Coin Rarities & Related Topics: Collecting Dimes
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #59
A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds
The U.S. Mint has produced dimes almost every year since 1796. Until 1964, dimes consisted of an alloy of 90% silver and 10% copper. (Actually, dimes produced from 1796 to the first part of 1837 were specified to be 89.24% silver and 10.76% copper.) Originally, the notion was for dimes to contain ten cents worth of silver, and that is the reason why dimes are, and have been, around 40% of the weight of a quarter, which was planned to contain twenty five cents worth of silver. As cents and nickels never contained any silver, it made sense, for a long time, for these to be larger than dimes.
Draped Bust Dimes with a ‘Small Eagle’ reverse (back) were produced in 1796 and 1797. The same Draped Bust obverse (front) design was employed, with a ‘Heraldic’ or ‘Large Eagle’ reverse design, for dimes dating from 1798 to 1807. There are no dimes dated 1799 or 1806, at least I have never seen a 1799 or 1806 dime.
Capped Bust Dimes were minted from 1809 to 1837. The 1822 is the only date that is close to being rare, though a noticeable variety of an 1829 is even rarer.
Starting at some point in 1828, a second subtype of Capped Bust Dimes was introduced. While sometimes referred to as ‘small size,’ this name is misleading as these are only slighter smaller, on average, in diameter. In addition to the introduction of different border devices, there are several subtle differences. More advanced technology was employed to manufacture the second subtype of Capped Bust Dimes.
Liberty Seated Dimes were minted from 1837 to 1891. There are at least five subtypes. As the introduction of stars in 1838 and the addition of arrows in 1853 and again in 1873 are very much apparent, it could be fairly argued that there are five full design types, not ‘subtypes.’ Certainly, a type set of dimes, of Liberty Seated coins, or of U.S. silver coins, should included more than one Liberty Seated Dime. I am here ignoring the ‘No Drapery’ issues as I maintain that these are not really a distinct type and perhaps not a subtype either?
Barber Dimes were produced from 1892 to 1916, the same time span in which Barber Quarters were struck. Mercury Dimes, sometimes called ‘Winged Liberty’ Dimes, were made from 1916 to 1945. The Roosevelt Dime was first struck in 1946. Silver Roosevelt Dimes were minted for circulation until 1964. Copper-Nickel ‘Clad’ Roosevelt Dimes have been minted ever since. Silver Roosevelt Dimes made a comeback in 1992 and subsequent years, though only in Proof format.
I. Type Sets
An easy and educational way to collect dimes is to assemble a type set. All the various designs would thus be represented. As the ‘Clad’ dimes are extremely common and generally do not command respect among advanced collectors, it is best to limit such a type set to silver dimes.
As pre-1860 Proofs are expensive, require additional explanation, and may sometimes be controversial or difficult to identify, the focus here, in terms of type sets, is on business strikes. Proofs are then discussed in terms of each series.
A type set of business strike, silver dimes would include twelve coins: 1) Draped Bust, Small Eagle 1796-97; 2) Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle 1798-1807; 3) Capped Bust, Old Format 1809-28; 4) Capped Bust, New Format 1828-37; 5) Liberty Seated, No Stars on Obverse (front) 1837-38; 6) Liberty Seated with Stars on Obverse 1838-1853, 1856-60; 7) Liberty Seated — Arrows & Stars on Obverse 1853-55; 8) Liberty Seated – Legend on Obverse 1860-73,1875-91; 9) Liberty Seated – Legend & Arrows on Obverse. 1873-74; 10) Barber 1891-1916; 11) Mercury 1916-45; 12) Roosevelt 1946-64.
It is often maintained that the Liberty Seated, No Drapery varieties of some dimes dating from 1838 to 1840 constitute a distinct type. I regard these as a subtype. The little bit of fabric, or lack thereof, on one of Miss Liberty’s arms is somewhat significant, but not of tremendous importance.
John Albanese declares that a “1796 dime is a great coin in any grade. Buy nice original coins.” Albanese has a very positive view of bust dimes. He likes all of the Draped Bust, 1796 to 1807, issues. John was the sole founder of the NGC in 1987. Twenty years later, he founded the CAC.
“Very Fine Capped Bust Dimes are better values than those in Good to Fine,” says Albanese. “Buy nice original coins. Stay away from the ones that have been apparently dipped. I would rather have a nice original Extremely Fine dime than a dipped AU,” Albanese relates.
Regarding Very Fine-20 grade dimes, rough estimates for prices of representatives of the twelve types are: 1) Draped Bust, Small Eagle $6000 to $8000; 2) DB, Heraldic Eagle, $1250 to $1700 for an 1807; 3)Capped Bust, Old Format $150; 4) CB, New Format $85; 5) Liberty Seated, No Stars $275 6) LS Stars $27; 7) LS Arrows & Stars, $21; 8) LS Legend $17; 9) LS Arrows & Legend $50; 10) Barber $7.50; 11) Mercury $4.10; 12) Roosevelt $3.20. Prices for most common date, circulated Mercs and Roosevelt Dimes change as the bullion price of silver changes.
“Common Date Liberty Seated Dimes in Extremely Fine [grade] could probably be had for $20 each; these are bargains,” in Albanese’s opinion. “Buy common date dimes first and then see how interested you are in these series,” John suggests. “Who knows where your collection will take you. It will be fun to find out.”
In Extremely Fine-40 grade, retail prices, more or less, for representatives of the twelve types are: 1) Draped Bust, Small Eagle, $9000 to $10,000; 2) DB, Heraldic Eagle $2400 or more for an 1807; 3) Capped Bust, Old Format $435; 4) CB, New Format $280 ; 5) Liberty Seated, No Stars $535 6) Liberty Seated, with Stars $47; 7) Liberty Seated, with Arrows & Stars, $49; 8) LS Legend $24; 9) LS Arrows & Legend $148; 10) Barber $24; 11) Mercury $4.25; 12) Roosevelt $3.45.
A Draped Bust, Small Eagle dime, even in Good-04 grade, would probably cost at least $2500. A collector who cannot afford Draped Bust dimes could limit his (or her) type set to ten coins. Indeed, it would be very difficult to acquire a genuine, acceptable Draped Bust dime for less than $100. In Oct. 2010, an 1807 dime that is PCGS graded Poor-01 publicly sold for $149.50. An 1807 or any other Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle dime in Good-04 grade would probably cost at least $550.
For a type set, a collector would be likely to select a 1796 Draped Bust dime rather than a 1797, the other date of the Draped Bust, Small Eagle type, because the 1797 is considerably rarer than the 1796. As 1796 is the first year of dimes, it would be a neater addition to a type set anyhow. Capped Bust Dimes were minted from 1809 to 1837 and are much less expensive than Draped Bust Dimes. Relatively non-affluent collectors may wish to begin their type sets with Capped Bust Dimes or collect dimes in a different way.
II. Dimes on a Small Budget
According to Numismedia.com, an 1814 dime in Good-04 grade is valued at $35. Someone who cannot afford to spend $35 on one coin probably should not be assembling a type set of dimes. Such a collector might instead collect silver Roosevelt Dimes ‘by date.’ These are available for around the value of their silver content, currently less than $4 each.
Importantly, except for a 1916-D, a 1921, a 1921-D, and a couple of overdates, all the dates in the series of Mercury Dimes could be obtained in at least Good-04 grade for less than $12 each, most for less than $4 each. (Prices for many Mercury Dimes are affected by the bullion price of silver.)
In coin collecting, the definition of a ‘date’ usually includes the year and the location of the Mint that produced the coin. A 1926, a 1926-D and a 1926-S are thus three different dates.
In Good-04 grade, a 1926 Philadelphia Mint dime has a retail price of $4 at most. A 1926-Denver Mint dime is not as common, and a Good-4 1926-S could sell for $4.20 to $6.00. A 1926-San Francisco Mint dime is much scarcer and may sell for anywhere from $9 to $15 in Good-04 grade, depending upon the circumstances of the sale and the characteristics of the individual coin.
In Good-04 grade, numerous dates of Liberty Seated Dimes, including several in the 1840s and 1850s, could be obtained for less than $17 each. In the series of Barber Dimes, in grades from Good-04 to Very Fine-20, there are plenty of dates that could be acquired for less than $15 each, many for less than $5.
There are more than a dozen ‘better date’ Barber Dimes that are highly demanded by collectors and are valued from $15 to $100 in Good-04 grade. An 1895-O would be likely to retail for more than $300 in Good-04 grade. (Click here for an article on 1894-S dimes, and here for another on the auction record for an 1894-S dime.)
While, for decades, poor collectors could complete sets of Barber Dimes, prices for circulated Barber Dimes have risen dramatically over the last dozen years or so. When I was seven years old, I would not have believed that a Good condition 1904-S dime would ever retail for as much as $50! I used to very much enjoy collecting Barber Dimes. When I was a kid, I was more than happy with better dates in Good-04, AG-03 or even Fair-02 grades.
III. Sets of Business Strikes
Collecting whole sets ‘by date’ is often fun for collectors who are attracted to a particular series. Capped Bust Dimes are a “completable nice short set,” states Albanese. In the series of Capped Bust Dimes, the 1822 is the only very scarce date. It is the key to the series. An 1822 in Good-04 grade that does not have any significant problems would easily be worth at least $1450 retail. An EF-40 grade 1822 would retail for more than $5000.
The other dates in the series are not very expensive. The difference between the two types of Capped Bust Dimes is hard to explain. The 1809 to 1828 type is often termed ‘large’ and the following type, which was struck from 1828 to 1827, is often termed ‘small.’ There is only a slight difference in the diameter of the two types, however, and the more significant differences are hard to explain. The borders, style and striking quality of the two types are substantially different.
“I see softly struck large size Capped Bust Dimes all the time,” Albanese states. “I do not generally see softly struck small size dimes, which are much better made. For uncirculated large size dimes, the strike is a big factor in the grade,” John informs. “In Extremely Fine [grades], sharpness of strike is not that important. For both circulated and uncirculated Capped Bust Dimes, originality is more important than sharpness of strike,” Albanese emphasizes.
As for Liberty Seated Dimes, as Albanese says, collectors should buy some relatively less scarce dates and then later determine how much they like the series. A set of Liberty Seated Dimes could take years to even 80% complete. As the 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ issue is unique, most collectors will never be able to totally complete a set of Liberty Seated Dimes. Furthermore, it may be difficult to find tolerable representatives of some of the key dates, like the 1867, the 1871-CC and the 1874-CC. Nonetheless, such a quest is challenging and can be exciting.
While I have always liked Liberty Seated Dimes, I like Barber Dimes more. The relatively recent price increases, however, of circulated Barber Dimes are a little puzzling. For those who can afford them, I am tempted to suggest that choice to gem uncirculated Barber Dimes are a better value. Pristine Gem uncirculated Barber Dimes, those that grade MS-66 or higher, were generally worth more in 1990 than these are now.
Mercury Dimes are not rare, though are very popular. “Mercs have always been great collector coins,” Albanese exclaims. “Building a set is a good idea. A lot of better dates in VF [grades are available] for reasonable prices.” Many Mercury Dimes, in a range of grades, “can be had for slightly above melt [silver content] value. People who want to buy silver anyway can’t go wrong with [such] Mercs,” Albanese maintains.
As for MS-65 grade Mercury Dimes, Albanese recommends buying those “withOUT full bands, because the spread is so great between ‘full’ and ‘flat’ bands.” John cites the 1918-D issue as an example. According to Numismedia.com, an MS-65 grade 1918-D has a value of $670, while an MS-65 1919-D with “Full Bands” has a value of $24,050! Similarly, the PCGS price guide values an MS-65 grade 1918-D at $1100 and an MS-65 ‘Full Bands’ 1918-D at $24,000. In MS-66 grade, the spread is even greater, according to the PCGS, a 1918-D without full bands is valued at $1750, while a 1918-D with ‘Full Bands’ is valued at $125,000, more than sixty times as much!
“The bands on a Merc are not that important,” Albanese asserts, “not as important as a full head on a Standing Liberty Quarter. It’s kind of an insignificant characteristic. Search for Gem Mercs with almost full bands,” John suggests. Also, collectors can “buy some better date Standing Liberty Quarters with an almost full head for a fraction of the price of [one with] a full head. MS-65 and MS-66 Mercs with almost full bands, though, are sometimes great values.”
Values for the 1919-S provide further examples of spreads between ‘Full Bands’ gems and those without full bands. In the PCGS price guide, a MS-65 1919-S is valued at $1200, while a 1919-S with ‘Full Bands’ is valued at $16,500. On Numismedia.com, the corresponding values are $1040 and $15,630. For a MS-66 1919-S, the Numismedia values are $1270 versus $115,630!
Roosevelt Dimes with certain striking characteristics are also bringing very substantial premiums. I advise against paying such premiums.
In grades below MS-60, there are only a few dates in the Roosevelt series that bring a significant premium over silver content. In most grades, the 1949, the 1949-S and the 1950-S are perhaps the only silver Roosevelt dimes that are worth a noteworthy premium over the current bullion value of their respective silver content. A beginner may wish to go to small coin shows or flea markets and buy silver Roosevelt Dimes for a very slight premium over silver content. Completing a set of silver Roosevelt Dimes should not be difficult.
IV. Proof Dimes
Proof Draped Bust Dimes were never made. Proof Capped Bust Dimes are very rare and are expensive. These should be collected by very wealthy collectors who appreciate them, are willing to spend time consulting experts, and are willing to learn at least a little about them. Please see my article on the auction of the Turtle Rock Collection of Proofs.
Collecting Proof Liberty Seated Dimes would be a challenge, even ‘by type.’ Actually, collecting Proofs of three of the Liberty Seated Dime types would not be very difficult or tremendously expensive. In 64 grade, Proofs of the ‘Stars on Obverse’ (front), Legend on Obverse, and Arrows & Legend on Obverse (1873-74) could be easily found at reasonable prices. The least expensive Proof-64 dime with stars on the obverse would be an 1859, $2250. For Liberty Seated Dimes with the Legend, ‘UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,’ on the obverse, the PCGS price guide values many dates at $900 in Proof-64. As for the arrows type that was minted just in 1873 and 1874, a Proof-64 may cost $1800.
Proofs of the Liberty Seated ‘No Stars’ type are very rare and ‘Proofs’ of this type are sometimes controversial. Before a collector spends a lot of money, probably more than $15,000, on a “Proof-64” 1837 dime, he or she should consult an expert in pre-1860 Proof coins.
A Proof-64 representative of the type with stars and arrows, minted from 1853 to 1855, may cost from $10,000 to $16,000. These should feature substantially more detail than corresponding business strikes and have broader rims. The definition of the dentils, teeth at the borders, should be noticeably different on Proofs than on business strikes of this type.
As for collecting Proof Liberty Seated Dimes ‘by date,’ it would make sense to collect Proofs of all dimes ‘by type’ before even considering collecting Proofs ‘by date.’ Collecting Proof Barber Dimes ‘by date,’ in contrast, is much easier and less expensive than collecting Proof Liberty Seated Dimes ‘by date.’
“Barber Dimes in Proof is a completable set,” Albanese points out. “There are no dates in Proof that will be likely to stop you. Given the mintages, Proof Barbers are scarce and good values. [Prices for] these are probably about the same, or less, as [prices] were twenty years ago,” John notes.
Proof Barber Dimes tend to retail for ROUGHLY: $600 in 63 grade, $900 in 64, $1500 in 65, $2000 in 66, $4000 in 67, and $8000 in 68. If $2000 is a lot of money to a particular collector, then it is best for him or her to consult experts before buying one that grades 66 or higher. If possible, it helps to view a considerable number of Proof Barber Dimes in various grades in order to gain some understanding of grading criteria. Some certified coins are overgraded or artificially toned, however, so it does not make sense to draw conclusions about Proof Barbers in general after viewing a small number of them. In my opinion, naturally toned Proof Barbers are often very attractive.
Proof Mercury Dimes are less expensive than Proof Barbers. These were minted from 1936 to 1942. “Gem Proof Mercs are a great value,” John Albanese asserts. “Proof-63 Mercs are a poor value, because for a small percentage more you could buy a gem. For such a small spread, it would be a bad idea to buy a lower grade. You are not paying a lot for a gem status Proof Merc,” Albanese explains.
The dates in the 1930s tend to be worth a substantially more than the Proof Mercury Dimes that date from the 1940s. Even so, in the grand scheme of pre-1950 Proof coins, prices for all Proof Mercs are not tremendous. A set of Proof-64 Mercury Dimes could certainly be assembled for less than $3000. A set in Proof-65 might only amount to two or three hundred dollars more than a set in Proof-64.
For dates in the 1940s, I suggest that Proof-66 Mercury Dimes are good values, as these are only twenty percent more than Proof-65 coins of the same respective dates. As for acquiring 67 or higher grade Proof Mercury Dimes, I suggest learning about them before buying.
“Two to three thousand dollars for a 68 is risky,” Albanese figures. “I have seen a lot of certified 68s that are white dipped out. If you are buying a Proof-68 Merc, you should buy one with beautiful color,” John maintains. I agree.
As for Proof Roosevelt Dimes, my impression is that Proof-66 coins are the best values for collectors. I suggest naturally toned coins that do NOT have any kind of cameo designation from a grading service, as these are often much more expensive. In my opinion, the cameo designations are often not worth the large premiums that these tend to command.
A collector who cannot afford Proof-66 Roosevelt Dimes may wish to consider Proof-63 or -64 coins. These may have a few lines or spots, yet are often appealing. Modern Proofs that grade from 60 to 62 tend to have serious problems and should be avoided. Even many 63 grade post-1950 Proofs have been awkwardly cleaned.
Other than Mint Errors, the only Proof-66 Roosevelt Dimes, withOUT cameo designations, costing more than $20 each are those that were minted from 1950 to 1955, and these could probably be found for less than $55 each. A single pre-1965 Proof-66 Roosevelt Dime could be found for around $10.
In sum, collectors who are beginning to focus on dimes, or are unsure as to how to proceed, should buy dimes of some of the least rare dates in more than one series. Further, such collectors should acquire dimes that they can EASILY afford. After learning about coins of interest, communicating with experts, and formulating a realistic objective, collectors may then spend considerable amounts of money. It is important to not be in a hurry and to have fun.
©2011 Greg Reynolds