This spectacular little silver coin, which is widely known as the “Mercury” dime, is more precisely the Winged Liberty Head ten-cent silver piece. Its obverse does not actually depict the Roman messenger god Mercury, but instead is a depiction of the mythological goddess Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap, a classic Western symbol of liberty and freedom. The design’s added wings were intended to symbolize freedom of thought. Designed by noted sculptor Adolph A. Weinman, the Winged Liberty Head dime is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful U.S. silver coin designs ever produced.
To select the design for a new silver dime, a competition was held in 1915 by the U.S. Mint, which at the time was compelled to use artists and sculptors outside the confines of government employment. Weinman, a noted sculptor of the day who had studied under Augustus Saint-Gaudens, beat out two other artists for the design commission. Though it seems that Weinman’s great legacy is derived from his designs for U.S. silver coinage, he was, and remains, well respected for his works of sculpture. So impressive were Weinman’s designs for the dime, that he was also awarded the commission for designing the famed Walking Liberty Half Dollar, which was first minted in 1916, the same year as the Mercury Dime.
One unique design element of the Mercury Dime is on the coin’s reverse, having a fasces (a bundle of wooden rods bundled with an ax) juxtaposed with an olive branch, symbolizing America’s readiness for war combined with its desire for peace. The fasces was a widely accepted symbol of power and authority in ancient Rome and in American iconography.
Collecting Winged Liberty Head Dimes
Market prices for investment high-grade Mercury Dimes remains strong due to the series’ popularity and general accessibility. Issued from 1916 to 1945, many examples with superior eye appeal have survived. Obviously, NGC or PCGS-certified coins are an absolute must for a premier collection. As far as the key date in the series, the 1916-D had a mintage of just 264,000 coins and is therefore highly sought-after. (The low mintage was primarily due to the U.S. Mint striking the overwhelming majority of dimes that year at the Denver Mint in the pre-existing Barber design. On its own, or as part of the series, the 1916-D commands thousands of dollars in better condition. It is interesting to note that a number of common 1916 Philadelphia mint dimes have been altered with a “D” mintmark, so having the NGC or PCGS certification and guarantee is critical for collectors and investors.