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In 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 portrait.

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 coin."

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 Freedom.

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 Reserve.

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 dictator.

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 Extremely Fine-40.

 



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