1,080,000. Mercury dime values for the 1921 start at around $55 while the slightly scarcer 1921-D trades for approximately $70 and up.
Other Tough Dates and Varieties
A handful of other scarce dates are considered quite tough. They’re not necessarily rare in circulated grades, but they’re challenging to find. Thus they are worth marked premiums over common dates in similar grades.
These better dates include the 1926-S, 1928-D, 1931-D, and 1931-S. The priciest of these is the 1926-S Mercury dime, commanding about $10 and up in well-worn grades. The other three dates range from about $4 to $6 apiece in the lowest circulated grades and increase in value from there.
In addition to the regular-issue circulation strikes, the Mercury dime series offers many collectible varieties. The rarest of these are the 1942/1 and 1942/1-D overdates. Overdates were common among 19th-century coinage. Today, they are nearly non-existent as a class of varieties among 20th-century coins. The 1942/1 dimes (pictured below) are scarce in circulated grades and rare in uncirculated condition. Circulated specimens are usually trade in the range of $600 to $850.
1942 (42 Over 41) Mercury dime
The most affordable Mercury dime variety is the 1945-S Micro S, which emerged during the last year of the series. Bearing an “S” mintmark that is much smaller than normal, this cool error is obtainable for nearly any collector. This is due to affordable prices that range from about $5 to $10 apiece for circulated specimens.
Full Split Bands Mercury Dimes
"Full Split Bands" (FSB) or simply "Split Bands" is a special designation given to Mercury dimes with a very sharp strike. The coin's olive branch remains crisp and the horizontal bands on the fasces are clearly defined.
Generally, only uncirculated pieces will exhibit Full Bands. For some dates whose dies resulted in weaker strikes, FSB dimes are extremely rare.
Advice on Collecting Rare Mercury Dimes
Pile of Mercury dimes
Key-date Mercury dimes are mostly sought by series collectors who wish to assemble a complete collection of Mercury dimes by date and mintmark. It’s impractical today to try collecting Mercury dimes from circulation since these coins don’t really circulate anymore. But the good news is that any dates you need for your Mercury dime set can be found in the numismatic marketplace. Your coin dealer should be able to track one down the rare dates you need and can sell them to you for a price.
The best advice for buying any scarce coins, whether Mercury dimes or rarities from other series, is to buy them from reputable dealers. The increasing prevalence of sophisticated counterfeits and altered coinage is alarming.
Your best protection against spending hundreds, even thousands, in inadvertently buying a counterfeit coin is to purchase key dates from dealers who are skilled and experienced—and who stand behind the coins they sell. It’s also wise to seek only certified examples of the more expensive coins you need for your collection.
As you continue along your journey of collecting Mercury dimes, you’ll become ever more acquainted with the many nuances of this exciting series. Mercury dimes are rewarding to collect because the coins are beautiful, readily obtainable, and offer a well-balanced mixture of common, scarce, and rare dates as well as a small but appealing selection of notable varieties. It’s no wonder the Mercury dime series has appealed to so many coin collectors for more than a century!
Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a journalist, editor, and blogger who has won multiple awards from the Numismatic Literary Guild. He has also authored numerous books, including works profiling the history of the United States Mint and United States coinage.
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