Mint Marks: What Difference Does a Letter Make?


In a previous blog we talked about the great American Money Experiment. In its infancy our country broke with the British currency system. In 1792 the fledgling United States Congress passed the Coinage Act which authorized the building of the United States Mint and created a brand new currency: the U.S. dollar. The first mint was built in Philadelphia, but eventually coins were minted in eight different locations. Mint marks help coin collectors identify where their coins originated. 

What Are Mint Marks? 

Mint marks are letters located on either the reverse or obverse of a coin that identify the location where a coin was minted. They were instituted as a way of keeping the different mint branches accountable for the quality of the coins they produced. This was especially important when circulated coins had a high gold or silver content. In fact, at one time there was a commission that evaluated coins from different mint facilities to ensure that they had the correct percentage of specific metals. 

For the first 43 years of the republic, there was only one mint building, so mint marks were not necessary to distinguish between them. In 1835, Congress established three additional U.S. Mint branches. In 1838 these three branches opened in New Orleans, Dahlonega, and Charlotte, and their mint marks (O, D, and C, respectively) began to appear on coinage. Coins minted in Philadelphia did not have mint marks, however. The mint mark for Philadelphia (P) did not appear until 1942 when 5-cent coins lost their nickel content as a result of war demand for metal. This practice lasted until the end of the war in 1945. The Philadelphia mint mark would not appear again until 1979, and since 1980 it’s been on coinage the Philadelphia mint produces. 

All in all, there have been 8 mint locations. The Charlotte, North Carolina, and Dahlonega, Georgia branches operated until 1861 when politics placed them in the Confederate States. They did not reopen after the Civil War. The New Orleans mint was in operation until 1861 and then reopened in 1879 and remained open until 1909. In 1870 the Mint opened a branch in Carson City, Nevada (CC) which remained open until 1893. Currently, besides the Philadelphia mint branch, there are three others in operation: Denver (D), San Francisco (S), and West Point (W). These are the mint marks you will find on coins issued today. Fort Knox has a bullion depository that is also a part of the mint system. 

Not all U.S. coins produced at these locations have had mint marks, however. Many circulating cents do not have mint marks so their origin cannot be determined. The only circulating cents that have ever had a P mint mark were ones produced in 2017 to honor the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Mint. The West Point mint mark debuted only last year in 2019 when it appeared on 10 million America the Beautiful quarters.

In 1965 the U.S. Mint halted the practice of adding mint marks to coins at all branches as a result of the Coinage Act of 1965. At that time, the price of silver was rising and people began to hoard coins with high silver content as investments. The Mint struggled to produce enough coinage, so it eliminated mint marks to discourage coin collecting until 1967. Collectors, of course, like to locate all varieties of coin sets, including all mint marks, and will spend time, effort and money tracking them down. 

Today coin collectors who like to collect sets of coins such as Franklin half dollars or Lincoln Wheat cents pay close attention to mint marks because there can be an enormous difference in value due to a small mint mark. If you’re interested in collecting sets of coins or specific coins, contact us at Grand Rapids Coins. We would be happy to help you in any way we can. 

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