From the earliest days of the American Republic, the Founding Fathers envisioned a decimal-based coinage system. This stood—intentionally—in sharp contrast to traditional European coinage systems, which rarely dealt in powers of ten. Though conceived of as early as 1783, the “disme” (derived from French, probably pronounced “deem”) was born in the original Coinage Act of 1792 which established the first US Mint.
A tiny quantity of pattern dismes was struck in 1792, but the denomination did not formally begin production until 1796. The introductory design was the Draped Bust motif, similar in appearance to the Draped Bust Half Dime, Quarter, Half Dollar and Dollar. The denomination was redesigned again in 1809 with the introduction of the Capped Bust design.
Of all the Seated Liberty Dime designs, the most enduring was the Seated Liberty motif. The obverse design saw no substantial changes from 1837 through 1891, but the weights were adjusted slightly downward in 1853 and upward in 1873. The reverse saw a slightly change in the appearance of the wreath, but otherwise it remaining consistent for decades.
In 1892, the Dime, Quarter, and Half Dollar were all redesigned, all with Charles Barber’s Liberty Head motif. The most famous of the Barber dimes is the 1894-S, of which only 24 examples were made. A number of stories as to the origin of these coins have circulated, only adding to their mystery and value. Several of these have recently traded in excess of $1 million. Another rare coin in the series is the 1895-O, though it is much more attainable for collectors than the famous 1894-S.
The beautiful Mercury Dime followed in 1916; its design was largely inspired by the events of World War I. Its reverse features both an axe and an olive branch, symbolizing America’s strength and desire for peace. The Mercury Dime was then followed by the instantly-recognizable Roosevelt Dime in 1946 shortly after FDR’s death. This latter design survived the transition from a 90% silver composition to a copper and nickel “clad” alloy after 1964 and is still made today.
Perhaps more than any other denomination, the U.S. Dime has become a part of popular culture. “Brother, can you spare a dime?” lamented Rudy Vallee and Bing Crosby in the darkest days of the Great Depression. Franklin Roosevelt’s polio charity became known as the March of Dimes. Dime stores became an iconic feature of American consumerism in the 20th century. From the earliest days, the humble dime has consistently weaved its way into the fabric of American history.