What Does a “Mint Mark” on a United States Coin Tell Us?

What Does a “Mint Mark” on a United States Coin Tell Us?

A “mint mark” is a valuable tool for any numismatist or collector. However, not all United States coins bear a mint mark. Ever wonder why? The United States Coins that were made between the years of 1793-1837 were produced without a mint mark. According to the United States Mint, the reason for this is that the first U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, PA used to be the “only” mint. A “mint mark” wasn't necessary when there was only one place that actually produced the coins. Once other branches were opened, the practice of adding a “mint mark” was adopted under the law. A “mint mark” is simply defined by the United States Mint as “a small letter on a coin identifying which of the United States Mint's facilities struck the coin” .¹

The following table identifies historical and current mint marks used by the United States Mint and their Branch Mints over time.

 

Location

Mint Mark

Timeline Used

Carson City, Nevada

“CC”

1870-1893

Charlotte, North Carolina

“C”

1838-1861

Dahlonega, Georgia

“D”

1838-1861

New Orleans, Louisiana

“O”

1838-1861, 1879-1909

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“P”

1838 to Present

San Francisco, California

“S”

1854-1955, 1968 to Present

West Point, New York

“W”

1973 to Present

Denver, Colorado

“D”

1906-Present

Under President Andrew Jackson, three new southern branches were authorized in 1835 to complement the Philadelphia facility. These facilities—in New Orleans, Charlotte and Dahlonega—followed the rapid growth of the south resulting from the discovery of gold there in the early 1800s. In fact, the Charlotte and Dahlonega facilities minted only gold coins. All three closed after the Civil War. The actual Congressional Act that was signed on March 3, 1835, also stipulated that each United States Mint Branch must add a “mint mark” to each coin struck there. The actual language in the act reads as follows: “for the purpose of discriminating the coin, which shall be stamped at each branch and at the mint itself also for the purpose of preserving uniformity of weight, form, and fineness in the coins stamped at each place”.


There was a brief time when the uses of “mint marks” were actually prohibited by law. This was due the Coinage Act of 1965 which prohibited mint marks for five years. This, together with the date freeze, eliminated distinguishing features that could tempt people to remove the coins from circulation while the U.S. Mint was striving to meet the country’s need for coins. No mint marks appear on coins dated 1965, 1966, and 1967. Congress authorized resumption of the “mint mark” practice in 1968, at which time the mint marks, usually on the back of the coins before 1968, were permanently relocated to the front of the coins.


Current and Former United States Mint Facilities


Philadelphia, PA (opened in 1792).This was the first United States Mint, established by the Act of April 2, 1792, and the first public building erected under the federal government by the new US Constitution. This United States Mint facility was built in the city of Philadelphia because this was the Nation's Capital in 1792. The practice of not identifying Philadelphia’s coins was continued even after the first branches were established. In 1942, however, when World War II necessitated removing nickel from the 5-cent coin’s alloy, the mint mark was moved from the right of Monticello to above the dome to indicate the substitute alloy. At the same time, the letter "P" first appeared on Philadelphia coinage. After the war, when use of the regular alloy was resumed, the mint mark was restored to its former position and Philadelphia's "P" was no longer used. In July of 1979, the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin was introduced, replacing the larger dollar coin. Once again, the "P" mint mark appeared, this time on the dollar denomination.¹

The U.S. Mint in Philadelphia has been located in four different buildings. First Building (1792 - 1833); Being the tallest and most visible structure of the mint the words "Ye Olde Mint" were painted on. Second Building (1833-1901); The "Grecian Temple", was constructed of white marble with classic Greek style columns on front and back. Third Building (1901 – 1969); A massive structure nearly a full city block, it was an instant landmark. Current Building (1969 - Present); A mere two blocks from the site of "Ye Olde Mint", the fourth and current Philadelphia Mint opened its doors in 1969. The Philadelphia mint can produce up to one million coins in thirty minutes. It took three years for the original mint to produce that many.²

San Francisco, CA (opened in 1854). President Millard Fillmore authorized the United States Mint at San Francisco with the Act of July 3, 1852. The California Gold Rush of 1849 is most often cited as the impetus for this legislation, as the need to convert miners' gold into coins became urgent. The "S" Mint mark was used on San Francisco coins until 1975, although production in San Francisco was suspended between 1955 and 1965. San Francisco made cents for circulation from 1968 through 1974, nickels from 1968 through 1970, and dimes in 1975.Circulating cents were manufactured in the early 1980s at San Francisco and the West Point Bullion Depository, but no mint marks were used, assuring maximum circulation of this small production. ¹

It quickly outgrew its first building and moved into a new one in 1874. This building, the Old United States Mint, also known affectionately as “The Granite Lady”, is one of the few that survived the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It served until 1937, when the present facility was opened. The given name of "The Granite Lady" is somewhat of a misnomer as most of the building is made from sandstone. While the base/basement of the building is made of granite, the entire external and upper stories are made of sandstone. The Granite Lady was a marketing term given in the 1970s that stuck. Beginning in 1955, circulating coinage from San Francisco was suspended for 13 years. In 1968, it took over most proof coinage production from the Philadelphia Mint, but continued striking a supplemental circulating coinage from 1968 through 1974. Since 1975, the San Francisco Mint has been used only for proof coinage, with the exception of the Susan B. Anthony dollar from 1979-1981 and a portion of the mintage of cents in the early 1980s. From 1962 to 1988, the San Francisco Mint was officially an assay office; the San Francisco Assay Office was granted mint status again on March 31, 1988.²

Denver, CO (established as an Assay Office in 1863 — became a Mint in 1904). This branch of the United States Mint was established by an April 21, 1862, by an Act of Congress after the Treasury Department proposed that a Branch Mint be established for the coinage of gold. The need for this new facility was because of the discovery of gold at the Platte River near Denver. In 1874, Congress gave the United States Mint at Denver the authority to produce coins for the United States and some foreign countries. ¹

The site for the new mint at West Colfax and Delaware streets was purchased on April 22, 1896, for approximately $60,000. Construction began in 1897. Coinage operations finally began in February 1906, advancing the status of the Denver facility to Branch Mint.  During the first year, 167 million coins were produced, including $20 gold (double eagle) coins, $10 gold (eagle) coins, $5 gold (half eagle) coins, and assorted denominations of silver coins. The Denver Mint is the single largest producer of coins in the world.²

West Point Bullion Depository in West Point, NY (established as silver bullion storage facility in 1937 — became an official Mint on March 31, 1988). In 2000, it struck the first ever Gold and Platinum Bi-Metallic Coin.¹

September 1983 saw the first appearance of the "W" mint mark on a $10 Gold Coin Commemorating the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games².
The mint itself was built in 1937 nearby to the West Point Military Academy in New York. When this mint first started, it was called the West Point Bullion Depository, which is what Fort Knox is today. In fact, West Point held the largest concentration of silver out of all the other US mints, although they minted Small Cent pennies for 35 years as well. They are known almost exclusively for minting commemorative coins, bullion coins and storing gold these days. West Point officially gained the status of branch mint on March 31 of 1988, making it the most modern official mint in existence. Originally in 1937, it was just a silver bullion storage facility and was also known as "The Fort Knox of Silver". It still produced coins even though it did not have the official status to be a mint. In fact, between the years 1973 and 1986, they produced Lincoln Memorial Cents, which had no mint marks. Therefore no one could distinguish them from pennies produced by the Philadelphia Mint. West Point also produced Bicentennial Washington Quarters between 1977 and 1979. Even though the mint was known for storing silver, they stored up to $20 billion worth of gold through the early 1980s, which was still much less than Fort Knox.  Finally on March 31 of 1988, West Point Bullion Depository became an official branch mint. Another notable coin they minted was the Roosevelt Dime in 1996, which had the "W" mintmark on it. This was only minted in 1996 because of the 50th anniversary of the Roosevelt dime design. Currently, all Gold, American Silver Eagle and American Platinum Eagle bullion proof and many uncirculated coins are produced at the West Point US Mint along with all of the gold and some of the silver commemorative coins. ◘


Fort Knox Bullion Depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky (opened in 1937). In the past, the Depository has stored the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, Lincoln's Gettysburg address, three volumes of the Gutenberg Bible, and Lincoln's second inaugural address. In addition to gold bullion, the Mint has stored valuable items for other government agencies. The Magna Carta was once stored there. The crown, sword, scepter, orb, and cape of St. Stephen, King of Hungary also were stored at the Depository, before being returned to the government of Hungary in 1978.¹

A large amount of the United States' gold reserves is stored in the vault of the Fort Knox Bullion Depository, one of the institutions under the supervision of the Director of the United States Mint. The remaining gold reserves are held in the Philadelphia Mint, the Denver Mint, the West Point Bullion Depository and the San Francisco Assay Office, also facilities of the United States Mint. The Depository was completed in December 1936 at a cost of $560,000. The first gold was moved to the Depository by railroad in January 1937. That series of shipments was completed in June 1937. The gold stored in the Depository is in the form of standard mint bars of almost pure gold or coin gold bars resulting from the melting of gold coins. These bars are about the size of an ordinary building brick, but are somewhat smaller. The approximate dimensions are 7 x 3-5/8 x 1-3/4 inches. The fine gold bars contain approximately 400 troy ounces of gold, worth $16,888.00 (based on the statutory price of $42.22 per ounce). The avoirdupois weight of the bars is about 27-1/2 pounds. ³

New Orleans, LA (opened in 1838 — closed in 1942). The production facility in New Orleans was the first of the three Southern branch Mints to be controlled by the Confederacy, first by the State of Louisiana on January 31, 1861, and later by the government of the Confederate States of America. During the possession of the facility by the Confederate forces it briefly produced confederate money until the Act of January 27, 1862, approved by the Confederate Congress, changed its functions to that of an assay office. Coining operations at the New Orleans branch Mint were suspended from 1861 to 1879. Coining operations at the New Orleans facility resumed in 1879 and continued until 1909. It operated as an assay office from 1909 unit 1942.¹ 

The New Orleans Mint has been designated a National Historic Landmark, and is currently the oldest surviving structure to have served as a U.S. Mint. The New Orleans Mint operated continuously from 1838 until January 26, 1861, when Louisiana seceded from the United States. The mint reopened as an assay office in 1876. The building was refurbished and put back into active minting service in 1879, producing mainly silver coinage, including the famed Morgan silver dollar from 1879 to 1904. The refurbishment and re-commissioning of the New Orleans Mint was due partly to the fact that in 1878 the Federal government in Washington, D.C. had passed the Bland-Allison Act, which mandated the purchase and coining of a large quantity of silver yearly. It was first downgraded to an assay office for the U.S. Treasury as it had been from 1876 - 1879. Then, in 1932, the assay office closed and the building was converted into a Federal prison, in which capacity it served until 1943.²

Dahlonega, GA (opened in 1838 — closed as a federal Mint in 1861). On April 8, 1861, the Dahlonega facility was claimed by the Confederate States of America.¹

The Dahlonega Mint issued its first gold coins in 1838 with the imprint "D" on each coin. The first coins produced at the mint were gold $5.00 half eagles in April 1838. When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, the Dahlonega Mint was seized by the Confederates. After the end of the civil was The United States Government decided against reopening the mint for its purposes²
Dahlonega minted coins between the years 1838 and 1861, which was well before the time when Denver built their mint and officially struck coins in 1906. Also, any coins coming out of Dahlonega were purely gold coins. The building itself was built in 1837 and first started striking coins in April of 1838. The first coins that were made here were the $5 Gold Half Eagle of the Liberty Without Turban Half Eagle type. They continued minting until 1861 and produced coins that included the Coronet Gold Half EagleGold Dollars$2.50 Quarter Eagles and $3 Indian Princess Gold Coins. When 1861 came around, the Civil War had begun and the mint was taken over by the Confederates. Like the other mints that they had taken over, they continued to produce gold coins under Confederate authority until the bullion ran out. In fact, the true mintage quantity of 1861 gold dollars is not precisely known but each coin is generally worth over $10,000 each these days. In fact, all coins minted from Dahlonega are very rare and are worth large quantities of money and are greatly sought after by collectors. The number of coins minted here came out to have a total face value of $6 million, which is about 1 million more than was minted in Charlotte.◘


Charlotte, NC (opened officially in 1838 — closed as a federal Mint in 1861). On April 20, 1861, the Charlotte facility was claimed by the Confederate States of America. ¹

The first gold mine in the United States was established in North Carolina at the Reed Gold Mine.  It opened for business on July 27, 1837. In May 1861, North Carolina seceded from the Union. The Confederacy took control of the Charlotte Mint. Federal troops used the offices for the first few years of Reconstruction. In 1867, the U.S. government designated it an assay office. In 1873, the General Assembly of North Carolina petitioned Congress to reopen the mint at Charlotte. This request was denied. The Assay office operated until 1913 when the gold supply was quickly dwindling.²
The construction of this mint did not begin until 1836 and opened up for coin production on July 27 of 1837. All of the coins produced here were struck from the refined gold ore brought in from the gold rush until March 28 of 1838. The first coin minted here was the $5 Gold Half Eagle Liberty without Turban coin. During that same year, the minted some $2.50 Gold Quarter Eagle Liberty without Turban varieties. In 1849, the Charlotte Mint produced Liberty Head Gold Dollars. All of the coins bear the "C" mintmark and there was over $5 million worth of gold coins minted here. North Carolina seceded from the Union in the month of May, 1861. As a result of this act, the Confederacy took over the mint and began minting coins as well. Eventually, they ran out of bullion and turned the building into military space and a hospital for their troops throughout the rest of the war. These same offices were used by the Union troops during some of the early years of the Reconstruction period after the war. When 1867 came along, the government turned it into an assay office. The Charlotte Assay Office requested permission to be turned back into a branch mint but it was denied. So, Charlotte continued assay office work and coining up until 1913 when the gold started to disappear.◘

Carson City, NV (opened in 1870 — stopped coinage operations in 1893 — closed as an Assay office in 1933). The Carson City branch Mint was authorized by the Act of March 3, 1863. This facility was opened to serve the coining needs brought about by the discovery of the Comstock Lode, the largest silver strike in the Nation's history. Coining operations at this facility started in 1870 and lasted through 1893 and although coining operations ceased at this time, the facility continued to function as an assay office until it closed in 1933. ¹

Built at the peak of the silver boom, 50 issues of silver coins and 57 issues of gold coins minted here between 1870 and 1893 bore the "CC" mint mark.  From 1895 to 1933, the building served as the U.S. Assay Office for gold and silver. The Federal Government sold the building to the state of Nevada in 1939.²
This mint was based in Nevada and was build during the height of the silver boom. Like many of the western mints, Carson City mint was built to convert the mined silver ore into silver coins and bars and they also did this with gold Later on in time between 1895 and 1933, Carson City mint became an official US Assay Office to help miners convert their ore into coins, ingots and bars. Eventually in 1939, the building was sold to the state of Nevada and has now become the Nevada State Museum. One of the most popular coins that were struck at this mint is the Morgan Silver Dollar but there are many gold coins and silver coins struck during this small range of years during the silver rush.◘

 

Timeline Courtesy of the United States Mint¹

(Unless Otherwise Noted)

1792 
 (April, 02)
Congressional legislation creates a national mint "at the seat of the government of the United States," and regulates coinage. It authorizes the Mint to make coins of gold (Eagles, Half Eagles and Quarter Eagles), silver (Dollars, Half Dollars, Quarter Dollars, Dimes, and Half Dimes), and copper (Cents and Half Cents). 
(April, 02)
The Act also authorizes the President to construct buildings in Philadelphia. (The Mint was the first Federal building erected under the Constitution). The Director's annual salary is set at $2,000. Annual salaries for the assayer and chief coiner will be $1,500; for the engraver and treasurer—$1,200; for clerks—$500; and "customary and reasonable" wages for workmen and servants according to their "respective stations and occupations". 

1835 
(March, 03)
Congressional legislation establishes branch Mints at New Orleans, Louisiana; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Dahlonega, Georgia. Their mint marks are: New Orleans ("O"), Charlotte ("C"), and Dahlonega ("D"). They are placed "under the control and regulation" of the Director of the Mint, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury. This is the first time Congress gives the Treasury Department supervisory authority over the Mint. 

1857
February 21, 1857, Congress passed a law withdrawing legal tender status from all foreign coin.º

1861 
Confederate forces seize the branch mints at Charlotte, North Carolina; Dahlonega, Georgia; and New Orleans, Louisiana. Coining operations continue for about a month. 
President Lincoln appoints James Pollock, A.M., LL.D., of Pennsylvania, 10th Director of the Mint, and that facility's First Superintendent. He serves during the Civil War. 
(May, 21)
Confederate troops occupy the Charlotte Mint and use it for their headquarters during the Civil War. 
(May, 31)
The Confederate Government closes the branch mints at New Orleans, Louisiana; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Dahlonega, Georgia. 

1862 
(April, 21)
Congressional legislation establishes a branch mint at Denver "exclusively for the coinage of gold", the sum of $75,000 is appropriated to meet the expenses for fiscal year 1863. 
(November, 25)
Congressional committee makes a formal offer of $25,000 for the Clark, Gruber & Co. plant, through the Treasury Secretary. The offer is accepted. 

1863 
(March, 03)
Congressional legislation establishes a branch mint at Carson City, Nevada. The mint mark is: "CC". 
Title to the property for a Denver branch mint is obtained. 
The Denver Branch Mint opens. Operations are confined to the melting, refining, assaying, and stamping of bullion, and the return of the same to depositors in "unparted bars, stamped with the weight and fineness." 

1873 
(February, 12)
Legislation establishes the Mint as a bureau of the Treasury Department, moving the Director's Office from Philadelphia to the Treasury Building in Washington, DC. The Superintendent becomes the senior Mint officer at the Philadelphia Mint. (Second major piece of legislation for the Mint since it was established in 1792.

1886
April 17, 1886, a new law was passed making it illegal for a living person’s portrait to appear on the nation’s money. º

1908
March 8, 1908. The bill to restore “In God We Trust” to American Coins passed the House.º
May 13, 1908. The bill to restore “In God We Trust” to American Coins passed the Senateº.
May 18, 1908. President Roosevelt signed it into law and, by July, the motto was appearing on the nation’s coinage.º

1965 
 (July, 23)
President Johnson approves the Coinage Act of 1965, which removes silver from circulating coins and authorizes that clad coins be used instead for the half dollar, quarter dollar, and dimes. (Third piece of major legislation since the establishment of the Mint in 1792) 

1968 
(March, 19)
Congressional legislation eliminates the requirement that 25% of U.S. currency be backed in gold freeing $10.4 billion in gold reserves to meet international demands. 

1984 
The name of the Bureau of the Mint is changed to the United States Mint. 

1988 
(March, 31)
The West Point Bullion Depository becomes an official United States branch Mint. San Francisco Mint, an assay office since 1962, is once again given Mint status. (Public Law 100-274) 

References
º A History of United States Coinage, Ted (Theodore) Schwarz, ©1980, The Tavitiy Press, London, England. ISBN: 0-498-02210.
¹ www.usmint.gov
² http://www.coincommunity.com/mints
³ http://www.treasury.gov/about/education/Pages/fort-knox.aspx
http://www.usacoinbook.com/encyclopedia/coin-mints/west-point/