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Beginner’s Corner: The History and Use of Mint Marks

Beginner’s Corner: The History and Use of Mint Marks
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Posted: 02-04-2015 08:37:00 AM

Learn about the purpose, use and history of mint marks in this week's Beginner's Corner.

History of Mint Marks in the United States

The first mint in the United States was the Philadelphia Mint was established in 1792; Philadelphia was the capitol of the United States at the time. This mint struck all coinage until 1835. According to the United States Mint, the Act of March 3, 1835 established the first branch mints in the country in Dahlonega, Georgia, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The act also provided that the Director of the Mint would decide on the regulations for identifying coins stamped at each institution to ensure the central control of all coinage. This was so that production from different branch mints of the establishment could be standardized. Mint mark usage also ensured recognition of the Mint of issue when received in circulation or returned to the Mint.  Have you ever noticed a small letter on a coin near the date? This letter is the mint mark of the coin. A mint mark is defined as a small letter on a coin identifying which of the United States Mint’s facilities struck the coin.

Historic Branch Mints of the United States

The two first branch mints, Charlotte (“C” mint mark) and Dahlonega (“D” mint mark) were the first two branch mints, established because of the discovery of gold nearby. 

The Dahlonega Mint was opened in 1838 and coined more than $100,000 worth of gold in its first year and had produced almost 1.5 million gold coins in total. The Charlotte Mint opened for business in 1838 O Half-Dollar1837 and only raw gold was processed and refined until 1838, when the first $5 gold half eagle was struck.  Both mints were closed in 1861 because of the Civil War and never re-opened. San Francisco (“S” mint mark) opened a mint in 1854 to handle the discovery  of gold in nearby Sutter’s Mill, and to make circulating currency for the recent influx of people to the area hunting that gold. It is the only mint in this section of this article which

still operates today minting proof coins, commemorative coins, and bullion coins (see below). The New Orleans Mint (“O” mint mark) was a major worldwide port, and opened a new mint in 1854 (under the same act as San Francisco) to refine foreign silver entering the port into US coins. It closed after minting its final coins in 1904 because of limited capacity and a lessened need for its existence. The Carson City Mint (“CC” mint mark) was opened in 1870 for production of silver coinage because of the discovery of large nodes of silver nearby, but was closed in 1893 due to a lack of volume in mining new silver.


Current Operations at the San Francisco Mint ("S" Mint Mark)

The “S” mint mark was used on all coins minted in San Francisco from the beginning of production in 1854 until 1955 when production at the mint was suspended. In 1965, production resumed but on a more limited basis. Supplemental coinage was produced at the San Francisco mint from 1968 to 1974 and once again displayed the ‘S’ mint mark. At the end of 1974 the purpose of the San Francisco mint was altered, and through today they mint only proof coins, bullion and commemorative coins.

The Denver Mint (second use of the "D" mint mark)

The Denver mint began operation in 1906 re-using the ‘D’ mint mark that Dahlonega had used from 1838 through 1861. There was a point in time, though, that the mint mark was removed. The 1906 D Half-DollarCoinage Act of 1965 was established, in small part, to prohibit the use of mint marks for a period of five years (along with its primary purpose of removing silver from circulating coinage). And while coins dated 1965, 1966 and 1967 don’t have any mint marks, the practice of using mint marks was resumed in 1968.  This is also when they were permanently relocated from the reverse of coins to the obverse side. This date freeze in mint marks was established because the Mint was striving to build up coin inventories.

The West Point Mint ("W" mint mark)1996 W Dime

The West Point Mint was originally built as a place to store silver in 1938, and was known as the West Point Bullion Depository at the time. This changed in the 1970s. In 1973, the West Point Mint produced some of the United States’ cents. In 1980 it began to strike gold medallions and storing gold in vaults. In 1983, the West Point Mint began minting gold coins. Now, the West Point Mint is strictly a specialty shop and helper to the other branch mints. The West Point Mint produces primarily commemorative coins and collector bullion issues.

Current Operations at the Philadelphia Mint ("P" mint mark, selectively)

In the early years of coin production, the only Mint in operation was located in Philadelphia, and so identification of where a coin was minted wasn’t necessary. And even after the other branch mints were established, the Philadelphia mint – because they were the ‘main’ mint – continued to mint coins without a mint mark. Because of rationing and metal shortage during WWII, in 1942 the composition of the five cent coin was changed to 35% silver, 56% copper and 9% manganese. To distinguish these special coins from those that had already been minted, a ‘P’ mint mark was added to the reverse side of the coin above the Monticello dome. After the war, a return to the regular alloy was made and the ‘P’ on Philadelphia coinage was discontinued. The mint mark on Philadelphia coins once again began reappearing in 1979, and today all coins minted in Philadelphia bear the ‘P’ mint mark except the cent.    

Check back to the Beginner’s Corner next week to explore the impact that mint marks can have on collecting coins.

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About The Author

Kelsey Kay Howard Kelsey graduated from the University of South Florida in Tampa with a B.A. in mass communications. She is new to the world of numismatics, but as the Marketing Specialist for MCM is dedicated to learning all there is to know.

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