USA Coin Album: The Denver Mint Coinage of 1934 – Part 2

Posted on 4/12/2016

The year 1934 saw the issue of new quarter varieties, the return of half dollars and the final issue of silver dollars.

Last month I related how 1934 became the first year since 1927 that the Denver Mint coined all six current denominations, and I described the cents, nickels and dimes of that date. This time out I’ll look at the quarter dollars, half dollars and silver dollars dated 1934-D.

When the nation’s economy began to show its first signs of revival in 1934, orders started coming into the Federal Reserve Banks for fresh coin. Step one was to ship all existing supplies of earlier dated pieces, and this is when many collectors got their first opportunity to acquire from circulation such sequestered, low mintage issues as 1933-D cents and 1932-D quarters. The coining of new, 1934-dated quarters did not begin until May, and it appears that these were initially limited to the Philadelphia Mint. It began using obverse dies taken from the 1932 master hub, with its shallow motto IN GOD WE TRUST. This flaw was fixed before Denver began striking quarters sometime later in the year, and the first 1934-D pieces displayed one of two modified master hubs.

The so-called Medium Motto (also known as Type of 1935) has the motto rendered in sharper letters, with the center peak of the W ending below the left and right strokes of that letter. The Heavy Motto (Type of 1936) shows even bolder letters with the center peak of the W taller than the other elements. The Medium Motto is found with a distinctive date style that was used also for 1935 quarters of all three mints and then retired. The Heavy Motto is seen with the same date style as the 1932 quarters, the 1934(P) Light Motto quarters and all subsequent dates starting 1936.

The total mintage of 1934-D quarters was 3,527,200 pieces, and this date is common in most circulated grades. Mint State pieces are plentiful through MS 64, but gems (MS 65 and higher) are elusive. The two obverse subtypes were paired randomly with leftover reverse dies of previous years having a Small D mintmark or fresh dies bearing the new Large D, resulting in four variety combinations. That most commonly seen is Medium Motto/Large D, while the other three combinations are scarcer. Few submitters to NGC request such varieties, so it’s a little hard to get a handle on relative rarity, but the least often seen die pairing is Heavy Motto/Large D. Back in the early 1960s such varieties elicited more interest, and there actually existed a 1934 Quarter Club managed by Coin World columnist Jim Johnson.

The first coining of half dollars during 1934 occurred in June, but it’s not certain how quickly Denver participated. Some 2,361,000 halves were struck there by year’s end, the first coins of this denomination made at Denver since 1929 (excluding the 1933-D Oregon Trail halves created specifically for collectors). Worn 1934-D half dollars are common through grade XF 40, but better examples are more elusive. Mint State pieces are readily available through MS 64, but the certified population drops off rapidly in higher grades. Few 1934-D half dollar come even close to being fully struck, a reflection of poor quality work by the Denver Mint, as well as basic flaws in the Walking Liberty design. Examples are known having either the Small D mintmark of 1917-29 or the Large D used this year and thereafter through the end of the series. Few collectors have shown any interest in these varieties, but it appears that Large D coins are in the minority.

The Thomas Amendment to the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 provided that the Treasury purchase all domestically mined silver bullion at a price above the market rate. This action was taken to furnish relief for western silver mine owners and laborers. A subsequent executive order by President Roosevelt mandated that half of the bullion so acquired be coined into silver dollars. It was thus that the Peace dollar, a coin not struck since the Pittman Act’s bullion ran out in 1928, was revived in 1934. Denver coined 1,569,500 silver dollars that year, the last it would see until the abortive issue struck there in May of 1965.

1934-D silver dollars are common in worn condition, and Mint State pieces are plentiful through MS 65. Most carry the Large D mintmark, but the Small D variety is available in lesser numbers. NGC’s Census suggests that the Small D variety is more common, but these figures require some explanation. A popular doubled-die obverse variety is known in combination with either mintmark size, the DDO/Small D combination (VAM-4) being quite scarce. Many submitters send in coins having simple strike doubling in the hope that they are the doubled-die variety, and this accounts for the numerous entries that are labeled Small D alone. The combination of DDO/Large D is VAM-3 (this acronym standing for Van Allen and Mallis, co-authors of the standard variety book for Peace dollars), and this die pairing is the one more often seen.

Often overlooked among Denver’s 1934 coinage are the 7,000 Oregon Trail Memorial half dollars. This serial coin type was struck intermittently over 13 years at various mints, but Denver alone contributed to the pool in 1934. Almost the entire mintage went directly to coin collectors, and gems thus represent a significant percentage of the certified population. All have the Large D, and it’s likely that they were coined using the same mintmarked die as the 1933-D issue.

The Denver Mint coinage of 1934 thus consists of six different denominations, all of which except the cents and Oregon Trail halves may be found with either the Small D or Large D mintmark style. This is indeed a fertile area for collectors, who can still cherrypick the rarer of the two for each denomination. In addition, there are several doubled-dies or repunched mintmarks to add some spice to the mix.

David W. Lange's column, “USA Coin Album,” appears monthly in The Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association.

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