US Coins

Highest-graded 1938-S Winged Liberty Head dime realizes $364,250

The finest certified 1938-S Winged Liberty Head dime graded MS-68+ full bands with a green CAC sticker sold for an astounding $364,250 on June 27.

Images courtesy of Legend Rare Coins.

A colorfully toned and well-preserved 1938-S Winged Liberty Head dime brought $364,250 at Legend’s June 27 Regency 33 auction in Las Vegas. 

Graded Mint State 68+ full bands by Professional Coin Grading Service and carrying a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker, the price soared past the $10,000 to $12,500 estimate set by the auctioneer for the finest-certified example. 

Legend anticipated a world-record price for the splendid dime, writing, “To call this coin superb, stunning, gorgeous, beautiful — none of the adjectives convey the outstanding technical and aesthetic qualities of this AMAZING late date Mercury dime.” It was the top price of the 514-lot auction. 

The six-figure price easily surpassed the prior record for the issue, set at a 2009 Heritage auction for one graded PCGS MS-68 full bands that, in contrast to Legend’s offering, was entirely silver-white without a bit of toning. 

The 1938-S Winged Liberty Head dime is unremarkable as an issue, with a substantial mintage of 8,090,000. In his Guide Book to the series Q. David Bowers writes, “1938-S dimes are common in all grades,” explaining that, while many were melted during the run-up in silver prices in the late 1970s, “Mint State coins are common and are usually quite attractive.” 

PCGS has graded 175 in MS-67 full bands and these bring around $600 at auction. The record price set on June 27 reflects the recent surge in the market for beautifully toned, top-graded mid-20th-century issues.

Trying to describe the vivid toning, Legend wrote, “Ultra HIGH END everything. Rich red, orange, gold, magenta, olive, emerald, and icy silver-blue hues are augmented by a strong mint brilliance. Both sides are smooth, clean, and the devices are well struck. Even if you do not collect Mercury dimes you really should take a look at this MONSTER!”

The second-highest lot in the sale was another finest-known 1930s 10-cent coin, this one a 1931-S Winged Liberty Head dime graded MS-67+ full bands by PCGS with a green CAC sticker that realized $270,250 against a $22,000 to $25,000 estimate.

Unlike the 1938-S dime, which is plentiful in even high grades, the 1931-S 10-cent coin is a tougher issue in nice Mint State grades, since the Great Depression saw decreased demand for coins and, presumably, those minted had lower survival rates in Mint State grades. Just 1.8 million dimes were struck at the San Francisco Mint in 1931, and even nice MS-65 full bands representatives sell for more than $2,000 at auction, moving past $3,000 in MS-66 full bands. PCGS has graded only nine in MS-67 full bands, with the offered coin being the sole finest-known.

In contrast to the technicolor 1938-S dime, the 1931-S coin was less of an obvious show-stopper, but it was exceptional for the issue. Legend observed, “Truly SUPERB in every way! Bold, brilliant, beaming luster radiates strongly on both sides,” adding, “Sharply struck devices have a wonderful, glossy texture to them that gleams with a seductive brilliance that contrasts against the delicately dusted gold iridescent toning.”

Bowers explains that 1931-S Winged Liberty Head dimes were available for face value plus postage from the Department of the Treasury in 1932, and these rolls were frequently seen as late as the 1950s. Unlike the generally well-struck 1938-S dime, Bowers writes, for the 1931-S coin, “Full Bands coins are scarce and represent only a small percentage of surviving Mint State pieces,” his observation confirmed by third-party grading population reports.

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