USA Coin Album: The US Mint Coins Dated 1964 — Part 2
Posted on 10/8/2019
Not since the heady days of 1944-45 had any one US Mint produced over a billion cent pieces in a single year, but this began to change during the mid-1950s. From 1956 onward the Denver Mint routinely struck over a billion cents annually, the sole exception being the recession year of 1958. The combined cent mintages of Philadelphia and Denver exceeded two billion coins yearly starting in 1960, but it would not be until 1964 that Philly by itself produced over a billion cents for the first time since 1945. This is a good measure of how severe the nationwide coin shortage had become by then.
The date freeze legislated by Congress in 1964 meant that all mints could go on striking cents dated 1964 indefinitely. The concurrent suspension of mintmarks applied only to coins dated 1965-67, so the 1964-D cents, no matter when they were made, did continue to carry the familiar letter "D." Fortunately, the Annual Report of the Director of the Mint breaks down the dates and quantities minted for the years 1964-66, though the 1964-dated coins are themselves indistinguishable in that respect.
During calendar year 1964, the Philadelphia Mint struck 1,519,165,000 cents, while Denver produced 1,865,163,400 pieces. During calendar year 1965, the totals for 1964-dated cents were 932,780,000 and 1,933,908,100, respectively. The San Francisco Assay Office had been manufacturing planchets for use at Denver since the fall of 1964, and in the meantime, some rather old and tired presses were relocated to the SFAO. On September 1, 1965, these presses were fired up, and some 196,630,000 cents were struck there by the end of that year. None carried a mintmark, so this figure was lumped in with Philadelphia's to arrive at the total number of 1964 and 1964-D cents found today in catalogs.
Both issues were rather poorly made, with worn and crudely polished dies being evident on many pieces, and incomplete strikes are also commonplace. Still, the sheer number of cents coined means that gems are plentiful in grades as high as MS 66 RD (Red). As of this writing, NGC had certified just 28 1964(P) pieces as MS 67 RD and only two examples as MS 68 RD. Some of these coins are faintly prooflike, since the Philadelphia Mint used retired proof dies to coin currency pieces, and this has boosted the number of pretty specimens. Lacking this advantage, the Denver Mint generated fewer gems, with just 14 NGC-certified as MS 67 RD and none finer.
Such high mintages required the use of a great many dies, yet varieties for these two issues are far fewer than one would expect. Minor doubled-die obverse (DDO) varieties are found for both mints, and the 1964(P) cents have a couple of very nice DDR entries, as well. Of the 18 repunched mintmark (RPM) varieties for 1964-D, only three or four are distinctive enough that NGC would attribute them under its VarietyPlus® service. As of this writing, no such pieces have been submitted.
The year 1964 was the last in which United States proof sets were manufactured at the Philadelphia Mint. Since the popularity of coin collecting was at its peak when the new Kennedy half dollar debuted that year, sales set a new record of 3,950,762 sets. Unlike the coins issued for circulation, all of the 1964 proof cents were coined during that year alone. Some of these evidence overly polished dies that diminished the shallower details, but for the most part the coins were made with care, and there are a good number displaying Cameo or Ultra Cameo contrast between brilliant fields and frosted relief. None have achieved the coveted 70 grade at NGC, but some 128 have been certified as PF 69 RDU (Red, Ultra Cameo).
Finally, I must mention the mysterious 1964 specimen cents, about which there has been much speculation and misinformation. While NGC uses the SP designation for these coins, PCGS describes them as SMS, which stands for special mint set. This is a reference to the prooflike sets made for collectors with the dates 1965-67, years when the production of actual proof coins had been suspended. Since the surfaces of the 1964 coins in no way resemble those of the 1965-67 SMS coins, this terminology is a bit confusing, but the use of SP also does not really clear up the matter.
These coins were of special manufacture, but they were not intended as a prototype for the 1965-67 sets, as is widely believed. They are just a continuation of a program that the US Mint had undertaken quietly to provide the Smithsonian Institution's National Numismatic Collection with coins of superior quality. Such pieces had been made for several years going back into the 1950s, and these are still held by the NNC, though they are not on public display. A small number of 1964 sets from cent through half dollar were reportedly among the effects of a former US Mint officer and were sold at auction during 1993-94. The 1964 SP or SMS cents reveal sharp strikes from fresh dies. There was no polishing beyond that given any new production dies, so the surfaces are smooth with very muted luster. NGC has certified 11 examples, the finest being graded SP 67 RD.
Next month I'll take a look at the nickels and dimes of 1964.
David W. Lange's column, “USA Coin Album,” appears monthly in The Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association.