The Definitive Guide to Key Date, Low Mintage and Rare U.S. Silver Dimes

This article explores the various types of silver dimes minted in the U.S. between 1796 and 1964.  We will provide you with a bit of history and description of the coins, as well as identify examples that are valuable due to the mintage and/or condition of the coins.  We hope that this guide will provide you with all of the information that you need to successfully buy, sell and collect silver dimes.

 U. S. silver dimes dated 1964 or earlier are composed of 90% silver. These coins typically trade at multiple times the coin’s face value, depending on the current price of silver in the commodities market.

Some 90% silver dimes are worth far more than the precious metal content of the coin due to the rarity, mintage, and/or condition of the coin. We’ll discuss the various types of silver dimes in further detail below.

Draped Bust Dime (1796-1807)  

     An image of a Draped Bust Dime                  

  1. History/Background. 1796 was the first year that the U.S. minted silver dimes for general circulation. Dimes minted from 1796 to 1809 are commonly referred to as Draped Bust dimes.  They were designed by Chief Engraver Robert Scot and were made very small and thin so that their intrinsic silver value did not exceed their face value.  An interesting fact regarding the Draped Bust dime is that it is the only dime that doesn’t display the face value or denomination of the coin.  Either thirteen or sixteen stars can be found on the front of the coin, representing the number of states in the union as of the mintage date.
  2. Description.   The Draped Bust dime depicts the image of Lady Liberty on the front and a Bald Eagle surrounded by palm and olive branches on the reverse.
  3. Specifications.  weight 2.7 grams; diameter 18.8 mm; .8924 silver, .1076 copper
  4. Key Date Coins (mintage)
  • 1796 (22,135)
  • 1797 (25,261) – 16 and 13 star varieties
  • 1804 (8,265)
  • 1798 8 over 7 – 13 stars on reverse

While the above coins are the rarest and highest valued, all Draped Bust dimes minted in 1807 or earlier are considered valuable in any condition, and have a minimum value of $100 or more.

Capped Bust Dime (1809 – 1837)

An image of a Capped Bust Dime

  1.  History/Background. The Capped Bust dime was minted from 1809 – 1837.  The coin was designed by Mint Assistant Engraver John Reich.  An interesting fact about this coin is that the Capped Bust dime is the only dime that has the value displayed in cents as opposed to the denomination of the coin.  Two versions of the Capped Bust dime exist, including dimes minted through 1828, which are referred to as the large type, and those minted from 1829 – 1837, which are referred to as the small type.  The invention of a “collar” by William Kneass in 1828 allowed for the mintage of thicker coins and a reeded edge on the coins.
  2. Description.  The Capped Bust features a left facing profile of Lady Liberty on the front and an image of a Bald Eagle grasping arrows and an olive branch on the reverse.
  3. Specifications:  weight 2.7 grams; diameter 18.8 mm; .8924 silver, .1076 copper
  4. Key Date Coins (mintage)
  • 1809 (51,065)
  • 1822 (100,000)

The value of Capped Bust dimes is substantially less than Draped Bust dimes, with the exception of the key date coins noted above.  Values typically begin in the range of $15, but can escalate into the hundreds of dollars in high end condition (especially those minted in 1830 and earlier).

Seated Liberty Dime (1837-1891)

An image of a Seated Liberty Dime

  1. History/Background.  The Seated Liberty design followed the Capped Bust and remained in effect for a period of 52 years, which is far greater than either of the previous dime designs.   The coin was designed by Christian Gobrecht, the namesake of the highly rare and valuable Gobrecht silver dollars. Arrows can be found next to the date for coins produced in 1853 and 1873.  This variation was added to signify a change in the mass of the coins, which was done in part due to rising silver prices.
  2. Description.  The front of the coin displays an image of Lady Liberty sitting on a rock and holding a staff.  A shield with the words “Liberty” inscribed on it leans against the rock.  The reverse includes an image of the words “ONE DIME” surrounded by a wreath.
  3. Specifications: weight 2.67 grams; diameter 17.9mm; .900 silver, .100 copper
  4. Key Date Coins (mintage)
  • 1838-o (406,034)
  • 1844 (72,500)
  • 1846 (31,300)
  • 1853, no arrows (95,000)
  • 1856-s (70,000)
  • 1858-s (60,000)
  • 1859-s (60,000)
  • 1860-o (40,000)
  • 1863 (14,000)
  • 1864 (11,000)
  • 1865 (10,000)
  • 1866 (8,000)
  • 1867 (6,000)
  • 1870-s (50,000)
  • 1871-cc (20,100)
  • 1872-cc (35,480)
  • 1873-cc (18,791)
  • 1874-cc (10,817)
  • 1878-cc (200,000)
  • 1879 (14,000)
  • 1880 (36,000)
  • 1881 (24,000)
  • 1885-s (43,690)

Mintages less than 100,000 are typically more valuable than those over the six figure mark.  While all Seated Liberty dimes are fairly valuable in high end condition, low end condition common date Seated Liberty silver dimes have a beginning value in the range of $6.

Barber Dime (1892-1916)

An image of a Barber dime

  1. History/BackgroundBy the late 1880s, calls for a replacement of the Seated Liberty design which had been in use for a little over 50 years, spurred Mint Director Edward O. Leech to order a competition to design a new coin. Unfortunately only the winner would receive a cash prize and invited artists refused to participate. When the public failed to deliver a suitable design, the task fell upon the U.S. Mint’s Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber. Due to mixed reviews about the design, the Barber dime’s run was relatively short lived, leading to a number of rare dates and mints.
  2. Description. The front of the coin depicts an image of Lady Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap, a laurel wreath, and a headband with the word “Liberty” inscribed on it.  The reverse of the coin contains a wreath and image that is nearly identical to the design used for the Seated Liberty dime.
  3. Specifications: weight 2.50 grams; diameter 17.9mm; .900 silver, .100 copper
  4. Key Date Coins (mintage)
  • 1892-s (990,710)
  • 1893, 3/2 variety coin (unknown mintage)
  • 1893-o (1,760,000)
  • 1894-o (720,000)
  • 1894-s (24)
  • 1895 (690,000)
  • 1895-o (440,000)
  • 1895-s (1,120,000)
  • 1896-o (610,000)
  • 1896-s (575,056)
  • 1897-o (666,000)
  • 1901-s (593,022)
  • 1903-s (613,300)
  • 1904-s (800,000)
  • 1913-s (510,000)

Common date Barber dimes in circulated condition typically sell at melt value. However, uncirculated Barber dimes from any year are fairly valuable coins. The key date coins listed above, even in poor condition, begin in the double digits. Some key date Barber dimes can be worth upwards of $1,000 or more, if in uncirculated condition. Of particular note is the 1894-s Barber dime, of which only 24 specimens were minted, and an estimated 9 currently exist.

Mercury Dime (1916-1945)

An image of a Mercury dime

  1. History/Background.  The Winged Liberty Head dime, which is commonly referred to as the Mercury dime, is one of the most recognized and popular U.S. coins in history.  The coin was designed by noted sculptor Adolph A. Weinman, whose design was selected over two other artists in a competition held in 1915.  The reverse side of the coin was intended to depict a fasces (a bundle of wooden rods bound at the top, middle, and bottom with leather bands). However, most Mercury dimes exhibit a striking defect on the middle band of the fasces, causing it to appear as one thick band instead of the intended two bands.   Coins that have a clearly defined double middle band are identified as “full split bands”, or “FSB”.
  2. Description.  The Mercury dime depicts an image of the mythological goddess Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap and adorned with wings.  The reverse of the coin bears the image of a fasces with an axe head to the left of the bundle and olive branches on either side of the fasces.
  3. Specifications: weight 2.50 grams; diameter 17.9mm; .900 silver, .100 copper
  4. Key Date Coins (mintage)
  • 1916-d (264,000)
  • 1921 (1,230,000)
  • 1921-d (1,080,000)
  • 1942, 2 over 1 variety coin (unknown mintage)
  • 1942-d, 2 over 1 variety coin (unknown mintage)

Common date, circulated condition Mercury dimes are typically bought and sold strictly for their silver content.  There are three key date Mercury dimes and two variety coins. Generally speaking, uncirculated Mercury dimes from the teens and twenties are fairly valuable. The 1916-d Mercury dime is one of the most popular U.S. coins in history.  Poor condition examples of this coin begin at $300. The 1926-S Mercury dime, while not technically a key date coin, can reach values in the hundreds of dollars in high end condition.

Roosevelt Dime (1946-1964)

An image of a Roosevelt dime

  1. History/Background.  Minted shortly after President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed away in 1945, the Roosevelt dime was intended to commemorate his achievements, most notably his efforts in starting the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis which would later be renamed the March of Dimes.  Because of time limitations, the dime was designed by a U.S. Mint employee for the first time in 40 years; that being John R. Sinnock, the Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint.  His design was approved on January 6, 1946, and the coin was released to the public a short 24 days later.
  2. Description. The design of the coin is simpler than most of its predecessors, with the front of the coin bearing a side profile of FDR and the reverse images of an olive branch, torch and oak branch.
  3. Specifications: weight 2.50 grams; diameter 17.9mm; .900 silver, .100 copper
  4. Lowest Mintage Coins (mintage)
    1. 1949-s (13,510,000)
    2. 1950-s (20,440,000)
    3. 1951 (57,500)

Because most Roosevelt dimes were minted in high quantities, they have very little numismatic or collectible value.  The lowest mintage runs, which are noted above, only sell at a premium in high end uncirculated condition, and even then these coins only reach values in the double digit figures.  Most of these coins sell strictly for their silver value, and are commonly referred to as junk silver coins.

Conclusion

Opportunities abound for coin collectors and individuals who are interested in buying and selling silver dimes, but before doing so, it’s important to become familiar with key date, low mintage and rare silver dimes.  While some silver dimes, such as Draped Bust silver dimes, are valuable in nearly any condition, many other coins will only fetch top dollar when in higher end condition.

If you have any questions, or are just curious whether you might have any key date or rare silver dimes in your coin collection, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 404-236-9744.  We also recommend that you visit our website at https://atlantagoldandcoin.com for additional educational resources.  Lastly, be on the lookout for definitive coin guides on other type coins produced by the U.S. Mint, which will be published in the near future.