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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Heads Up in the Valley…

On the March in the Valley

The stock market lost 242 points the other day. So what! Who cares! As I stroll along home, what do I find smiling up at me from the roadside mud? The august face of FDR, 32nd president of the United States, he of the “Day of Infamy” fame. Yes, it’s a Roosevelt dime, minted at the Philadelphia mint in 1997. One thin dime..Big money! And heads up, too! “Valley, can you spare a dime?” Apparently so, and Mr. R. is destined for the two quart road kill jar at home.

The dime, “The liveliest coin,” said author Truman Capote, “the one that really jingles.” Capote was right. There is something magical about this little coin. It seems to have a certain numismatic flare. Pennies, nickels, quarters—they have their place in our pockets or purses—but it’s that silvery little disc that shines out at you from your handful of change, and you feel, hey, life’s ok.

The Roosevelt dime has been around since 1946, the year after FDR’s untimely death—a tribute  and memorial to his presidency. Until 1964 the dime was ninety per cent silver—copper making up the balance. The silver glint went out of the coin in 1965 when the U.S. mint sandwiched a thin copper core between cupronickel, an alloy of copper-nickel, basically stripping Roosevelt from any precious metals: 75 % copper, 25 % nickel.

Back in the days of silver, an old feller from Arkansas taught me some primitive silversmithing. He showed me how to fashion a delicate silver ring from a ten cent piece. (He also made rings from silver quarters.) All you needed were a couple of hammers, one whose head you rested on a knee for a metal surface like an anvil; the other—preferably one smaller—you tap, tappity, tapped against the rim of a silver dime--and a dinner spoon. Holding the dime between thumb and forefinger, you rotated the coin slowly as you gently tapped the rim. In this fashion you would eventually flatten the rim until you thought it was wide enough, once the center was removed, to fit the finger of the young lady for whom you were crafting the ring: the smaller the finger, the wider the band. At this point you “finished” the ring by patiently tapping the widened rim with the back of the spoon, removing  any dimples or dents made by the initial hammer taps. Tap, tippety, tap until the surface gleamed smooth and shiny.

Now you were ready to make the ring finger-ready. Using the point of your jackknife, you would drill a hole in the center of the dime (approximately the center of Franklin’s cheekbone). Again rotating the coin, you slivered away the soft metal, ever expanding the “ring” of the ring. This you did until the knife blade was nearly flush with the underside of the band. You finished off the ring by slivering the inner ridge smooth, being sure to leave a slight convex arc of metal for strength. A soft cloth for the final bright finish and you were ready to bestow the gift.

Over the years I’ve made several dime rings, initially, perhaps, for old girlfriends long since forgotten. I made at least two for my wife. The last, a bit too large, slipped from her finger and was gobbled up by the vacuum cleaner. The result: pretzeled metal, a ring no more. I ringed my daughter twice also, I believe. A half dozen or so I made for the granddaughters of one of my wife’s clients. She collected the silver dimes; I did the crafting, for which, I might add, I received nothing more than a thank-you and sore fingertips. Three years ago from a silver dime I’d purchased at a swap meet, I crafted a ring for my niece Naomi. Naomi lives in Omaha and because it would have been a sore inconvenience for her to send me a finger for ring sizing, I made the ring adult size and sent it to her in the company of a thin silver chain so she could wear the ring as a pendant necklace. I’m hoping one day her finger and ring may fit. To her uncle’s great satisfaction, on her last visit to the West Coast, Naomi wore the ring and necklace and posed for a photo.Naomi's dime necklaceOne could, of course, fashion a dime ring from a modern dime, but the young lady wearing it would soon have a green ring finger, exposing you to be the fraud and cheapskate you really are.

The Roosevelt silver dime weighs 2.5 grams ( today’s cupronickel imposter is .25 grams less),which started me wondering how much its silver content would be in today’s market. The precious metals’ market has exploded in the last couple of years with gold reaching all time highs, nearly $1,450 an ounce just recently. Silver has more than doubled since last year: from fifteen dollars an ounce to its thirty-five plus dollars at today’s spot quotes.

So what is the “melt” value of a 1946-64 Roosevelt dime? The website gives the formula—even allowing for the ten per cent copper content—to determine the daily value of the coin at current spot prices. For those of you who would like to melt down that coffee can’s worth of silver dimes you have buried in the backyard, here’s the silver content value of one dime as of the market’s close 3/18/2011: $2.5521. Add in the copper content and that thin dime’s worth a whopping $2.5545! With most of the silver slivered away, what’s the value of a dime ring anyway? Well, any price you want to assign a labor of love.

Back in the days of the Mercury head dime (1916-45) “one thin dime” could buy a loaf of bread. And the Depression years coined the phrase, “Buddy, can you spare a dime?” The former, “one thin dime,” gave rise in those days to a bit of lighthearted wordplay, verbal circumlocution, if you will. The stimulus would be the phrase “Well, that’s life,” the universal catchphrase for “That’s just the way it goes” whenever something beyond one’s control happened to anyone. When one unwittingly responded with: “Well, that’s life,” here’s how the dialogue went:

You: What’s life?

He: Life’s a magazine.

You: Where do you buy it?

He: At the news stand.

You: How much does it cost?

He: One thin dime.

You: Well, that’s life.

Now it’s your turn: “What’s life?…”

I  hope this post is worth ten cents of your time. I’ll leave you to decide if it’s the pre—or post 1964 value.

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1 comment:

  1. Great post dad!! I remember trying to craft my own ring using a more recent mint. I ended up with a bi-colored mess. Never finished it, and I suppose that's just fine. I prefer to keep my fingers skin-toned and attempt to maintain only green thumbs.