USA Coin Album: The US Mint Coins Dated 1964 — Part 1

Posted on 9/10/2019

A year of high drama at the US Mint.

Reading the title of this column, the first thought that likely comes to mind is "Why would anyone care about 1964 coins, which are so common?" Well, it is true that there are no rarities among the regular issue coins dated 1964, the actual story behind why they are so common is worth relating.

In 1955, coining operations were suspended at the San Francisco Mint, as the structure was too small to adopt the new production methods being used at the Philadelphia and Denver Mints. It was deemed more efficient to perform all steps of the coining process in a linear progression across long production floors that San Francisco simply didn't possess. The US Mint determined that it was more cost effective to make additional coins at the Denver Mint to supply the western states, so San Francisco was downgraded to an assay office. This move, however sensible at the time, became a cause for regret just a few years later.

The San Francisco Mint ceased making coins in 1955 and was reduced to the status of an assay office. It was reactivated in 1964 to combat the nationwide coin shortage, and in the following year it began striking cents and quarters dated 1964 without mintmarks.

By 1961, it was evident that there were regional shortages of coins, and this eventually progressed to a nationwide crisis during 1963-65. The rapid expansion of mechanical vending services that gobbled up coins led to a situation in which many pieces were idled within collection boxes for weeks or even months at a time. The two remaining mints responded with stepped-up production that included the adoption of quad-presses for the smaller coins. These featured collars that accommodated four die pairs so that a like number of coins could be produced with each stroke of the press. Still it wasn't enough to stop complaints of coin shortages.

If this wasn't enough of a problem, by late 1963 the US Mint was facing yet another crisis that threatened to reduce the number of dimes, quarters and halves in circulation: The price of silver was rising rapidly. Should it advance past $1.38 per ounce, the bullion value of our silver coins would exceed their face value and lead to hoarding.

Facing this double whammy to the nation's coin supply, Congress acted on August 20, 1963 to fund a new mint building for Philadelphia, though this was not expected to become operational before 1967. Its next step was to reduce the number of coins being set aside by collectors and speculators. Public Law 88-580, approved September 3, 1964, specified a freeze of the 1964 date for all coins effective January 1, 1965 and thereafter until revoked. On July 23, 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the sweeping Coinage Act of 1965 (PL 89-81) which revised the composition of the dime, quarter and half dollar to nearly eliminate silver from the nation's money. It also prohibited the coining of silver dollars for a period of five years, this in response to the abortive production of 1964-D silver dollars that had occurred during May of 1965.

As the popularity of coin collecting peaked around 1964, Mint Director Eva Adams acted at her own discretion to remove mintmarks from our coins until further notice. She also ordered a halt to proof coin production after the existing orders for 1964 sets were filled. Under tremendous pressure from Congress to account for the coin shortage, Adams rather callously drew upon all the press that numismatics had been getting in recent years to pin the blame on collectors and speculators. In response, Senator Alan Bible (D-Nevada, 1954-74) briefly floated a bill in 1965 to make coin collecting illegal, but this silly legislation was challenged vigorously by hobby leaders, and it eventually faded away.

The combined effect of all these actions was to suck the wind out of the coin hobby's boom during 1965 and for the next several years. The overheated speculation in BU (brilliant uncirculated) rolls and proof sets that had driven so much hobby activity during the previous five years also collapsed, though to be fair the roll market had already taken a plunge independently of these events during the summer of 1964. While serious collectors continued to buy and study coins as before, the get-rich-quick speculators and the dealers who served their appetites abandoned the hobby in droves during 1965-66. A numismatic winter set in for the next few years, and it didn't lift until the return of both proof sets and mintmarks in 1968.

Next month, I'll begin a detailed look at America's coins bearing the date 1964, some of which were coined as late as 1966!

To read additional USA Coin Album columns, click here.

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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