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In the year 1796, the first U.S. dimes were produced for circulation. Thus, I think it would be reasonable to say that the origins of this phrase came sometime after, right? From what I can tell, it looks like this phrase originated in the 1800s where various foods were being sold by the dozen for the price of a dime. Several newspapers from that time, for instance, were advertising how things like eggs, oranges, or peaches, were available by the dozen, and their cost was nothing more than a single dime. An example of this comes from the Galveston Daily News, 1866:
"The San Antonio Ledger says the city is well stocked with peaches at a dime a dozen."
The earliest quote that I could find of this idiom being used with its figurative meaning of 'something that's very common and/or considered to be of small worth' is from The Northern Miner newspaper, 1931:
"'Carners,' the old-timer said, 'is just an overgrown clown. As for the others--Schaof, Baer,
Paulino, Risko, Campolo--they're nothing but 'dime a dozen fighters.' "
Another example of this expression being used in a figurative sense comes from the Sandusky Register, 1937:
"Smiles were a dime a dozen in the Yankee clubhouse. Even Colonel Ruppert, owner of the
club, was so stated he went from player to player shaking hands."
* Hugs were a dime a dozen at our family reunion since everyone was so happy to see one another.
Note: Oftentimes, an idiom's origins are not clear. In cases like this, what I'll usually do is include on the idiom's page a few of the plausible sounding theories that exist that talk about how it may have originated. For the most part, these are to be taken with a grain of salt. If I don't list any theories, then I'll at least try to find the oldest quote that I can of the phrase and list that. These quotes can give you an idea on an expression's age. So, for example, if I quote a book from 1702 because it uses a certain phrase, then obviously the phrase must be at least that old.
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