The Coins of 1960
Posted by David W. Lange, NGC Research Director on 6/1/2006
Given the fact that United States coins have been minted for more than 200 years, the date 1960 at first seems to be an unlikely candidate for a specialized numismatic study. The coins of that year do, however, offer some interesting features worthy of comment. Most collectors already know about the Small Date and Large Date varieties of the 1960 cent, but even these highly publicized varieties may be broken down into several lesser ones.
During the final quarter of 1959, the U.S. Mint’s Engraving Department, located at the Philadelphia Mint, would have begun preparing dies for the 1960 coinage. This process, as practiced at that time, began with the sinking of a new obverse master die from the obverse master hub for each denomination (reverse master dies, being undated, did not necessarily have to be prepared each and every year). In the case of the obverse master hub, only the numerals 19 were carried over year after year. Each time a new master die was sunk from it, the additional numerals were then engraved into the master die by hand.
For the cent of 1960, the final digits were small, conforming to the scale of the existing numerals 19. The small numerals evidently proved unsatisfactory, as early in the 1960 coinage, the Mint quietly replaced the new master die with one having a noticeably larger date. Collectors spotted this change as soon as the coins entered circulation, and it was quickly determined that the Small Date cents of both the Philadelphia and Denver Mints were distinctly scarcer than the Large Date pieces. The same would prove to be true of that year’s proof cents, with the Small Date variety bringing a substantial premium in the secondary market.
Because the sinking of working dies required two or more impressions from the working hub, it was seemingly inevitable that there would be some overlapping of the Small Date and Large Date hubs in the die sinking process. There are several popular cent varieties of 1960 in which the Large Date is superimposed over the Small Date and vice versa. This is true even of some proofs, and all of these varieties are highly desired by specialists.
The Mint evidently was aware of the need for replacing its master hubs for certain denominations, though it postponed doing so for the cent until 1969. The nickels of 1960 reveal a new obverse master hub, but the distinctions are so subtle as to go unnoticed by most observers. The fact that so many of the nickels coined for circulation that year were weakly struck from worn dies often obscures these slight improvements, and it is only on the proof coins that they may be appreciated fully.
The changes made to the obverse seem to have only aggravated the striking problems associated with this coin type, particularly its reverse. Specialists in the Jefferson nickel series are often stymied by this date when attempting to find coins having fully struck steps on the view of Monticello. While the Philadelphia Mint nickels are scarce with this feature, those coined at Denver are great rarities with full steps. To varying degrees, this problem of poor striking persisted until 1971, when both sides of the nickel received much sharper hubs of distinctly lower relief.
Also of interest with the 1960 nickels are proofs having a tripled-die reverse. This was a consequence of the multiple hubbings required to fully sink the die, and on some examples, there is even a trace of four impressions. This very scarce variety is another one little known to most collectors.
The dimes of 1960 reveal no changes from the previous year, save for the date itself, but there are several different doubled-die varieties within the proof coinage. While there are at least two such varieties for the reverse, the most popular and distinctive one provides a sharply doubled date on the obverse. This is a highly collected variety that is now featured in the Red Book (A Guide Book of United States Coins, by R. S. Yeoman).
The quarter dollars dated 1960 are similar to the dimes in that no apparent changes were made to the hubs. There is, however, a doubled-die reverse variety that collectors may yet “cherry-pick” from 1960 proof sets. The doubling appears in the value QUARTER DOLLAR and along the edge of the eagle’s wing to the right of the value. Since strike doubling (also known as machine doubling or mechanical doubling) is quite common in these same areas and carries no premium value, collectors should have any coins offered as doubled-die varieties professionally attributed.
Like the nickel, the half dollar underwent some cosmetic surgery in 1960. Both sides were sharpened with new master hubs and are decidedly superior to the halves dated 1959 and the several years previous. Collectors specializing in Franklin half dollars having full bell lines are keenly aware of this improvement, which is very evident on the proofs of 1960 but much less so on the currency pieces. While Philadelphia Mint halves often may be found with full bell lines, the 1960-D coins suffer so from poor overall strikes that the improved reverse master hub had little impact on their availability.
Proof 1960 half dollars sometimes may be found with die doubling in the date and the word TRUST. This is a very popular variety with specialists, though it is not widely known among general collectors.
David W. Lange's column USA Coin Album appears monthly in Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association