Whether you’re into Numismatics or you’ve found yourself staring into a coin, you must’ve noticed a mint mark, a small letter, or some other symbol engraved on the coin. In case you were wondering, a mint mark is an important symbol for all coins, whether they’re new or old, and can tell you a lot about it. Today, this information is important for the collectors and other entities that work with coins, but it can also shed light on important information such as the history of old coins which can help appraisers evaluate coins.
A mint mark on a coin indicates at which mint the coin was manufactured. Here are some key details about mint marks:
- Mint marks are small letters printed on a coin, usually on the obverse (front) side below the date.
- On US coins, the mint marks indicate which of the US Mint facilities struck the coin:
- P – Philadelphia
- D – Denver
- S – San Francisco
- W – West Point (used rarely)
- Other mints used for US coins in the past include CC for Carson City, O for New Orleans, and C for Charlotte.
- Mint marks were not consistently used on US coins until the 20th century. Prior to that, most coins lacked mint marks entirely.
- The purpose of mint marks is to track and identify at which mint a coin was made. This allows collectors and numismatists to assemble complete sets of coins from all mints.
- The mint producing a coin impacts its rarity and value to collectors and dealers. For example, a 1921 Morgan silver dollar with no mint mark (struck in Philadelphia) is very common. But the 1921-D (Denver mint) and 1921-S (San Francisco) are rare and expensive.
- Some mints produce coin errors and varieties more often, also impacting a coin’s collectability. The 1955 Doubled Die Lincoln wheat penny was struck at the Philadelphia mint.
So in short, mint marks indicate the specific mint a coin was produced at based on a code of letters used on the coin. This impacts the coin’s history, rarity, and value.
In this article, we’ll detail the definition of a mint mark on a coin, and share details on how they developed throughout history. We’ll also discuss locations on different coins as they can help identify and evaluate the coin.
Whether you’re a novice who’s curious about coins and numismatics in particular, or a collector who wants to reinforce their knowledge about coins, this article contains all the necessary information you need. Continue reading to learn more.
Definition of Mint Mark
Mint marks, as mentioned earlier, are small symbols, letters, or combinations of these two, according to the US Mint. They can help collectors, historians, numismatists, and even laymen identify the facility that originally minted that particular coin.
Given that coins were minted at different facilities, it was hard to identify from which particular mint a certain came.
Oftentimes, when a production error would occur which would result in the coin being deformed or underweight looking at the mint mark helped experts trace back the mint and prevent the production of more of such coins.
Keep in mind that the location of the mint mark on a coin varies by the mint that produced it, as well as the country the coin came from, as well as the time when the mint produced it as the practices changed over time.
For example, some mint marks can be found on the obverse side of a coin (front) as opposed to the mint marks that can be found on the reverse (back) usually near the denomination or design. Those mint marks that are on the front can be found near the date of production if the coin has it.
There are many variations of a mint mark, their presence in certain locations on a coin as well as errors or deformations can indicate whether some coin is rarer than others, as well as more or less valuable. Some coins even have a missing mint mark as a result of an error or some other production practices which significantly impact the value of the coin. Those are extremely popular among collectors who are seeking to collect as many variations as possible.
Mint marks were produced for a very long time, and many countries still produce them because it helps identify the mint that produced the coin, or as a traditional practice.
History of Mint Marks
As noted before, mint marks have been around for a very long time. Some of them date to ancient times, particularly to Ancient Greece and Roman times. One of the oldest mint marks found on ancient coins is known as “Magistrates Marks”
Ancient Greeks developed them and appointed magistrates who’d be in charge of coin production. Mint marks had an important role among coins, and in fact, any kind of tampering or debasing with a coin was punishable by law, and in some occasions, criminal offenders who conducted malversations on coins would be sentenced to death. This practice, however, has been limited to only a few civilizations.
Mint marks continued being present on coins throughout history. In 1649, it was detected that some directors of the Spanish Colonial American Mint at Potosi (now Bolivia) were debasing the coinage. As a result of this fraud, they were executed.
Those coins have been known for the initials of the assayer engraved on them as well as the mint mark which helped identify them.
The first national mint in The United States started operating in 1792 when the Coinage Act was passed by the United States Congress. The first, and also the largest mint was the Philadelphia Mint. The reason authorities chose Philadelphia as the first state to establish a national mint was because it was the capital of The United States for a very short time as Washington DC was being built meanwhile.
However, because the Philadelphia Mint was the first established mint in The USA, it wasn’t necessary to use mint marks. This practice remained even when other mints were open but with one exception. In 1979, the new Susan B. Anthony Dollar appeared and started circulating with a “P” mintmark which stood for Philadelphia.
Only a year later, Philadelphia mint marks started appearing on nearly all coin denominations. The only coin that was excluded from this practice was the penny.
Mint marks also remained quite popular throughout the 19th century. However, instead of identifying coins by the mint marks, numismatists were identifying them based on the date sets engraved on the coin.
In 1893 A.G. Heaton’s “A Treatise on Coinage of the United States Branch Mints” was published and it changed the way people identified and traced coins based on the set of dates. The book detailed examples of coins that were rarer compared to Philadelphia-marked coins. The author noted that those coins could also be more valuable.
Interestingly, The United States stopped using silver coins in 1965 and passed a notice that there’d be no mint marks on the new coins made of copper-nickel. They believed that this practice would prevent the coins to stop circulating by collectors.
However, silver coins were quick to disappear from circulation as collectors already saved them. The coins were so reduced that many people feared that there’d be a shortage of coins so they started placing mint marks again in 1967.
Remember how we said the P mint mark appeared on all coins except the penny after 1980? Well, that changed in 2017 because of the 225th Anniversary of the U.S. Mint, when the notable P letter appeared on the penny too.
It can be considered a surprise because the Mint didn’t make any announcement about the mint mark appearing on the penny, resulting in a silent release into circulation. The Mint waited to see whether the collectors will notice and start collecting these pennies. Because they did, the mint mark disappeared from the penny in 2018.
Why are Mint Marks Important to Collectors?
Mint marks on coins are important to historians, numismatists, and especially collectors who make money out of old and rare coins and find special satisfaction in completing their coin collections. Here’s why mint marks are important.
Identification and Authentication
We mentioned this earlier, but mint marks are among the best ways to identify and authenticate coins. It’s the first approach that an appraiser or numismatist will use to identify the coin if the mint mark is present.
Mint marks are important because they provide information about where the coin was minted, such as the facility, but can also tell about the country of origin of the coin. The location of a mint mark on the coin can also shed light on which minting period the coin belongs to, and whether it’s a legitimate coin or a fake.
The mint mark can also shed light on significant historical events of mint marking of a certain coin, which can prove especially valuable for coin collectors.
Needless to say, a mint mark on the coin can tell a lot about how rare the coin is you’re inspecting. Some of the mints are no longer operating and coins with mint marks from those places have a higher value because they’re rarer, as long as they’re in good condition.
On top of that, a mint mark can help identify at which period was the coin minted, and coins that originate from a certain period are rarer and worth more money. One example of that is the coins minted in 1944 and 1945 as World War II was drawing to a close. The economy was devastated and fewer coins were circulating.
It’s worth mentioning that mint marks on coins help collectors complete their collections. They are looking into completing entire sets of coins that were minted during a certain period or in a certain mint. There’s nothing more satisfying for a collector than completing the entire collection from a series.
Mint marks can help identify the coin series which helps collectors with identifying all other coins that are part of such series.
In some cases, mint marks can represent some historical aspects and events. For example, the 225th anniversary of the Philadelphia Mint from 2017 is quite important for collectors who wanted to get pennies with the P mint marks. On the other hand, coins before 1979 that don’t have mint marks have quite some importance.
In some countries and mint marks, changes in mint marks were occurring during important historical events and changes in minting technology. Additionally, shifts in monetary policies made certain coins more or less valuable. All this information helps collectors look into coins that have important historical significance, which also makes them more valuable in the process.
Coins produced in different mints show different traits and appearances. Due to an error or shift in design, some coins would have a different metal composition, as well as minting errors that would make the coins more attractive, and with that in mind, more approachable to collectors.
Another important reason why collectors hunt for different varieties is niche collecting. Some collectors specialize in specific mint marks and search for certain minting errors that would complete their coin series or a collection.
Niche collecting is quite popular because it offers a deep dive into all details of numismatics which leads to more unique collections.
Finally, another reason why collectors look for special mint marks is that coins with rare mint marks can become more valuable over time, which makes them worth investing in. That said, collectors may want to sell their collection of coins with a particular mint mark so that they can make a profit.
U.S. Mints that Still Operate
Mints in the United States were opening and closing, and while some of them no longer exist, there are three main U.S. mints that still mint coins.
- Philadelphia – Coins were produced in the Philadelphia Mint since the act was passed until now. The coins minted in the Philadelphia mint were either minted with or without a mint mark. Those that were minted with a mint mark had P.
- Denver – Coins that were produced in Denver mint appear with the D mint mark. The D has been present since 1906 and still exists on coins that are minted in the present.
- San Francisco – The San Francisco mint is also among the oldest mints in The USA. The coins produced in San Francisco come with an S mint mark. The mint mark from the San Francisco mint appeared on coins between 1854 and 1955 and resumed coin production with the S mint mark in 1968.
- West Point: The West Point mint rolls out the coins with a W mint mark. This mint mark appeared for the first time on coins circulating today in 2019 when 10 million quarters for the America the Beautiful Quarters program were produced. However, The West Point Mint mark appeared on coins in 1984.
Editor’s notes: There are mints that no longer produce coins. They are Carson City, Dahlonega, Charlotte, and New Orleans.
Mint Mark Locations
Mint mark locations vary depending on the type of coin denomination, as well as the period when the coin was minted. Earlier we said that most of the time, the mint mark appears on the obverse of the coin. However, it’s worth mentioning that before 1968, the mint marks of coins that had them were minted on the reverse of the coin.
- Penny (Cent): The mint mark on the penny sits under the date of production on the obverse of the coin. Between 1965 and 1967 there were no mint marks on this coin. Philadelphia Mint produced coins with a P mint mark in 2017, while the West Point Mint only featured pennies with a W mint mark in 2019
- Nickel: Depending on the year, the mint mark appears in varying positions on a nickel. For example, the Jefferson Nickel mint mark can be found on the obverse of the coin near the date. Between 1942-1945 the mint marks appeared on the reverse. In some situations, like from 1938-1964 except the aforementioned date, the mint marks were also on the reverse on the lower right side of the Monticello building.
- Dime: It mostly varies. For example, the Roosevelt Dime holds a mintmark on the obverse above the date of production. In some cases, it may hold a different location.
- The Quarter: The Washington Quarter hosted a mint mark on the obverse of the coin near the ribbon that holds George Washington’s hair.
- Half Dollar: Half Dollar had the mint marks placed on several locations because of the varying series of the coin. Some variations like the Franklin half dollar had a mint mark located on the reverse of the coin. On the other hand, The Kennedy Half Dollar had a mint mark on two different places depending on the year.