USA Coin Album: Late to the Party
Posted on 10/12/2021
There are a number of United States coins that were first struck far too late in the year to have a general release before the following year. These include issues such as the 1912-S Liberty Head Nickel, the 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter and the 1921 Peace Dollar. Others were produced earlier in the year of their dating but not released in quantity until sometime later. These include the cents, nickels and dimes dated 1931-S, which were simply not needed during the worst years of the Great Depression. Most didn’t see the light of day until 1934-35.
When today’s collectors assemble sets of popular coin series, little thought is given to how difficult it may have been for past generations of collectors to find such coins during the years of their production. I touched on this subject a couple months ago in describing the frenzied anticipation of the 1938-D Buffalo Nickels, but this was just one example.
Old numismatic periodicals include accounts of frustrated hobbyists attempting to obtain certain issues of the then-current year. There were sometimes delays in releasing new coins, particularly when vaults were already filled with earlier dates of the same denominations. Presented here are a just a couple of the coins that vexed collectors when newly minted.
1955 Half Dollars
During 1955 only the Philadelphia Mint struck half dollars for circulation, and its total of 2,498,191 pieces proved to be the lowest figure in the Franklin series. In fact, half dollar production could have been omitted altogether during 1955, as these coins were not released until well into the following year. A June 1956 account in The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine reveals the truth:
Half dollars are almost as unpopular as the silver dollar as far as change is concerned in our daily business, therefore our vaults are loaded with half dollars. There are millions of the Standing Liberty half dollars stored in the vaults of our government throughout the nation. Had the 1955 half dollars of the Philadelphia Mint been released at the beginning of 1956, the orders for the mint sets would not have been as great.
The number of mint sets sold at the window of the Treasury and the number issued through the mail from January through March 1956 totaled 50,000 sets, and there were about 2,000 orders that were cancelled due to lack of coin sets. One thing to remember is the fact that the US Treasury officials must place their orders for the mint sets one year in advance with the mint officials, and it is very difficult for them to know the demand of collectors a year hence.
The Red Book actually shows net sales of 49,656 sets, but an explanation of the ordering process is necessary to understand this figure. Prior to 1959, the US Mint’s Uncirculated Sets could not be ordered until the conclusion of each calendar year. That’s because the price varied from year to year based on the total number of coins the set contained. Since not every mint coined each denomination in those days, the price couldn’t be set until all production had ceased for 1955.
When the ordering period opened in January of 1956, frustrated collectors seeking the as-yet-unreleased half dollar ordered more sets than had been projected by the Treasury when it placed its own order the previous year. When the 1955 halves were finally shipped to banks, most of the mintage was hoarded by speculators in Mint State condition, making worn examples rather scarce. Indeed, when I tried to assemble an evenly worn set of Franklins some years ago, I was unable to find this issue grading less than About Uncirculated.
The coinage of 1965-67 is complex enough to be the subject of an entire book. With the elimination of silver and an ongoing shortage of coins nationwide, the US Mint took the unprecedented steps of suspending mintmarks and also striking coins beyond the year of their dating. These measures were designed to reduce the number of coins set aside by collectors, and in that sense they were largely effective, nearly killing the coin hobby.
It was not until 1967 that all of the coins struck that year actually bore the correct date. Unfortunately for collectors, many of these coins simply weren’t needed right away. Several years of overproduction had created a glut, as reported in COINage magazine’s 1968 Year Book:
Dealers were waiting with eager hands and frenzied nerves for the entrance of the 1967 five cent piece. Many had advertised the 1967 Year Sets in early January and were unable to deliver as the nickels went from the presses to the Federal Reserve Storage vaults. The mountains of 1964 nickels were a reserve to be lightened before the new coins could be delivered. Not until the last quarter of the year were collectors able to bring their albums up to date.
It’s not surprising that the 1964-dated nickels were in oversupply, as they were coined right into 1966! I encountered unworn examples in circulation for at least a decade afterward. As for the 1967 nickels, they are, of course, very common and merit no special interest today. Still, it’s fun to read these vintage tales that reveal the drama behind coins we now take for granted.
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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