The Roosevelt Dime is one of the longest production coins without any design changes in our nation’s history. Released in January 1946, aside from alloy changes from silver to the nickel-clad version of today, the 10 cent piece has remained unchanged as it honors President Franklin D Roosevelt.
The move to change the Dime began almost immediately after President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. Historically, Roosevelt was a towering figure, leading the United States through much of the Great Depression and all-but the last month of World War II. Calls for a coin depicting him began on May 3, 1945 with Louisiana Representative James Hobson Morrison introducing a bill for the coin. Shortly thereafter, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. announced that the Winged Liberty Dime (commonly referred to as a Mercury Dime) would be replaced with one honoring Roosevelt. But as our coinage history shows on many occasions, it was not a straightforward process.
Principally, there were two camps divided on the Roosevelt Dime. In one camp were those who did not feel that such a small coin would do this important historical figure justice. Indeed there were calls from then American Numismatic Association editor Stuart Mosher to have a commemorative silver dollar instead of placing Roosevelt on the 10 cent piece. But those who argued against this, rightfully so, suggested that a commemorative would do little for reminding the general public of Roosevelt’s leadership and accomplishments as President.
The other camp felt that, regardless of his leadership and accomplishments, Roosevelt did not belong on circulating currency. Up to 1945 when this debate was raging, only George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln had been depicted on our nation’s coinage. Some felt that it was simply too soon for Roosevelt to be honored in such a way.
But there was a third and perhaps the most compelling reason that Roosevelt ended up on the Dime. Roosevelt was struck with Guillain–Barré syndrome in 1921, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Because of this, he helped found the March of Dimes, an agencies who go is to help fight crippling diseases. It became obvious that having Roosevelt on the Dime made sense for this reason.
Design of the Roosevelt Dime was left to Chief Engraver John Sinnock. He worked closely with Gilroy Roberts who he himself would become the Chief Engraver for the United States Mint. Designs were submitted in October 1945 to acting Director of the Mint, F. Leland Howard who in turn gave them to the Commission of Fine Arts. The Reverse of the coin went through several iterations, ultimately ending up with the Olive Branch and Oak flanking the Liberty torch in the center. Initially, early designs showed a hand clutching all three but that was later rejected.
As for the Obverse, that too underwent several changes in the approval process. Initial designs had the word LIBERTY placed behind Roosevelt’s head which forced the sculpting of the President’s profile to be smaller. The commission had further issues with the overall look of the profile and at one point was considering opening up a contest to design the Obverse of the Dime. Mint Director, Nellie Ross by this time, rejected the idea as the Mint was under extraordinary pressure to get the new coin ready for the January 1946 March of Dimes campaign. Meanwhile, Sinnock moved the position of the date and the word LIBERTY on the Obverse. This allowed for Roosevelt’s portrait to be considerably larger which was met with approval.
Minting of the new Dime started on January 19, 1946. The first coins were struck and the Philadelphia Mint and were released just 11 days later on January 30, 1946. The plan originally by the Mint was to release the new Dime on February 5, 1946 but it was moved up five days to coincide with what would have been Roosevelt’s 64th birthday. The coin was generally met with high demand for the new design. Many who had been opposed to the redesign were still unhappy about Roosevelt being on the Dime but it mattered little at the end of the day.
For the 73 years that the Roosevelt Dime has been struck, it has undergone fundamentally no changes. Enhancements to the dies in the 1960s and again in the early 2000s brought highlights to Roosevelt’s hair that were not as detailed. In 1980, the P for the Philadelphia Mint was added to the Dime and all mint marks were moved from the Reverse to the Obverse. Of course the biggest change was the Coin Act of 1965 which removed the silver content from the Dime and ushered in our current Nickel-Clad alloy that is used to this day. Design wise however, the Dime has not changed. With production now in its seventh decade, the question becomes how much longer will it remain unchanged.
Currently there is little effort or interest in making a design change so we could easily see the Roosevelt Dime in our pockets for decades to come. There was briefly some discussion of if Ronald Reagan would replace Roosevelt on the Dime at the time of his passing. That however gained little traction, especially given that Nancy Reagan was not in favor of the idea.
From a collecting perspective, because of the copious number of them produced, Roosevelt Dimes are generally easy to find in high grades and at reasonable prices. Of course, the greatest demand are those prior to 1965 which contain silver but even those are affordable. For example, you can pick up a 1954-S for $12 (Affiliate Link) and that is one of the more expense ones. Most are under $10.