I cherish my Mercury dime collection. It was a Sunday ritual, Grandma would rummage though her coin purse to find goodies to give me and my sister. It’s a vivid memory of my early childhood in the 1960’s– driving to church on Sunday mornings with my family. My grandparents lived close to us, Dad would always swing by and pick them up, and we carpooled to Calgary Baptist Church. It was the job of “Big M” as I was nicknamed, to sit in the backseat, wedged snugly between my little sister and Grandma.
Grandma always carried Wrigley’s peppermint chewing gum in her purse, though once in a while we had to settle for a cherry-flavored cough drop. For a bonus treat, Grandma gave us grandkids two coins, one to go in the offering plate and one to go in the piggybank.
Most times Grandma gave me an old dime featuring a lady with a wild-looking hairdo, or at least that’s how it appeared to me, a 4-year-old with little understanding of the value of money, much less an understanding of rare coins. Grandma explained to me the coin was a Mercury dime, and not just an ordinary Mercury dime, but a special, rare date Mercury dime that I should save forever, or at least until I was an adult. It was a 1916 Denver mint Mercury dime.
Grandma was a coin collector, a numismatist of sorts, and I credit her with encouraging my first interest in coins. Even though it didn’t mean much to me at the time, this was my first lesson about collecting coins, beginning with the Mercury dimes Grandmother was giving me every Sunday.
Over the years, I became a numismatist in my own right. I learned everything about Mercury dimes. I memrized the mintages of the rarer dates so I could search for them in pocket change and at coin shops. I learned the face on the dime’s obverse wasn’t that of Mercury, the male Roman messenger god, as the public believed ever since the dime was first released in 1916. The coin’s designer, A.A. Weinman, intended to portray a rendition of Lady Liberty crowned by a winged cap, to symbolize liberty of thought. However, the “Mercury dime” moniker stuck, and is still by far the most common name used for this beautiful ten cent coin. The correct name should be Winged Liberty Head dime. I was able to recognize the person on the dime as a woman, not a man.
One significant fact about Mercury dimes is that back when Grandma was coin collecting, not much attention was focused on the degree of separation and roundness seen in the horizontal bands holding together the bundle of rods on the reverse side. Full Split Bands (abbreviated “FSB”), resulted from the first. If a Mercury dime displays fully separated and rounded bands, it can generate prices above less distinctive specimens of the same date, mintmark, and grade. For the last 10-15 years, most Mercury dime value guides have carried an FSB category for mint state grades.
I’ve managed to keep a handful of Grandma’s Mercury dimes in my collection. I have all the dates and mintmarks including the rare 1916-D. But the sentimental value to me is priceless. These coins were a heartfelt gift from Grandma, who was very close and very dear to me, and who departed from this world long ago. She inspired in “Big M” a lifelong enchantment with a wonderful hobby.