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The Scary Dime Weevel
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 the 1930s.

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, Texas.

"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 their columns."

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 mark -

"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" mintmark.

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.


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