Dancing with Dates, Part Three

Posted on 12/12/2008

The new dime provided interesting challenges to the US Mint’s engraving staff in 1916.

This month’s study of date styles continues with a look at the dime coinage. The new type of dime in 1916 provided some interesting challenges to the Mint’s engraving staff. Adolph A. Weinman’s model featured a date having distinct serifs to the top of each 1 and broad numerals 9 and 6 with disconnected loops. This same style was retained through 1919 without incident, though the placement of the date so close to the coin’s rim caused the final two numerals to be less than fully struck on many coins. This problem was further aggravated beginning 1920. Just as with the nickel, the greater width of the 2 pushed the final numeral against the rim, and many 1920 dimes have a barely discernible 0.

Almost in reaction to this problem, the scarce 1921 dimes have uniquely styled dates, just as in the nickels. On 1921 dimes both 1’s are flared at both top and bottom. This is a quite useful tool in detecting alterations from common 1941 dimes, which have straight-sided 1’s.

For the dimes of 1926-27, the engraver provided a style of 9 in which the open loop of earlier years is nearly closed. Beginning in 1928, and lasting through the end of the series, this loop is closed altogether, and the serif on the 1 is more distinct. These changes coincided with the ascension to the chief engraver’s post of John R. Sinnock. The master dies for 1926 would have been the first prepared by him since assuming his position the previous year, and this style of 9 is seen his own coin designs, as well. The closed 9 is another useful tool in detecting date alterations from 1941 to 1921.

The long-tailed 9 used on the Mercury dime since its inception should have dictated that all numerals 3, 5 and 7 have similarly long tails, but, as with the cent, the Mint failed to follow this clear pattern. In nearly all instances, these numerals are short and squat, though the numerals 6 and 9 did conform to the proper style whenever they appeared.

The date styles employed for Mercury dimes throughout the 1930s and ‘40s were mostly consistent and merit no particular attention. The sole exception is the date used in 1943, as this finally had a long-tailed 3 that conformed to the artist’s original style. In a setback, however, the engraving staff reverted to a squat 5 two years later.

The Roosevelt Dime debuted in 1946, and this series is remarkable for the near perfect consistency of its date style. What changes are evident are quite subtle. Numeral 1 began with a small serif at upper left and a slightly flared bottom that suggested very small serifs at both sides of its base. These features were so ill-defined that they were sometimes diminished or lost altogether to polishing of the dies. On fresh dies this 1 retained its upper serif through 1972, but it gradually disappeared on the coins of 1973-76. By 1977 it was gone completely, only to reappear in 1981 and became even more prominent from 1985 onward. The flared bottom of the first 1 remained through 1959, when it was replaced with a straight-sided numeral. The Mint was quite good at matching the first numeral 1 to the second 1 for years ending in a 1. The only exception I can find is 1971, where the second 1 has a more prominent serif than the first.

The numeral 9 began in 1946 having a loop that was slightly narrowed, its inside more ovoid than round. This remained through 1980, but from 1981 through 1999 it was almost perfectly round. From 1950 onward the Roosevelt Dime has featured numerals 3 and 5 that were consistent with the style set by sculptor John R. Sinnock in 1946. That is to say, they have had long, sweeping tails that complemented numeral 9. Since 1973, however, the tail of numeral 3 has hung lower and has not lined up with the other two points of this figure. Similarly, since 1985 the tail of the 5 has been droopy, not lining up with the upright of the 5.

Numeral 4 in the dates of Roosevelt Dimes began as a broad figure in 1946 and remained so through 1974. It narrowed a bit in 1984 and even more so in 1994. Numeral 2 has been fairly consistent throughout the series, though it appears a bit more angular in 1972 alone. Numeral 6 began as a simple inversion of the 9, matching it in style, but in 1986 and 1996 the 6 had a large, narrow loop and a shorter tail than the accompanying 9’s. The latter year displays a reversion to the numeral 6 of 1946! Numeral 8 remained consistently broad through 1981, with matching upper and lower loops. Since 1982, however, the upper loop has been smaller and the numeral narrower overall. The 7 has been quite consistent in style, but its tail was a bit shorter than normal in 1967.

It seems from an examination of United States coins that the Mint’s sculptor/engravers rarely study earlier issues to determine the correct style of date. Such decisions seem to be up to the individual, and changes become evident as there is turnover in the Engraving Department staff. All this, of course, makes for a more interesting coin hobby.

David W. Lange's column, "USA Coin Album," appears monthly in The Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association.

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