The 1916-D Mercury Dime represents one of the most well known key date coins of the 20th century. During a time when the hobby of coin collecting was increasing in popularity, many beginning collectors sought to acquire the coin from circulation to complete their sets. With a mintage of just 264,000 pieces, the likelihood of encountering the issue in loose change was remote but not impossible. Whether or not the search was successful, the thrill of the chase and the appreciation for low mintage issues would provide a shared foundational experience for a generation of collectors.
The design for the Mercury Dime was created during the so-called Renaissance era of United States coinage. During his Presidency, Theodore Roosevelt had started the process of redesigning the various denominations with the goal of elevating America’s circulating coinage to objects of beauty and expressions of national identity. The process began with the redesign of the gold denominations in 1907 and 1908, but would have to wait until 1916 for the silver dime, quarter, and half dollar. These denominations carried similar designs created by Charles E. Barber, which had been introduced in 1892 and were required under statute to be used for a minimum of 25 years.
A competition was declared to find suitable designs for each of the three denominations. Designs created by Adolph A. Weinman would be selected for both the dime and half dollar, with a designed by Hermon A. MacNeil selected for the quarter.
Weinman’s design for the dime featured the head of Liberty facing to the left and wearing a Phrygian cap adorned with wings to symbolize freedom of thought. The inscription LIBERTY appeared widely spaced above, with IN GOD WE TRUST to the left and the date at the truncation of the neck. The reverse design featured Roman fasces, or an axe tied to a bundle of rods, with an olive branch intertwined. The inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and ONE DIME appear surrounding, with E PLURIBUM UNUM to the right of the fasces. Once released, the public immediately associated with obverse design with the Roman god Mercury and referred to the new coins as “Mercury Dimes”.
During the first year of issue in 1916, the Philadelphia Mint struck more than 22 million dimes bearing the new design, however the Denver Mint would strike only 264,000 pieces. This would continue to represent the lowest mintage for the series until its completion in 1945.