[The following excerpt is published courtesy of DLRC Press and its author, David W. Lange. This information was originally published in 2005 in The Complete Guide to Mercury Dimes]
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Whenever new coin designs are anticipated there is always a certain eagerness to get the coins into circulation quickly. Persons who are not skilled in the techniques of preparing coin models and hubs are rarely sympathetic to the seemingly endless minor adjustments called for by the Mint’s Engraving Department. Oftentimes it’s the coin’s designer who fails to comprehend the technical delays in seeing his vision realized. In other instances the numismatic community has played a role in hastening the preparation of working dies for coinage; but particularly subject to such fits of impatience are politicians, who may see the introduction of new coin designs and denominations as being complimentary to their administrative prowess. This sense of urgency usually results in the coining of an issue which is later viewed as being somehow flawed or incomplete. Such was the case with the Winged Head Liberty, or “Mercury,” Dime.
The issuance of new dimes, quarter dollars and half dollars was originally announced by Mint Director R. W. Woolley for July 1, 1916. When this date came and went with all three coins still undergoing die trials, a groan of disappointment could be heard within the numismatic community. Director Woolley, his service with the Mint about to come to an end, was even more frustrated. The need by banks and businesses for additional dimes and quarters was urgent by that time, and the Mint had no choice but to prepare dies of the old Liberty Head type dated 1916. As the old style silver pieces fell from the presses, Woolley must have wondered whether any of the new coins would appear before year’s end.
By late summer it was determined that the dime models had progressed to a point where suitable working dies could be prepared. Coinage began in September, and the first examples were released to circulation on October 30, 1916. While viewed by most numismatists and the general public as entirely satisfactory, there were those who detected some undesirable features in the Mercury Dimes of 1916. On January 17, Woolley’s successor as Mint Director, F. J. H. von Engelken, wrote to Superintendent Adam M. Joyce of the Philadelphia Mint. In his letter he noted that the new quarters and dimes had been criticized for “having a fin and being coined with a dirty die.”1 He further added that his own examination with a glass had confirmed these accusations.
In numismatic terminology, von Engelken’s “fin” was a wire rim, a protruding flange around the coin’s border. This was probably caused by one or both dies being misaligned within the collar and was not directly attributable to a flaw in the design. The “dirty die” to which he alluded is characteristic of the dimes, quarters and halves of 1916 and early 1917. In vogue at that time was a style of modeling which gave coins and medals a rough hewn or textured field. It was believed by sculptors (and correctly so) that such a treatment of the fields produced a more diffused luster which permitted the viewer to study the design in greater detail. The blinding luster typical of earlier United States silver coins was specifically disliked by Adolph Weinman, who made his view known to the Mint’s Chief Engraver, Charles E. Barber.
Despite the obvious aesthetic advantages enjoyed by coins having sculpted or textured fields, von Engelken’s letter and the engraving staff’s resistance to new ideas conspired to bring about some modifications to all three of the new coins. Early in 1917, revised master hubs were prepared which differed slightly from those of the original issue. As a number of working dies bearing the date 1917 had already been prepared during the closing months of the previous year, dimes dated 1917 reflected the use of working dies taken from either old or new hubs. This was true for all three mints, albeit in differing ratios.
In addition to the aforementioned textured fields, the original Mercury Dime master hubs possess several distinctive features. Notable among these is the overall higher relief of the obverse. This would become more obvious as the coins wore down, following a wear pattern somewhat unlike that of later dates, but it’s evident in Mint State coins as well. The most distinctive feature of the old obverse hub is the very high relief of the curls framing Liberty’s face. This is particularly true of the one curl which projects forward and is directly across from Liberty’s nose. It’s quite noticeably bolder on the old hub, which the author has elected to call the Type of 1916. On the new hub introduced in 1917, described hereafter as the Type of 1917, this curl is shallow even on well struck coins. Also bolder on the Type of 1916 is the motto IN GOD WE TRUST.
The leading edge of Liberty’s wing is likewise in higher relief on the Type of 1916 than on the Type of 1917, although the remainder of the wing is rather shallow and indistinct. With the new hub, the feathers are more deeply incised and thus stand out distinctively against Liberty’s head, particularly along their trailing edges. The textured fields of the Type of 1916 are absent in the Type of 1917. Also missing are the slightly broader borders which characterized the old hubs. In fact, these last two features are the only distinctions between the old and new reverse hubs, all other details being the same.
The obverse Type of 1917 was used only in that year. A noticeably upgraded version of it appeared beginning with the coinage of 1918, and this is called the Type of 1918. It was used thereafter through the remainder of the series. Thus, Mercury Dimes dated 1918 and later are a composite product of the obverse Type of 1918 and the reverse Type of 1917.
The new obverse hub of 1918 varies from the one introduced in 1917 only in the details of Liberty’s hair and in the contour and detailing of her wing. The arrangement of her curls is ever so slightly different from one hub to the other, as is evident in the photographs. Liberty’s wing follows the contour of her head on both the Type of 1916 and the Type of 1917, curving away from the viewer and toward the coin’s field. On the Type of 1918, the wing projects straight backward and remains within a single plane. This may be a bit difficult to see in a two-dimensional photograph, but it’s plainly evident when examining actual coins. Further distinguishing the Type of 1918, the tip of each long feather is clearly highlighted by a raised outline not seen on the earlier hubs. As a final improvement, the gaps between each of the smaller feathers have been increased to make the feathers more easily distinguished.
These subtypes within the Mercury Dime obverse hub were first published by Frank S. Robinson in 1970.2 They were detailed more fully in the first edition of this book, yet the hobby has as yet taken little notice of them. With proper promotion, a market could be created for the two subtypes and six date/mint combinations of 1917, but for now collectors may quietly cherrypick them at no premium whatsoever.
No further changes were made to the master hubs for the Mercury Dime. The only noteworthy variations after 1918 are found within the size, shape and placement of mintmarks. Being that they were applied with hand held puncheons, mintmarks naturally varied in their exact location from one working die to another. Therefore, such positional irregularities are not considered significant unless severe. A few examples of wildly placed mintmarks may be found within the date and mint analysis in Chapter 6.
This leaves the size and shape of mintmarks as the only other variables which can be placed under the heading of design modifications. When Mercury Dimes were first coined in 1916, the ‘D’ and ‘S’ mintmark puncheons employed for them were already in existence, having been created for the Lincoln Cent some years earlier. New puncheons were introduced for both mints in 1917, and their debut coincides with the introduction of the Type of 1917 hubs and dies.
No new mintmark styles appeared on the dime until 1928, when a tall and slightly bloated ‘S’ puncheon was used for a portion of the cents, dimes, quarter dollars and half dollars coined with that date. This was an anomalous issue, and the puncheon did not reappear after 1928. The usual Small S of 1917 was also used in 1928 and for some years thereafter through 1941. A new, Large D puncheon debuted on the cents of 1933, and it was used interchangeably with the Small D mintmark for the dimes of 1934. It’s likely that the Small D dies were leftover from 1931 or earlier, as these would have been put in storage until needed. From 1935 onward this new puncheon was used for all Denver Mint dimes through the end of the series in 1945.
The next appearance of a new mintmark style was on the San Francisco Mint dimes of 1941. Most dimes of this date and mint bear the Small S used since 1917, however, two reverse dies have been identified with a new and larger mintmark. It has been dubbed the “Trumpet Tail S,” due to its large, bell shaped lower serif. This style was used again in 1942, alongside another new puncheon known simply as the “Large S.” It is quite symmetrical and attractive, with prominent serifs similar to those of the unique Large S of 1928. This mintmark style comprises a majority of the ‘S’ Mint dimes coined during 1943. Most 1944-S dimes likewise feature the Large S, but a minority of them displays a new mintmark style known as the “Knob Tail S.” This is the most commonly seen mintmark punch for 1945-S dimes, which feature no fewer than three styles altogether. More common for 1945-S than the Trumpet Tail S, but more rare than the Knob Tail S, is the “Micro S.” The smallest mintmark used for the Mercury Dime series, it was created in 1907 for the Philippine Islands coinage struck at San Francisco until 1920, and it was resurrected only this once in 1945.