USA Coin Album: The San Francisco Mint Coinage of 1941

Posted on 1/10/2017

When it comes to collecting 1941 San Francisco Mint coins, collectors have a choice of mintmark styles.

The Great Depression of the 1930s witnessed some remarkably low mintages for the United States Mint, as the demand for additional coins ranged from low to non-existent from one year to the next. By 1940, however, the war in Europe (and the threat that this war would spread to America) prompted greater industrial production. This led to increased retail activity, and mintages figures rose dramatically to keep pace with spending.

The greater part of America’s coin production in 1941 fell to the Philadelphia Mint, but numbers rose at the Denver and San Francisco facilities, as well. This column will focus on the west coast coinage, as it has provided collectors with two different sizes of mintmarks for four of the five coin denominations. These are highly collectable, and a few are scarce enough to command premium prices.

The San Francisco Mint struck some 92,360,000 cents in 1941. This was down a bit from the previous year, yet it was still six times the number of cents coined there as recently as 1938. Mint State examples of this issue are quite common, as the saving of current coins in roll quantities by speculators was well established by the mid 1930s. Many of these coins display blurry details from overused dies, but enough survive overall that a sharp specimen can be secured with a bit of patience and at no great cost. The vast majority of these 1941-S cents feature the Small S mintmark introduced in 1917 and used almost exclusively since that time. A few, however, probably no more than one in 20, display a Large S mintmark not used previously. This has come to be known as the Trumpet-Tail S to distinguish it from another style of Large S mintmark also used that decade, but not seen on 1941-S cents. Both styles of Large S would appear on subsequent Lincoln cents, but the Small S was never used after 1941.

Though well known by Lincoln cent specialists, the 1941-S with Large S is not listed separately in catalogs and has not been priced. Thus, it can still be cherrypicked with some ease. It’s just a matter of time before this variety is recognized in print, and collectors should seek it out before that happens.

The total mintage of nickels at the San Francisco Mint in 1941 was 43,445,000 pieces, more than six times the number struck there just two years earlier. Finding a 1941-S nickel that is well struck from fresh, unworn dies will be quite challenging, as most are very disappointing in overall quality. Since the sharpness of strike is not a major factor in commercial grading, the assignment of a high certified grade does not guarantee a well struck coin. Collectors are advised to be very selective in seeking 1941-S nickels, as there are thousands of Mint State examples from which to choose.

This issue likewise may be found with either size of mintmark. The Large S coins comprise a very small minority of this mintage, and Mint State examples already earn a substantial premium among knowledgeable collectors. These are far rarer than the Large S cents, comprising perhaps one in several dozen 1941-S nickels. A few repunched Large S varieties are known, but they carry little additional premium, as the value of any Large S specimen is already quite high.

Close up of 1941S 5c Large S (left) and 1941S 5c Small S (right)
Click images to enlarge.

The production of dimes also rose at the San Francisco Mint, from 10,540,000 in 1939 to 21,560,000 in 1940, and doubling to 43,090,000 in 1941. Coined in a softer alloy than that used for five-cent pieces, 1941-S dimes are more easily found well struck. Die erosion was a problem, however, as higher production led to less frequent replacement of the dies. Again, so many Mint State survivors are known that collectors can afford to be picky. Both sizes of mintmark may be found for 1941-S dimes. Though the Large S is more scarce than the Small S, its rarity is less than that of the nickel but greater than that of the cent. These coins carry a modest premium in Mint State, yet they still are unlisted in most price guides and represent an excellent opportunity for the cherrypicker.

1941S 10c Small S
Click images to enlarge.

The coining of quarter dollars rose in a manner similar to that of the other 1941-S denominations. From just 2.6 million pieces in 1939, production advanced to 8.2 million in 1940 and 16,080,000 quarters in 1941. Mint State examples are a little less common than for the lower denominations, but enough have survived to supply the needs of all but the fussiest collectors. Small S pieces predominate, while a lesser percentage feature not one, but two different Large S mintmarks. The more often seen of these is the Trumpet-Tail S, but one having a more triangular lower serif may also be found in rare instances. This is the same Large Serif S found on some nickels. Both varieties are highly sought, though the Trumpet-Tail S is not particularly rare.

Based on the above pattern, one might expect to find two different sizes of mintmark for 1941-S half dollars, but this transition did not occur until the following year. The mintage of 1941-S halves was only 8,098,000 pieces, and it’s likely that enough old reverse dies were on hand that no additional ones were needed until 1942.

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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