Guest Author - Raymond F. Hanisco
As the dawn woke the sleeping giant, dragging the United States out of its period of isolationism into World War I, and through the waning of World War II, the Mercury Dime remained a steadfast symbol of power and freedom idealized within America. It was the modern version of the colonial flag that carried the motto, “Don’t Tread on Me.” That is why, combined with its strong symbolism and inherent beauty, the Mercury Dime is one of the most treasured and heavily collected United States coins.
Towards the end of 1915, the U.S. Treasury announced another coin design competition. It felt the country was weary of the Barber regime within the U.S. Mint, and wanted a new artistic representation expressed on U.S. coinage. After all, this was the “Golden Age” of coins. New designs were being sought for the dime, quarter, and half dollar. On March 16, 1916, Mint Director Robert W. Woolley announced the winners. Adolph A. Weinman won for his designs of the dime and half dollar, and Hermon A. Mac Neil was awarded the quarter.
Adolph Weinman was one of America’s most prominent sculptors. He worked with, and was a student of Augustus St. Gaudens. His works can be seen in California, Houston, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. As a matter of fact, some of Weinman’s works adorn many of the United States’ most prominent building, including the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as, National Monuments, but if one was to ask a numismatist, the Mercury Dime would be consider one of his finest works.
Contrary to what many believe, the design on the obverse of Weinman’s dime is not Mercury or Hermes, but it is a depiction of Miss Liberty wearing a winged cap to represent freedom of thought. So, the proper name for this coin is the Winged Cap Dime. The model for Liberty was Elsie Stevens, the wife of the famed American Poet and Pulitzer Prize winner Wallace Stevens. It seems Elsie Stevens agreed to pose for a Weinman sculpture in 1913, while she and her husband were renters in one of the Apartment Houses in New York that was owned by the sculptor.
With the United States impending entry into World War I, the main device on the reverse of the Winged Cap Dime was a warning to the enemies of Liberty and Freedom. It is an ancient Roman ‘fasces’ wrapped in what appears to be an olive branch. It has been call a representation of the iron fist in a velvet glove. The olive branch is a universal symbol of peace. Within the branches is the ‘fasces.’ The ‘fasces’ is an executioner’s axe surrounded by staffs and bound together with leather thongs. According to ancient Roman law, this is the symbol of power meaning one can be dispatched mercifully with the blade, or beaten without mercy by the staff.
The symbolism of the freedom of thought, peace and the power to defend them are characteristic of the American mindset. It is no wonder that this dime became an icon to the American public that carried them through World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II.
The Winged Cap or Mercury Dime was produced from 1916 to 1945. It was manufactured at the Philadelphia (no mintmark), San Francisco (S), and Denver (D) mints. There are no major varieties within the series however, there are a few changes in mintmark sizes in 1917, 1928, 1934, 1941, 1942 and 1945; mintmark position; and a couple of overdates in the 1942/1 and the 1942/1-D. ‘Full Bands’ is a special designation regarding the Mercury Dime, which sells at a premium price. The term ‘Full Bands’ refers to the thongs on the ‘fasces.’ Because the details of the bands are quite delicate, they tend not to show the full delineation of the wrap. When the complete details are visible, it is called ‘Full Bands,’ and seems to be more desirable to the Coin Collector.
The Winged Cap or Mercury Dime holds a special place in the history of United States coinage. It saw America through two World Wars, and reminded its citizens there is a price to be paid for freedom and peace, and the necessity to defend them. It is no wonder so many Coin Collectors proudly add them to their collections.