Grading Roosevelt Dimes (1946-Date)
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Roosevelt Dimes have been with us for more than 60 years now, yet numismatically speaking they are still recent coins. The series has evolved quite a bit in that time, and the dimes of recent bear only a superficial resemblance to those dated 1946. Not only has their composition changed, but their details and overall relief have been noticeably altered.
It may seem at first that there's nothing to be gained from a grading study of Roosevelt Dimes. Aside from a number of varieties, no rarities have emerged within this series, and all dates are easily affordable in gem (Mint State-65) condition. Like many current series, however, there are subtleties to grading, and certain issues are quite difficult to locate in grades above MS-65.
First, let's take a look at the coin itself, comparing its appearance in 1946 to that of today. John R. Sinnock modeled his designs in as high a relief as was permissible for a coin that had to be struck with a single blow from the press. This resulted in a coin that truly had some sculptural quality to it. Though the master hubs for this type were modified slightly with the introduction of copper-nickel-clad pieces in 1965, the basic character of this coin remained intact through 1980. Beginning in 1981, however, the relief has been modified numerous times, always becoming shallower. In addition, the design elements have been scaled down so that they are further from the coin's border. Both of these actions result from the Mint's desire to reduce stress on the dies and extend their useful life. Effective on that count, this trimming of the coin has also left it somewhat flat and lifeless, a quality shared by all of our current issues.
These changes have had little effect on grading, as the rarity of individual issues in gem condition seems to vary without respect to their relief or detail. Most of the silver issues are fairly plentiful in gem condition, though both the Philadelphia and San Francisco Mint coins were often struck from severely worn dies. The 'S' Mint pieces bore the additional handicap of inadequate striking pressure, leaving them very mushy. During the years 1946-55 the Denver Mint dimes tend to be superior in overall quality, revealing sharper strikes from less worn dies.
It is not until the late 1950s that the Denver Mint coins start to become scarcer in the top grades. While common uncirculated, the majority of the 1956-64 'D' Mint dimes seems to have mediocre luster and more than their share of contact marks. In contrast, Roosevelt dimes from the Philadelphia Mint during that same period usually have outstanding luster and are frequently semi-prooflike, with far fewer marks in most instances.
This situation reversed itself with the clad issues. Though the coins dated 1965-67 are anonymous, having no mintmarks, starting in 1968 the 'D' Mint dimes are clearly superior in quality to their East Coast counterparts. This situation has lasted to the present day, with the Philadelphia dimes of the early 1980s being perhaps the worst ever made there. A discriminating collector will have a tough time assembling a very high grade run of clad coins possessing full strikes, good luster and clean surfaces.
The difficulty in finding top quality clad coins has been aggravated by the relative scarcity of these coins in uncirculated condition. The speculative roll and bag market, so much a factor in the availability of silver issues, collapsed toward the end of 1964. After that time, collectors were far less likely to save quantities of current coins. This has left the Mint's Uncirculated Sets as the primary source for collectable coins. With no such sets being issued in 1982-83, these dates have gained a reputation for rarity, but only gems are truly scarce.
Though it ceased coining in 1955 for a period of ten years, beginning in 1965 the San Francisco Mint occasionally produced dimes for circulation bearing no mintmarks. Its only identifiable products after 1955 have been the Special Mint Set coins of 1965-67 and the proof coins issued since 1968. Since these are gems as made and are sold directly to collectors there is no challenge to finding these pieces in top condition. Ultra Cameo proofs of the Philadelphia Mint 1950-64 and the San Francisco Mint 1965-75 form a minority of these gems, but the Ultra Cameo designation becomes relatively common for proofs 1976 and later.
From One to Seventy originally ran in The Numismatist, official publication of the American Numismatic Association (www.money.org)
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