By Tom LaMarre
Two stories, both
of them far-fetched, separated by only a few
years. What's more, both of them involved the
dime. There wasn't an ounce of truth to either
tale, but they added to the legend and lore of
one of the most popular coin denominations.
One of them made the rounds in 1912. Dimes were
already in the news that year. In May 1912,
newspapers reported that a woman who had been
ejected from a St. Paul streetcar for putting a
"slick" dime in the fare box had sued the city
and won $150 in damages. The heavily worn dime
may have been from one of the early years of the
Barber design, first struck in 1892. More likely
it was a Seated Liberty dime minted sometime
between 1837 and 1891. Some Seated Liberty coins
would still turn up in circulation as late as
Another story involving dimes appeared in
October 1912. The Washington Post claimed that
two new insects had been discovered. They were
named the "dime weevil" and the "plug bug." Both
of the insects were said to be so strong they
could bore a hole in a dime, thereby threatening
the nation's entire dime supply.
Apparently government officials weren't too
worried. Production of dimes in 1912 increased
only slightly over 1911 levels. The Philadelphia
Mint struck nearly 20 million. The Denver Mint
turned out nearly 12 million, and San Francisco
cranked out more than 3 million.
In Very Fine-20, the 1912 Philadelphia and
Denver dimes are valued at less than $7. Coin
Prices lists the 1912-S in VF-20 at $12.50.
In 1915 another myth had many people checking
their dimes. Who could resist the chance to buy
a new Ford Model T for only four dimes, if they
happened to be the right ones?
"In certain parts of the United States a story
has been industriously circulated that the
person finding four dimes, whose mint marks were
the letters F-O-R-D, would be presented with an
automobile made by the company of that name,"
said the January 1915 issue of Mehl's Numismatic
Monthly, published by B. Max Mehl of Fort Worth,
"It is needless to say that no claim has yet
been made for the automobile, but the tale has
well served to keep the automobile company's
name before the public. So general has this
story been passed from one to another that some
of the daily newspapers have referred to in
One of those newspapers was the Utica
Herald-Dispatch, which tried to tell the story
without giving any free advertising to the Ford
Motor Co. or the Model T. "Because of the offer
of a prize some firm is said to have made to any
person who shall combine four different mint
mark letters on 10-cent silver pieces, so as to
spell a certain word of four letters, many
Uticans are searching for the four coins that
are said to bear these letters," it reported.
"Their search is hopeless. Two of the letters
are 'F' and 'R.' There is no coin ever struck
that bears either of these letters as a mint
"The combination would-be prize winners are
searching for can easily be formed from the
legend 'United States of America' on the dimes,
but&no word containing either an 'F' or an 'R'
can be formed from mint marks found on dimes or
any other coins of the United States."
The Denver Mint had started striking dimes with
a "D" mintmark in 1906. The New Orleans Mint had
suspended all coinage in 1909, but millions of
dimes were still in circulation with the "O"
The 40-cent Ford was just a myth, but it sure
stirred interest in Barber dimes. Today many of
them are inexpensive, despite the good story.