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Mints and Mintmarks
By 2012 U.S. Coin Digest
September 23, 2011

The following is an excerpt from 2012 U.S. Coin Digest published by Krause Publications
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The “U.S. Mint” is about as specific as most non-collectors get in describing the government agency that provides everyday coins. Behind that label are the various production facilities that actually do the work.

In two centuries of U.S. coinage, there have been eight such facilities. Four are still in operation. Those eight in alphabetical order are Carson City, Nev., which used a “CC” mintmark to identify its work; Charlotte, N.C. (“C”); Dahlonega, Ga. (“D”); Denver (also uses a “D,” but it opened long after the Dahlonega Mint closed, so there was never any confusion); New Orleans (“O”); Philadelphia (because it was the primary mint, it used no mintmark for much of its history, but currently uses a “P”); San Francisco (“S”); and West Point, N.Y. (“W”).

A person contemplating the collecting of Jefferson nickels by date and mintmark will find that three mints produced them: San Francisco, Denver and Philadelphia. Because the first two are branch mints serving smaller populations, their output has tended over time to be smaller than that of Philadelphia. This fact, repeated in other series, has helped give mintmarks quite an allure to collectors. It provides one of the major attractions in collecting coins by date and mintmark.

The key date for Jeffersons is the 1950-D when using mintages as a guide. In that year, production was just 2.6 million pieces. Because collectors of the time were aware of the coin’s low mintage, many examples were saved. As a result, prices are reasonable.

The Depression-era 1939-D comes in as the most valuable regular-issue Jefferson nickel despite a mintage of 3.5 million – almost 1 million more than the 1950-D. The reason: Fewer were saved for later generations of coin collectors.

Date and mintmark collecting teaches hobbyists to use mintage figures as a guide but to take them with a grain of salt. Rarity, after all, is determined by the number of surviving coins, not the number initially created.

The Jefferson series is a good one to collect by date and mintmark, because the mintmarks have moved around, grown in size, and expanded in number.

When the series was first introduced, the Jefferson nickel was produced at the three mints previously mentioned. In 1942, because of a diversion of certain metals to wartime use, the coin’s alloy of 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel was changed. The new alloy was 35 percent silver, 56 percent copper, and 9 percent manganese.

To denote the change, the mintmarks were moved and greatly enlarged. The pre-1942 mintmarks were small and located to the right of Monticello; the wartime mintmarks were enlarged and placed over the dome. What’s more, for the first time in American history, the Philadelphia Mint used a mintmark (“P”).

The war’s end restored the alloy and mintmarks to their previous status. The “P” disappeared. This lasted until the 1960s, when a national coin shortage saw all mintmarks removed for three years (1965-1967) and then returned, but in a different location. Mintmarks were placed on the obverse, to the right of Jefferson’s portrait near the date in 1968. In 1980 the “P” came back in a smaller form and is still used.

Another consideration arises with date and mintmark collecting: Should the hobbyist include proof coins in the set? This can be argued both ways. Suffice to say that anyone who has the desire to add proof coins to the set will have a larger one. It is not necessary nor is it discouraged.

Some of the first proof coins to carry mintmarks were Jefferson nickels. When proof coins were made in 1968 after lapsing from 1965 to 1967, production occurred at San Francisco instead of Philadelphia. The “S” mintmark was placed on the proof coins of that year, including the Jefferson nickel, to denote the change. Since that time, mintmarks used on proof examples of various denominations have included the “P,” “D,” “S,” and “W.”

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On November 27, 2011 Harry Schultz said
One important US Mint has been left out.  The US Branch Mint in Manila, Philippines produced coins from 1920 into 1941.  The mintmark ("M") appeared on these coins from 1925 through 1941.

The statement concerning the first usage of the "P" mintmark to identify coins minted in Philadelphia is only partially correct.  While it is true that the "P" mintmark first appeared on a US coin in 1942, the first "P" mintmark was actually applied to a coin one year earlier.  No less than four distinct foreign coins were minted in 1941 with a "P" mintmark indicating their origin as the US mint in Philadelphia.  One could even contend that the first year a regular issue coin was unambiguously identified as having been struck at the Philadelphia mint was 1895 when the full word "PHILADELPHIA" appeared on the reverse of an Ecuadorian 2 Sucre coin.
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