Tribute to Roosevelt
By Tom LaMarre
It was a
case of bad news, good news. The bad news was
that after a run dating back to 1916, the
Mercury dime, an artistic masterpiece, had
reached the end of the line. The good news was
that its replacement, the Roosevelt dime,
generated intense interest and helped boost the
coin collecting hobby.
President Franklin Roosevelt's death in April
1945 stunned the nation. A coinage tribute
seemed inevitable, and so did the choice of
denomination, thanks to Roosevelt's association
with the March of Dimes.
The Roosevelt dime was proposed on May 4, 1945.
Exactly two weeks later, the Treasury Department
announced a pair of Roosevelt tributes - the
Roosevelt dime and a bond issue with FDR's
The Philadelphia Mint began striking Roosevelt
dimes on Jan. 18, 1946, turning out 2 million
the first day. Drawings of the obverse and
reverse designs appeared in the Jan. 23, 1946,
issue of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Some
newspapers referred to it as the "FDR Memorial
Officially, the government credited the designs
to Mint engraver John R. Sinnock. However, the
obverse portrait may have been copied from a
plaque by African-American sculptor Selma Burke.
The reverse of the dime depicts the Torch of
Originally scheduled to go into circulation on
Feb. 5, 1946, the new dime arrived early. It was
released on Jan. 30, just in time for the annual
March of Dimes. In Pittsfield, Mass., the
Agricultural National Bank and the Pittsfield
Third National Bank received the town's first
shipment of Roosevelt dimes from the Federal
Strong demand was reported. However, coin dealer
and columnist Charles French predicted that 1946
Roosevelt dimes would not be rare, because they
were issued early in the year and all three
mints had almost a full year to strike them.
Other newspapers noted that although the dime
was commemorative in nature, the design would be
around at least 25 years, the minimum statutory
life of a coin design.
There were some striking parallels between the
Lincoln cent and the Roosevelt dime. As a result
of inflation, the Roosevelt dime had about as
much purchasing power as the Lincoln cent did
when it made its debut in 1909. Also, as had
been the case with the Lincoln cent, controversy
raged about the designer's initials on the dime.
However, it did not come as quickly or in the
same intensity, and the outcome was different.
The design had been around more than two years
when an item in the July 10, 1948, issue of the
Traverse City (Mich.) Record-Eagle asked why
Joseph Stalin's initials appeared on every
Roosevelt dime. One claim was that Roosevelt and
Stalin had struck some kind of secret deal at
the Yalta Conference to place Stalin's initials
on a U.S. coin. The rumor was so widespread that
in September 1948 the government issued a denial
that the initials were those of the Russian
Unlike the Lincoln cent, the dime retained the
designer's initials as they were. Soon people
forgot the whole episode.
With its large annual mintages, the Roosevelt
dime was ideal for hobbyists on a tight budget.
In 1949, the Maryville Daily Forum recommended
collecting Roosevelt dimes.
It said "special boards" with indented circles
were available for the series for about 25
cents. Prices for the folders and coins are
higher today, but the advice still makes sense,
with most of the silver Roosevelt dimes minted
from 1946 to 1964 valued at less than $2 in