Some of the more interesting characteristics of coin collecting are the mint imprints, which signify the location of the mint at which the coin was produced. However, knowing where to find mint marks on coins isn’t something all coin collectors fully understand.
To find mint marks on a coin you need to be familiar with the different placements of mint marks on individual coins. This requires you to examine coins and know where to look. Complicating that is the fact that not all coins of the same mint location have mint marks.
Finding mint marks is easy once you are familiar with where they are placed. Why mint marks were included on coins is almost as fascinating. Read on to learn why you need to pay attention to coin mint marks and their significance.
Why Coin Mint Marks Matter
If you collect coins or even have a passing interest in them, you have undoubtedly noticed the small imprint of a letter on the face of US coins. The most common are a “P” or a “D,” but there are also coins imprinted with an “S” or a “W.” In addition, if you collect older coins, you can also see the mint marks “C,” “D” (1838-1861,) “O” and “CC.”
Not All Coins Have Mint Marks
Complicating the letter imprint is the fact that some coins have no letter imprint at all. In fact, most coins lack a letter imprint. That makes coins with the letter imprint stand out. To see how that works, do the following test.
Take ten pennies, seven with no letter imprint and three with a letter imprint. Place them randomly on a table. Look to see what attracts your eye. In most cases, you will notice the mint mark before you notice anything else.
That is significant because most coins have at the very minimum:
- Portraits of presidents and historical figures
- Illustrations of landmarks
- Quotes and phrases
- A date and date ranges
- Other commemorative symbols or pictures
However, mint letter imprints are rare enough that they stand out like a sore thumb when you see them on a coin.
All US coins come from the government of the United States of America, but each coin is not necessarily minted in the same place. Throughout the country’s history, coins have been minted in various locations.
The headquarters of the US Mint is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The first US coins were minted there in 1793. As the country expanded, the population had a need for a lot of currency. Minting it in Philadelphia and shipping it to the West Coast, even with the railroad, could take weeks.
There was also the possibility that currency shipments could be stolen or that the services transporting the currency could be held up. To address that, the US government commissioned mints around the country. Today, there are multiple mint locations that operate in the US.
With more mints, identifying where a coin was minted was necessary as part of the validation process that a coin was authentic. To address this, tiny letters were imprinted on coins and that letter indicated where the coin was produced.
Mint Mark History
Mint marks are an interesting part of coin collecting. They also make it easy to see the origin of the coin. That is not why mint marks were put on coins, however.
Initially, mint marks were put on coins as a form of quality control. Because multiple mints were producing coins across the country, it became necessary for the government to track where coins were made to accomplish two things:
- Verify that the proper number of coins were being minted and in circulation
- Verify that coins from each mint location were of uniform standards and quality for size and weight
To attain these goals, the US government mandated that the first letter of each mint location be imprinted somewhere on the face of the coin. While the imprint did not have to be highly visible, it had to be able to be found during any inspection of coins to verify quality.
The Inspection Process
When inspecting coins, mint officials pull random samplings of imprinted coins and look at the following:
Inspectors also look at the clarity of the imprint and whether there are any quality issues or errors on either face of the coin.
If a coin did not pass inspection, it was easy to figure out where it came from. While quality was important for any type of coin, it was particularly important for coins that were highly collectible or made of a precious metal.
Why Mint Marks Are Still Used
Today, any coins made of precious metals are highly regulated and not for circulation. They are usually specially ordered by dealers, collectors or investors. The precious metal content, weight and size are highly regulated and produced by computers, attaining a stunning level of precision in all three areas.
Yet some coins are still imprinted with the first letter of the city where the coin was minted. The reason at this point is more for tradition than it is for functionality.
Other Countries’ Mint Marks
The United States is not the only country that imprints the initials of the mint location on its coins. Worldwide, various countries have used mint marks throughout history. The purpose was usually for quality control purposes, just like in the US.
Why Mint Marks Matter
Mint marks are interesting in their own right. For collectors and dealers, however, the mint mark can mean much more:
- It can help determine the age of the coin
- It can help determine the authenticity of a coin
- It can help determine the rarity of a coin
For example, in 1894, over 1.5 million dimes were minted in Philadelphia and New Orleans (one million in Philadelphia and 500,000 in New Orleans). In San Francisco, however, only twenty-four dimes were minted. Those dimes have an “S” mark and because so few were produced, they are worth a lot of money.
How To Find Mint Marks On Coins
Finding a mint mark on a coin is just a matter of looking in the right place. Every mint mark is the same throughout a denomination of coins, although not all coins’ mint marks are in the same place and not all mint marks have stayed the same within a denomination.
How To Recognize A US Coin Mint Mark
The first step in finding the mint mark on a coin is to ignore any other imagery (portraits, decoration, dates, and slogans). Look for a single letter (or double letter if the coin came from Carson City, Nevada) that is separate of any other lettering or imagery.
Make sure you examine the coin closely as mint marks can be tricky. The letter or letters may look:
- Out of place
- Like an error in the minting of the coin
- Like debris that is affixed to the coin
- As if the coin is damaged (nicked)
To get a closer look at the coin to be able to identify the mint mark more readily, you should use a magnifying glass.
How To Locate The Mint Mark
The mint mark on a coin will be located in a different place for every denomination of coin you examine. Generally, the mint mark will be on the bottom half of the obverse (face side) of the coin, but not always.
The following are the locations of some of the more prominent US coins displaying mint marks.
The mint mark is located on the obverse of the coin, below the date.
On coins minted after 1968, the mint mark is on the obverse side. You’ll find it directly after the date.
The mint mark is located on the obverse side and its specific location is directly under the slogan “In God We Trust.”
For dimes after 1968, the mint mark is on the obverse of the coin, directly above the date.
On the Washington Quarter, if it was minted after 1968, the mint mark will be located at the four o’clock position on the obverse. It sits slightly behind the ribbon in Washington’s hair.
Kennedy Half Dollar
For the Kennedy Half Dollar, the location of the mint mark has changed over time. On coins before 1964, the mint mark was on the reverse, located just beneath the eagle’s left talon. For coins after 1968, the mint mark is on the obverse, just above the date.
Franklin Half Dollar
This is a coin on which the mint mark is on the reverse of the coin (the non-face side or the “tails” side). It sits between the two bolts right at the top of the wooden yoke on the Liberty Bell.
Different Coin Mint Mark Letters Explained
As more mints were opened, indicating on a coin where the coin was minted became important. To address this, it was decided to imprint the first letter of the city where the coin was minted. The following are the mint mark letters for each of the US mints (current and past).
This mint was located in Charlotte, NC, and was used to mint gold coins that had a mint mark between the dates of 1838-1861. Because of the date and limited coin runs, the “C” is exceptionally rare.
“CC” indicates the mint in Carson City, Nevada, which imprinted the double C on coins between 1870 and 1893. The coins that have the double C are gold and silver.
There are two “D” mint imprints. One is only on gold coins minted in Dahlonega, GA, between 1838-1861. The second “D” imprint stands for Denver, Colorado. This mint mark is still used and was first used in 1906.
These mint imprints signify the New Orleans, LA, mint. It was used between 1838 and 1861 and again between 1879 and 1909. During the first date range, the coins minted with mint marks were gold and silver. The mint was not used for the duration of the American Civil War. It resumed its duties at the conclusion of that conflict.
This is perhaps the most famous mint. It is the initial mint for the United States. It has been used from 1793 to the present-day. Mint marks from Philadelphia have been used since 1942.
Most coins minted in Philadelphia do not have the P imprint. Philadelphia mints coins of all denominations. However, since 1980, a mint mark has been imprinted on every coin minted in Philadelphia with a value greater than one cent.
The San Francisco mint was used between 1854-1955 and then again from 1968 to the present-day. Coins of all denominations are minted here. The San Francisco mint makes most of the proof coins that are sold to collectors and dealers.
Coins with a “W” were minted at West Point, New York, from 1984 to present-day. The coins minted at West Point were initially the $10 Olympic gold coins. The West Point mint is used primarily for commemorative and bullion coins.
Things To Know About Mint Marks On Coins
There are only four branches of the US mint in operation today. Those locations are Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco and West Point. For collectors and dealers, this means that any new coin that is minted will have one of these four mint marks (P, D, S, or W).
If you find a mint mark that is different than these four, you are looking at a historical coin. That will likely mean it has some value beyond its face value.
Mint Marks In Writing
For most collectors or dealers, the mint marks they see will be located on coins. Mint marks are also listed in coin catalogs and on online coin websites. The mint mark will always be alongside the date. For example, if you have a mint mark of “P” from 1968, the mint mark will read in a catalog or online as “1968-P.” This format is the official and correct way to write coins with mint marks.
Coins With No Mint Mark
Not all coins have mint marks. Some are minted intentionally that way, while others did not have a mint mark because of exceptional circumstances.
Coins Minted From 1965-1967
Coins from 1965, 1966 and 1967 do not have any mint marks. In the 1960s, the United States had a perceived silver shortage due to silver hoarders, coinage use and the use of the precious metal in electronics.
In addition, silver prices were hovering at the level where, if they rose much, melting US silver coins was more valuable than the face value of the coins. This all prompted people to hoard silver or to pull coins from circulation, causing a coin shortage.
To combat that, President Johnson signed the Coinage Act of 1965. This act reduced the silver content in several coins and implemented numerous measures, including removing all mint marks on coins. By 1968, the government decided to put mint marks back on coins.
Philadelphia is the headquarters of the US Mint. That means it is the default examiner site for all coins with mint marks. The mints across the country pulled random sequences of coins and sent them to Philadelphia for evaluation. Philadelphia, however, did not have its own mint mark.
The thinking was that Philadelphia did not need a mint mark. If every coin minted outside of the Philadelphia mint had a mint mark, it stood to reason that every coin without a mint mark originated in Philadelphia.
But in 1980, the Philadelphia mint got its own mint mark. A “P” had appeared on special coins before that, but the majority of coins minted in Philadelphia before 1980 lacked a mint mark. After 1980, Philadelphia coins had a mint mark, excepting the Lincoln penny, which continues to have no mint marks today.
The Significance Of Coin Mint Marks
Mint marks carry meaning for coin collectors because they indicate when and where a coin was minted. A knowledgeable coin collector can use mint marks to identify the rarity of a coin. In addition, a coin lacking a mint mark could signify it was minted in Philadelphia, or if it were silver, it could mean it was from a period when the US decided not to include mint marks on the coins in question.
Another way mint marks can aid collectors is helping identify the rare error that is made on a coin. A coin with a flaw that comes from one of the four mints that are active can be traced by its mint mark.
Finding mint marks on coins requires knowing where mint marks are located on specific coins. Not all coins have mint marks. Being able to find coin mint marks is useful as it can tell a coin collector or dealer where a coin was minted and its rarity.