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That magic 'S'
October 26, 2010

I received a 1970-S Lincoln cent in change the other day. It surprised me. All of the luster was gone, but it is probably a strong XF-45.

Too bad I didn’t find one in my change 40 years ago. The coin would have been much more appreciated as I was still in thrall to the magic “S” mintmark.

To be sure, the 1970-S was not in the same league as the 1909-S VDB or the 1931-S – or even the 1955-S that I had struggled to find in change some years earlier.

But it was an “S.” I wanted it. That was all that mattered. I was so taken with the mintmark that for a time I even had 10 BU rolls of the 1969-S.

But I did not find the 1970-S in a timely fashion. The circulation finds era had ended by 1970. I looked through a greatly reduced number of cents over the course of a year as a result. Among those coins there was very little variety, basically a decade’s worth of the new Memorial design with a smattering of Wheat-backs.

When the “S” mintmark was revived for the circulating cent in 1968 after not having been used since 1955, it was because the nation needed every coin all of the Mint’s facilities could produce, including San Francisco. So the “S” cent was reborn.

This created a short series of seven nonproof “S” mint cents that ended in 1974. It ended for exactly the same reason as it started. There was a shortage of cents. But this time, Mint Director Mary Brooks thought that collectors were saving too many of the “S” mintmarked coins, thus contributing to the shortage, so why have San Francisco crank out any when Denver and Philadelphia could do the job so much more efficiently?

This was a mini-revival of the reasoning behind the removal of mintmarks from all coins in 1965.

So the “S” mintmark was removed from circulating coins for the last time. Though as I found the other day, remnants of that time are still to be found occasionally.

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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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