The “Anonymous” Coins of 1965-67
Posted by David W. Lange, NGC Research Director on 10/1/2003
The mid-1960s was a rollercoaster ride for coin collectors. Prices, particularly for proof and uncirculated coins of recent years, peaked in the spring of 1964. That year was also the apex of coin collecting as a hobby of mass popularity, though it may be argued that the statehood quarter program has brought about a selective revival of those spirited days. By the end of 1964, however, the speculative market in modern coins had collapsed, and worse, coin collectors were being blamed by Congress and the media for the severe nationwide coin shortage. Legislation was introduced that would effectively make coin collecting illegal. Fortunately, this bill was shot down, but Congress did manage to order a freeze on the 1964 date until further notice. It also put through suspensions of proof coinage and the use of mintmarks. All of these measures were designed to discourage the saving of new coins. History ultimately proved that it was not coin collectors who were to blame for the shortage of coins but rather a poor distribution process that kept coins idle for weeks at a time.
The frozen 1964 date resulted in huge mintages for these issues, which were struck as late as the spring of 1966. In the meantime, a sweeping new law eliminated silver from the dime and quarter dollar, while leaving just a token amount in the half dollar. Coins of the new standard began with the date 1965, though only one-tenth of the issues bearing that date were actually produced during that year, and none of these issues carried a mintmark. This undesirable situation lasted through 1967. Consequently, collectors are largely unaware just which coins were made during each of these three years and at which mints they were coined.
Though not reproduced in most popular guidebooks, this information does exist. It may be found in the Annual Report of the Director of the Mint. Still published today, recent editions are of little research value. Thirty-five years ago, however, this publication was very informative, and researchers are able to piece together the fascinating story of America’s mid-1960s coin crisis.
No study of this period would be complete without addressing the issues dated 1964 and 1964-D. Both the Philadelphia and Denver Mints struck all five denominations bearing the 1964 date right through 1965. Philly continued striking 1964 silver half dollars into early 1966, as did the Denver Mint with 1964-D dimes. The San Francisco Assay Office, deactivated as a coining facility in 1955, was refitted with equipment to produce planchets in 1964 and actually resumed coin production the following year. It struck more than 15 million 1964 silver quarters in 1965 and another 4,640,865 early in 1966, all, of course, without mintmarks. San Francisco also coined nearly 200 million 1964-dated cents in 1965.
1965-dated coinage was produced concurrently with pieces dated 1964. Most 1965-67 nickels were struck at the Denver Mint with Philadelphia abandoning this denomination entirely in early 1966. The first copper-nickel-clad coins were minted in August of 1965, and it was not until November that any of these were actually released to circulation. The quarter dollar appeared first, followed by clad dimes in February of 1966. The silver-clad (.400 fine) half dollars were not minted until the last few days of 1965, though the entire mintage is recorded within 1966 to simplify the report. These coins debuted in circulation the following spring. All of the circulating silver-clad halves were minted at Denver, a practice that continued through 1970. The sole exceptions were the Special Mint Set coins, all five denominations of these ersatz proofs being minted at San Francisco. The 1965-dated SMS coins were struck entirely in 1966.
Most of the circulating 1965-dated coinage was produced during the first seven months of 1966, by which time there were enough of the new issues to begin using the 1966 date on August 1. At the beginning of 1967, the Mint resumed normal dating, while mintmarks and proof coins reappeared in 1968. The crisis had passed.
David W. Lange's column USA Coin Album appears monthly in Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association.