USA Coin Album: Wandering Mintmarks

Posted on 1/21/2020

Until quite recently, mintmarks had a tendency to meander.

This month's column is going to be short on words and long on images. It's a visual celebration of a phenomenon that has become obsolete on United States coinage — wandering mintmarks.

From the first branch mint production in 1838, mintmarks were applied with hand punches, and their positions relative to fixed design elements varied greatly.

The Mint's engraving staff in Philadelphia was given much leeway, and typically it was the least senior employees who were assigned the lowly task of punching dates and mintmarks. There have been certain trends over the years, and the exact location of mintmarks often was a reflection of the decade in which the dies were made.

For example, in the 1920s, the obverse mintmarks of cents and Double Eagles tended to be much closer to their dates than in the previous decade. By and large, however, the punching of mintmarks was done hurriedly and with little attention paid to consistency.

Coin collectors, particularly during the hobby's heyday during the early 1960s, became obsessed with documenting the many locations found on current cents. It was perhaps less well-understood then that this placement varied routinely from one die to the next, and by the 1960s, thousands of dies were required annually.

Since United States coins of the 18th and 19th centuries have numerous hand-punched features, this celebration of wandering mintmarks will be limited to coins made after a series of new designs began to appear in 1907. Please sit back and enjoy...

Early Lincoln Cents most often have mintmarks that are somewhat distant from the date, as on the 1915-D coin, but the 1928-S example shows a trend of the late 1920s toward closer proximity.
Click images to enlarge.

As the 1920s progressed, the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle's mintmark gradually migrated downward and to the left until often it nearly rested upon the date.
Click images to enlarge.

In 1968, the Jefferson Nickel's mintmark was relocated to the obverse. These nickels dated 1972-D and 1975-D are at opposite extremes, and the latter has even made it into popular catalogs.
Click images to enlarge.

The half dollar's mintmark likewise migrated to the obverse in 1968, but the exact location varied wildly from die to die. Shown are halves dated 1969-D, 1978-D and 1988-P.
Click images to enlarge.

Peace Dollars offered the engraver a broad field for mintmark placement, as seen in these coins struck just a year apart (1934-D and 1935-S).
Click images to enlarge.

Starting with the Proof coinage of 1985, and then extending to the circulating issues during 1990-91, the US Mint began placing the mintmark directly into a separate master die for each of the several mints. This meant that all coins of a particular denomination and date would be identical for that mint. Initially still done with punches, by the early 1990s, the mintmark was being sculpted into separate master dies for each mint, and this eventually progressed to the computerized design used today.

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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