What Is a Mint Mark?

What Is a Mint Mark?

By Ray James

Have you noticed the tiny single letters marked on a coin? These are mint marks. What do they mean? What if there is no mint mark on a coin? Find the answers to these questions and more as we discuss everything you ever wanted to know about mint marks.

An Overview of Mint Marks

The mint mark identifies which mint facility was the coin's mint of origin. We will talk about where you can find mint marks on common circulating and collectible numismatic coins and why this information is essential to discerning collectors.

What Is a Mint Mark on a Coin?

A mint mark identifies on the coin itself where a coin was minted. According to the U.S. Mint, the purpose of such marks was originally to hold the mint facility responsible for the quality of the coin. The quality of the alloys would be essential in, say, a monetary standard based on precious metals, like the gold standard or a bi-metallic standard—both of which have occurred in our history. 

Each coin would be struck to exacting standards for weight and metal content. When tested, if the coin's quality would fall short, a mint mark would prove the mint facility that struck the coin without question. In addition to the precious metal content, the quality of the clad planchet can be a problem from time to time, as can the quality of the strike.

From 1965 through 1967, no mint marks appeared on circulating U.S. coinage despite all three mint facilities being active at that time. The Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco branches were all striking coins for circulation. Mint marks would not be reinstated until 1968.

Historically, the U.S. mint marks are as follows: the Philadelphia Mint uses either no mint mark or a "P." The historic and no longer operational Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans branch Mints used "C," "D," and "O" mint marks, respectively. The fabled Carson City Mint used "CC” and is notably the only U.S. mint to use more than a single letter. Still operational today, the San Francisco Mint uses the "S" mint mark. Denver has taken over the "D" mint mark from the now-defunct Dahlonega branch. The years of operation for the Dahlonega and Denver mints do not overlap and, as such, pose no threat of confusion. Finally, the West Point mint uses the now-iconic "W" mint mark. 

What Is a Mint Mark on a Penny?

The mint mark on the iconic Lincoln Cent is on the obverse of the coin. The identifying mark is located below the year, between Lincoln's chest and the coin's rim. The placement of the mint mark has not changed from the beginning of the series in 1909. The San Francisco Mint struck cents through 1955. The Mint began striking cents with the S mint mark again from 1968 through 1974. The Denver Mint has struck cents throughout the series. 

 A famous, if stealthy, exception to the "Philadelphia has no mint mark on cents" rule is the 2017-P Lincoln Cent. The Mint made no prior announcement that they would include a P mint mark as a way to mark the 225th Anniversary of that fabled coinage facility. In 2018, the P vanished again, as one would expect.

What Is a Mint Mark on a Quarter?

The iconic Washington Quarter was introduced in 1932. Initially, the mint mark appeared on the reverse, below the wreath, just above the "R" at the end of the word "Quarter." The mark stayed in this position until 1964. Then, in 1968 the mint mark was shifted to the coin's obverse, appearing near the ribbon tying Mr. Washington's braid where it still appears today.  

 In 1980 the Mint added the P mint mark to signify that the coin was struck in Philadelphia and abandoned the "no mint mark" policy. The P has appeared on circulating quarters ever since.

Washington Quarters have been struck in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Denver, and West Point, but did not always carry their respective mint marks. Rather famously, in 2019 and 2020, the Mint released the exciting "W Quarters," which were the first quarters struck at the West Point Mint that also carried its "W" mint mark. There are eight different America the Beautiful designs with a total of 2 million coins each carrying the iconic “W” mint mark. These coins were released directly into circulation to encourage collectors to "check their change" during the Great American Coin Hunt.

 

What Is a Mint Mark on a Dime?

The widely collected Roosevelt dime has been in production, with the design unchanged since 1946. Well, it is intact, except for the placement of the mint mark. The original design saw the mint mark placed on the reverse at the lower left of the torch. The identifying mark remained there until 1964. Then, in 1968 the mint mark was moved to the obverse of the coin, placed just over the date. 

 In 1980, the P mint mark appeared on the dime, as it did on everything larger than the nickel. The intention was to have the P mint mark appear on all future Philadelphia struck coins.

What Is a Mint Mark on a Nickel?

In 1938 the Jefferson Nickel was introduced. The mint mark on the nickel composition coins from 1938 until 1964 appeared immediately to the right of Monticello, near the rim on the reverse of the coin. In 1968 the mint mark was placed on the obverse of the coin. The identifying mark appears near the edge of the coin, below the date, near the ribbon tying Mr. Jefferson’s braid. 

There are three different Jefferson Nickel obverse designs that one is likely to find in circulation. After 1968, the mint mark could be described as located on the obverse, lower right of the design near the date.

This piece wasn’t until 1942 that the “P” mint mark made its initial appearance on the popular Jefferson War Nickels. These coins were struck from 1942 through 1945. The first-ever P mint mark in the history of U.S. coinage appeared on the reverse of these popular coins above Monticello. It would not be until 1980 that the P mint mark would return to the nickel series.

What Is a Mint Mark on a Silver Dollar?

Sacagawea Golden Dollars see the mint mark placed beneath the year on the right-hand side of the obverse. The coins were struck at the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco Mints. Native American Dollars share the obverse of the Sacagawea Golden Dollars but do not share the placement of the mint marks with that series.

Native American Dollars, Presidential Dollars and American Innovation Dollars were and are struck at Philadelphia and Denver, while Proofs are struck at San Francisco. The placement of the mint mark on these coins is on the rim, immediately following the date. Interestingly, this edge lettering led to error coins missing the edge lettering in the Presidential Dollars which included the mint mark, date, and motto “E Pluribus Unum.”

What Is a No Mint Mark?

From 1792 until 1837, there were no mint marks on U.S. coins since there was a single coinage producing facility, the nation's first mint in Philadelphia. However, in 1838 three additional branch mints opened and began striking additional coinage for our growing country: The Charlotte Mint, the Dahlonega Mint, and the New Orleans Mint. The marks on the coins were "C," "D," and "O," respectively. The mints at Charlotte, North Carolina, and Dahlonega, Georgia, struck only gold coinage in response to local, short-lived gold rushes. 

Since the bulk of the U.S. coinage supply was struck at the Philadelphia Mint, and it was not the practice to use a mint mark for this mint. Instead, it was quite literally "the default mint"—meaning that it was struck in Philadelphia if the coin didn't have a mint mark.

What if There Is No Mint Mark on a Coin?

As stated above, typically, a coin that bears no mint mark was struck in Philadelphia. There are some exceptions to that rule that we know about. Bullion issues from the United States mint, like the American Silver Eagle, do not carry a mint mark, although their mint of origin might be identifiable by other means, such as serial numbers on monster boxes.  

 Between the years 1974 and 1986, Lincoln Cents were struck at the West Point bullion storage facility. The West Point facility did not become an official U.S. branch mint until 1988. These cents bear no mint mark, and there is no way for collectors to distinguish if a penny struck between those years came from Philadelphia or West Point. Similarly, Washington Quarters bearing no mint mark were produced at the West Point facility between 1977 and 1979. Again, these West Point coins are indistinguishable from their Philadelphia counterparts. Mint officials at the time were concerned that the inclusion of a W mint mark would encourage collecting and hoarding of the coins precisely when they were needed for commerce…so no mint mark.

In Conclusion

 The inclusion of a mint mark or sometimes the exclusion of one tells us the origin and, in some famous cases, the story of why a specific coin is sought after by collectors everywhere. In contrast, another substantially similar one with a different mint mark is more common and sought for other reasons.

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