The dime is a coin worth ten cents, or one tenth of a United States dollar. The dime is the smallest in diameter and the thinnest of all U.S. coins currently minted for circulation. The 32nd President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, is featured on the obverse of the current design, while a torch, oak branch, and olive branch covering the motto E pluribus unum are featured on the reverse. The dime's value is labeled as "one dime," since the term 'dime' also applies to a unit of currency worth 10 cents or 1/10 of a dollar.
Mintage of the dime was commissioned by the Coinage Act of 1792, and production began in 1796. A feminine head representing Liberty was used on the front of the coin, and an eagle was used on the back. The front and back of the dime used these motifs for three different designs through 1837. From 1837 to 1891, "Seated Liberty" dimes were issued, which featured Liberty seated next to a shield. In 1892, a feminine head of Liberty returned to the dime, and it was known as a "Barber dime" (named for coin designer Charles E. Barber). The backs of both of the latter two designs featured the words "ONE DIME" enclosed in various wreaths. In 1916, the head of a winged-capped Liberty was put on the dime and is commonly known by the misnomer of "Mercury dime"; the back featured a fasces. The most recent design change was in 1946.
The composition and diameter of the dime have changed throughout its mintage. Initially the dime was 0.75 inch (19 millimeters) wide, but it was changed to its present size of 0.705 inch (17.91 millimeters) in 1828. The composition (initially 89.24 percent silver and 10.76 percent copper) remained constant until 1837, when it was altered to 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper. Dimes with this composition were minted until 1966, although those minted in 1965 and 1966 bear the date 1964. Beginning in 1965, dimes also began to be minted with a clad composition of cupronickel; this composition is still in use today.
The term dime comes from the Italian word dilmashe (modern), meaning "tithe" or "tenth part," from the Latin decima [pars]. This term appeared on early pattern coins, but was not used on any dimes until 1837.
The Coinage Act of 1792, passed on April 2, 1792, authorized the mintage of a "disme," one-tenth the silver weight and value of a dollar. The composition of the disme was set at 89.24 percent silver and 10.76 percent copper. In 1792, a limited number of dismes were minted but never circulated. Some of these were struck in copper, indicating that the 1792 dismes were in fact pattern coins. The first dimes minted for circulation did not appear until 1796, due to a lack of demand for the coin and production problems at the United States Mint.
The original dime, now referred to as the Draped Bust dime, contained no markings to indicate the coin's value. This continued until the issuance of the Capped Bust dime in 1809. The Capped Bust dime bore a "10 C." mark on its reverse. The mintage of the dime during the Draped Bust/Capped Bust period was not regular—the Draped Bust was not minted in 1799 or 1806, while in the period from 1809 to 1820, the Capped Bust was minted only in 1809, 1811, 1814, and 1820. The dime has been minted nearly every year since 1827, although some years have seen extremely limited mintage figures.
In 1837, the dime was altered to incorporate the Seated Liberty design, which had debuted the previous year with the dollar coin. In addition, changes to the dime's diameter and silver content were made. The Seated Liberty dime was minted for 54 years, the longest stretch for any design until the Roosevelt dime reached its 55th year in 2001.
In 1892 the Barber dime debuted, and it lasted until 1916. Of the Barber dime series, the 1894-S is particularly notable; only 24 examples are known to have been struck, of which only nine are known to still exist. One such example sold for US$1.3 million at an auction on March 7, 2005, the most ever paid for a dime in auction.
The Barber dime design was replaced in 1916 by the Winged Liberty Head design, more commonly referred to as the Mercury dime. The figure on the coin's obverse is often thought to be the Roman god Mercury, but is in fact a depiction of Liberty (all other dimes except the Roosevelt dime feature an image of Liberty as well). The Mercury dime is considered to be one of the most visually appealing of all U.S. coins, and is highly sought after by collectors.
The Mercury dime was replaced in 1946 by the Roosevelt dime, designed in honor of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died in April 1945. Although other coins were eligible for an updated design (the design of any coin may be changed without Congressional approval after 25 years), the dime was chosen due to Roosevelt's work in founding the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, even then unofficially known as the March of Dimes, a name it later officially adopted. Although the dime has not undergone any major design changes since its introduction, its composition changed significantly in 1965. The Coinage Act of 1965 removed the silver content from the dime (as well as the quarter and, in 1971, the half dollar), and replaced it with a clad composition of 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel. Dimes with the silver composition were minted in 1965 and 1966 but bore the date 1964 to increase mintage figures and prevent hoarding of it. The clad Roosevelt dime is currently in circulation, and no major design changes are planned. An attempt was made by Congressional Republicans in 2003 to replace Roosevelt's image with that of President Ronald Reagan, but this was short-lived.
The reeded edge on the modern dime is a holdover from earlier designs. The reeding was placed on gold and silver coins to discourage counterfeiting and fraudulent use, such as filing down the edges to collect the dust for profit. Currently, none of the coins produced for circulation contain precious metals. However, the continued use of reeded edges on current circulating coinage of larger denominations is useful to the visually impaired. The edge of a modern dime has 118 ridges.
From 1796 to 1837, dimes were composed of 89.24 percent silver and 10.76 percent copper, the value of which required the coins to be very small to prevent their intrinsic value being worth more than face value. The composition was altered slightly in 1837 with the introduction of the Seated Liberty dime; the silver content was increased to 90 percent, while the copper content was reduced to 10 percent. To maintain the intrinsic value of the new dime, its diameter was reduced from 18.8 millimeters (0.740 inch) to its current figure of 17.9 millimeters (0.705 inch).
With the passage of the Coinage Act of 1965, the dime's silver content was removed. Dimes from 1965 to the present are composed of 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel. Starting in 1992, the U.S. Mint began issuing Silver Proof Sets annually, which contain dimes composed of the pre-1965 standard of 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper. These sets are intended solely for collectors, and are not meant for general circulation.
The first dime to be circulated was the Draped Bust dime, in 1796. It featured the same obverse and reverse as all other circulating coins of the time, the so-called Draped Bust/Small Eagle design. This design was the work of then-Chief Engraver Robert Scot. The portrait of Liberty on the obverse was based on a Gilbert Stuart drawing of prominent Philadelphia socialite Ann Willing Bingham, wife of noted American statesman William Bingham. The reverse design is of a small Bald Eagle surrounded by palm and olive branches, and perched on a cloud. Since the Coinage Act of 1792 required only that the cent and half cent display their denomination, Draped Bust dimes were minted with no indication of their value.
All 1796 dimes have 15 stars on the obverse, representing the number of states then in the Union. The first 1797 dimes were minted with 16 stars, reflecting Tennessee's admission as the 16th state. Realizing that the practice of adding one star per state could quickly clutter the coin's design, U.S. Mint Director Elias Boudinot ordered a design alteration, to feature just 13 stars (for the thirteen original colonies). Therefore, 1797 dimes can be found with either 13 or 16 stars.
Also designed by Robert Scot, the Heraldic Eagle reverse design made its debut in 1798. The obverse continued from the previous series, but the eagle on the reverse was changed from the widely criticized "scrawny" hatchling to a scaled-down version of the Great Seal of the United States. The Draped Bust/Heraldic Eagles series continued through 1807 (although no dimes dated 1799 or 1806 were minted). Both Draped Bust designs were composed of 89.24 percent silver and 10.76 percent copper.
The Draped Bust design was succeeded by the Capped Bust, designed by Mint Assistant Engraver John Reich. Both the obverse and reverse were changed extensively. The new reverse featured a Bald Eagle grasping three arrows (symbolizing strength) and an olive branch (symbolizing peace). Covering the eagle's breast is a U.S. shield with six horizontal lines and 13 vertical stripes. Also on the reverse is the lettering "10C," making it the only dime minted with an explicit indication of its value (subsequent issues are inscribed with the words "ONE DIME").
Capped Bust dimes minted through 1828 are known as the Large type. This is partially because they were struck without a restraining collar, which gave them a broader appearance. In 1828, Chief Engraver William Kneass introduced the close collar method of coining (which automated the process of placing reeds on a coin's edge). In addition to standardizing the diameter of coins, the new method allowed the Mint to produce thicker coins. To maintain a standard weight and alloy, the diameter of most coins was reduced. In particular, the dime was reduced in diameter from 18.8 to 18.5 millimeters. This new Capped Bust dime, which began production in 1828, is known as the Small type.
Christian Gobrecht completed the design of this dime, whose obverse was used with every circulating silver U.S. coin of the period. Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson requested a new coin design, to be reminiscent of the Britannia image found on coinage of the United Kingdom. Chief Engraver William Kneass drew the original sketches, but suffered a stroke and was too ill to finish them or to oversee preparation of the dies. The task then fell to Gobrecht, who was promoted to Second Engraver.
The obverse features an image of Liberty sitting on a rock, wearing a dress and holding a staff with a liberty cap on top. Her right hand is balancing a shield with the inscription "LIBERTY." The reverse featured the inscription "ONE DIME," surrounded by a wreath. All Seated Liberty dimes contain 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper, and are 17.9 millimeters (0.705 inch) in diameter. This size and metal composition would continue until 1965, when silver was permanently removed from circulating dimes.
There were several minor varieties during the Seated Liberty's run. The initial design (1837) had no stars on the obverse and, further, the dates were minted in a Large Date and Small Date variety. These two types can be distinguished by noting the "3" and the "7" in the date. In the Large Date variety, the "3" has a pointed serif at top, and the horizontal element of the "7" is straight. In the Small Date variety, the "3" has a rounded serif, and there is small a knob, or bulge, in the "7" horizontal element. (Source: Seated Liberty Coins Web Site "Seated.org"). Only the Philadelphia Mint made both varieties. The Small Date is slightly rarer. The New Orleans Mint also made the Seated Libery Dime in this year, but only in the Small Date variety.
Thirteen stars (symbolizing the 13 original colonies) were added to the perimeter of the obverse in 1838. These were replaced with the legend "United States of America," which was moved from the reverse in mid-1860. At the same time, the laurel wreath on the reverse was changed to a wreath of corn, wheat, maple, and oak leaves and expanded nearly to the rim of the coin. This reverse design continued through the end of the series in 1891 and was changed only slightly in 1892, when the Barber dime debuted. Another variety is the 1838–40 dime minted with no drapery underneath the left elbow of Liberty.
Arrows at the date in 1853 and 1873 indicated changes made in the coin's mass (from 2.67 grams to 2.49 grams in 1853, then to 2.50 grams in 1873). The first change was made in response to rising silver prices, while the latter alteration was brought about by the Mint Act of 1873 which, in an attempt to make U.S. coinage the currency of the world, added a small amount of mass to the dime, quarter, and half-dollar to bring their weights in line with fractions of the French 5-franc piece.
This produced the greatest rarities in the Seated Dime Series, the 1873 & 1874 Carson City Dimes, with arrows and the unique 1873 Carson City Dime without arrows.
The Barber dime is named for its designer, Charles E. Barber, who was Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint from 1879 to 1917. The design was shared with the quarter and half-dollar of the same period. Extensive internal politics surrounded the awarding of the design job, which had initially been opened to the public. A four-member committee (which included Barber), appointed by then-Mint Director James Kimball, accorded only two of more than 300 submissions an honorable mention. Kimball's successor, Edward O. Leech, decided to dispense with the committees and public design competitions and simply instructed Barber to develop a new design. It has been speculated that this is what Barber had wanted all along.
The Barber dime, as with all previous dimes, featured an image of Liberty on the obverse. She is wearing a Phrygian cap, a laurel wreath with a ribbon, and a headband with the inscription "LIBERTY." This inscription is one of the key elements used in determining the condition of Barber dimes. Liberty's portrait was inspired by two sources—French coins and medals of the period, as well as ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. The obverse also contains the long-used 13 stars (for the 13 colonies) design element. The reverse contained a wreath and inscription almost identical to the one used on the final design of the Seated Liberty dime.
Although most commonly referred to as the Mercury dime, the coin does not depict the Roman messenger god. The obverse figure is a depiction of Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap, a classic symbol of liberty and freedom, with its wings intended to symbolize freedom of thought. Designed by noted sculptor Adolph A. Weinman, the Winged Liberty Head dime is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful U.S. coin designs ever produced. The composition (90 percent silver, 10 percent copper) and diameter (17.9 millimeters) of the Mercury dime was unchanged from the Barber dime.
Weinman (who had studied under Augustus Saint-Gaudens) won a 1915 competition against two other artists for the design job, and is thought to have modeled his version of Liberty on Elsie Kachel Stevens, wife of noted poet Wallace Stevens. The reverse design, a fasces juxtaposed with an olive branch, was intended to symbolize America's readiness for war, combined with its desire for peace.
The 1916-D issue of only 264,000 coins is highly sought after, due largely to the fact that the overwhelming majority of the dimes struck at Denver in 1916 carried the pre-existing Barber design. Thus, the 1916-D is worth up to thousands of dollars if it is in relatively fine condition. Many coins in this series exhibit striking defects, most notably the fact that the line separating the two horizontal bands in the center of the fasces is often missing, in whole or in part; the 1945 issue of the Philadelphia Mint hardly ever appears with this line complete from left to right, and as a result, such coins are worth more than usual for uncirculated specimens. A valuable variety is an overdate, where 1942 was stamped over a 1941 die at the Philadelphia mint. A less obvious example from the same years is from the Denver mint.
Of particular interest to numismatists is the condition of the horizontal bands tying together the bundle on the fasces, on the coin's reverse. On well-struck examples, separation exists within the two sets of bands (known as Full Split Bands). Coins exhibiting this feature are typically valued higher than those without it.
Soon after the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in April 1945, legislation was introduced by Virginia Congressman Ralph H. Daughton that called for the replacement of the Mercury dime with one bearing Roosevelt's image. The dime was chosen to honor Roosevelt partly due to his efforts in the founding of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (later renamed the March of Dimes), which originally raised money for polio research and to aid victims of the disease and their families. The public had been urged to send in a dime to the Foundation, and by Roosevelt's death, the Foundation was already popularly known as the "March of Dimes."
Due to the limited amount of time available to design the new coin, the Roosevelt dime was the first regular-issue U.S. coin designed by a Mint employee in more than 40 years. Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock was chosen, as he had already designed a Mint presidential medal of Roosevelt. Sinnock's first design, submitted on October 12, 1945, was rejected, but a subsequent one was accepted on January 6, 1946.
The dime was released to the public on January 30, 1946, which would have been Roosevelt's 64th birthday. Sinnock's design placed his initials ("JS") at the base of Roosevelt's neck, on the coin's obverse. His reverse design elements of a torch, olive branch, and oak branch symbolized, respectively, liberty, peace, and victory.
Controversy immediately ensued, as strong anti-Communist sentiment in the United States led to the circulation of rumors that the "JS" engraved on the coin was the initials of Joseph Stalin, placed there by a Soviet agent in the mint. The Mint quickly issued a statement refuting this, confirming that the initials were indeed Sinnock's. Perhaps to avoid further controversy, when Sinnock designed the Franklin half dollar two years later, he used his full initials: JRS. (Stalin's middle name was Vissarionovich.)
Another controversy surrounding Sinnock's design involves his image of Roosevelt. Soon after the coin's release, it was claimed that Sinnock borrowed his design of Roosevelt from a bas relief created by African American sculptor Selma Burke, unveiled at the Recorder of Deeds Building in Washington D.C. in September 1945. Sinnock denied this, claiming that he simply utilized his earlier design on the Roosevelt medal.
With the passage of the Coinage Act of 1965, the composition of the dime changed from 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper to a clad "sandwich" of copper between two layers of an alloy of 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel. This composition was selected because it gave similar mass (now 2.27 grams instead of 2.5 grams) and electrical properties (important in vending machines)—and most importantly, because it contained no precious metal.
Soon after the change of composition, silver dimes (as well as silver quarters and half dollars) began to disappear from circulation, as people receiving them in change hoarded them (see Gresham's law). Although now rare in circulation, silver dimes may occasionally turn up in customers' change.
Starting in 1992, the US Mint re-introduced silver coins in its annual collectors sets. This included a 90 percent silver proof Roosevelt Dime, Washington Quarter(s) and Kennedy Half Dollar, a series that continues today.
Since 1946 the Roosevelt dime has been minted every year. Through 1955, all three mints, Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco produced circulating coinage; production at San Francisco ended in 1955, resuming in 1968 with proof coinage only. Through 1964 "D" and "S" mintmarks can be found to the left of the torch. From 1968, the mintmarks have appeared above the date. None was used in 1965–67, and Philadelphia did not show a mintmark until 1980 (in 1982, an error left the "P" off a small number of dimes, which are now valuable). To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the design, the 1996 mint sets included a "W" mintmarked dime made at the West Point Mint. A total of 1,457,000 dimes were issued in the sets.
In 2003, a group of conservative Republicans in Congress proposed removing Roosevelt's image from the dime, and replacing it with that of President Ronald Reagan, although he was still alive. Legislation to this effect was introduced in November 2003 by Indiana Representative Mark Souder. Amongst the more notable opponents of the legislation was Nancy Reagan, who in December 2003 stated that, "When our country chooses to honor a great president such as Franklin Roosevelt by placing his likeness on our currency, it would be wrong to remove him." After President Reagan's death in June 2004, the proposed legislation gained additional support. Souder, however, stated that he was not going to pursue the legislation any further.
Roosevelt Dime, 1965-present (cupro-nickel) (mintmarks temporarily suspended 1965-1967)