The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 14, Number 53, December 25, 2011, Article 13


Cliff Mishler submitted this great overview on our recent subject of irradiate Dimes. Thanks! -Editor

I've absorbed with interest the items on "Neutron Irradiated Dimes" that have appeared in recent editions of "The E-Sylum."

I just may have the largest accumulation of these offerings in captivity; nearly full three double row boxes. Most of them were accumulated over a span of roughly 30 years, from the early 1970s through the 1990s; I probably paid in the range of $2 to $3 for most of the pieces. I have purchased very few pieces for which I paid at the $10 and above level.

These pieces come in several varieties, some of which have not yet been enumerated in the published references that have been made to the issues. Here is a quick list, generated from my accumulation, which may not be complete, as I may have overlooked something lurking in the accumulation:

Aluminum Encased with Plastic Window:

  • American Museum of Atomic Energy
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • ORNL - UCNC - Oak Ridge
  • Mid-South Fair's Atomic Energy Exhibit

    Blue Plastic Pop-In Holders:

    • American Museum of Atomic Energy
    • N.Y. World's Fair 1964 - 1965

    The "ORNL - UNC - Oak Ridge" variety is by far the rarest of the issues; I have only one in my accumulation, unless I misfiled something.

    I believe the Mid-South Fair at which the "Atomic Energy Exhibit" was set up dispensing "irradiated dimes" would have been in Atlanta, but I have no knowledge of what the year might have been.

    In the case of the aluminum/plastic encased pieces, there are several imprint varieties on the inset cardboard ring identifying the origin of the souvenir.

    I had started accumulating these pieces with the idea of someday being able to approximate the dates of issue of the various insert varieties by the presence of uncirculated vs. circulated dimes. That's never happened; perhaps someday.

    Also, stored away somewhere, I know not where, is an archival file of information that I accumulated over the years relating to the history of Oak Ridge and the museum. Again, my objective having been to someday take the time to prepare a definitive exploration of the irradiated dime ear.

    I had occasion to visit Oak Ridge with my parents when I was about ten years old; I believe it would have been in the spring of 1950, but it could have been the spring or fall of 1951. I recall of having personally irradiated a souvenir dime from my change, with the cost of doing so having been another dime. That piece disappeared somewhere over the ensuing years.

    While visitors could irradiate dimes from their pocket change, they could also purchase them pre-irradiated from the souvenir shop, where they were mounted on descriptive display cards. I have three or four versions of those display cards in my accumulation as well.

    My recollection is that at the time of my visit the museum was quartered in two or three improvised stick built World War II structures, which were a bit shopworn.

    My research from some years back led me to believe there were two primary reasons why the irradiation of dimes as visitor souvenirs ceased in the late 1960s (1967 per a reference I noted): 1) Given the era, the idea of "irradiation" and "Geiger Counters" had become politically incorrect, so the thrust of the visitor center presentation was changed dramatically. 2) The level of "irradiation" employed in the souvenir process worked on silver dimes, but it just bounced off the nickel cladding on the clad dimes, so they would not react to the Geiger counters.

    Unfortunately, I am not in a position to presently provide more definitive information on the irradiated dimes realm, but hopefully those who are interested will find what I am providing to be of value.

    Joe Boling adds:

    I don't remember when I got my irradiated dime, but I had it when I went to Japan in 1957. In my chemistry class as a junior (1958-59), we did test it with a geiger counter and the instrument produced a lot more than an occasional click. The device was clearly reacting to the presence of the dime, as it would stop responding when the dime was moved away. I was impressed (but not enough to stop handling the dime).

    Bruce Perdue writes:

    I noticed a couple of irradiated dimes for sale on eBay. Attached is the information from the page. Interesting reading...

    During the 1950s, the Oak Ridge Graphite Reactor was the world's single largest source of radionuclide's, and the availability of these radionuclide's revolutionized the field of medicine and many branches of science. The impact was no less great in the industrial sector. Radionuclides were produced in several ways, but neutron activation was perhaps the most important. The purpose of the dime irradiator at the American Museum of Atomic Energy, located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was to provide a dramatic demonstration of the principle of neutron activation. Today, the museum is known as the American Museum of Science and Energy.

    miss universe irradiate dime Miss Universe, Aspasra Hongsakula of Bangkok, Thailand, receives a radioactive dime as a souvenir of her visit to the American Museum of Atomic Energy in 1966. (ORAU News) At the time that the dime irradiator was in operation, the Museum was managed by the Oak Ridge Institute for Nuclear Studies (ORINS). ORINS is now Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU).

    In the late 1940s and/or early 1950s, dimes were also irradiated at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and encased in a similar fashion (see photo to right). While I don't have any details about how the irradiation was performed at ORNL, we do have the following description in what I believe is a 1954 press release from the American Museum of Atomic Energy:

    "One of the most popular exhibits in the American Museum of Atomic Energy is a "dime irradiator." To date, more than 250,000 dimes have been irradiated, encased in plastic and returned to their owners as souvenirs. The irradiator works as follows: A mixture of radioactive antimony and beryllium is enclosed in a lead container. Gamma rays from the antimony are absorbed by the beryllium atoms and a neutron is expelled by the beryllium atom in the process.

    To read the complete article, see: Two Irradiated Dime Encased Both 90% Sivler Lot Front and back (

    Wayne Homren, Editor

    NBS ( Web

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