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Interesting issues punctuate Denver output

Of the major mints, Denver is the new kid on the block having produced its first coin at 10:59 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 1, 1906. The natural assumption is that now having been in operation for more than a century, the Denver Mint would have produced relatively few great coins.

After all, starting in 1906 the mintages were naturally larger than in 1806 and there were more collectors to save the coins which were produced. To a degree,  this is true, but the Denver Mint over 102 years of production has produced some extremely interesting and sometimes valuable coins that make the best coins from Denver every bit as interesting as those of any other facility.

The political process that produced the Denver Mint was perhaps the longest and most involved of any branch mint in the history of the United States. You could easily suggest that it dated back to the late 1850s when thousands made their way to the area in search of their fortunes as gold had been discovered. They might not have known precisely where it was, but they had “Pikes Peak or Bust” signs on the sides of their wagons and that was close enough.

It was seemingly the last chance for the individual to strike it rich as by then the California mining operations had been taken over by corporations. The amount of gold in Colorado might not have been equal to that in California, but it was the one place at the time where an individual had a chance to realize their dreams.

In fact, Colorado almost had a mint in the 1860s as $25,000 was authorized to purchase the Clark, Gruber facility. Another $75,000 was authorized for operations in 1863 and while listed as a mint in official reports, not a single coin was struck and it stayed that way.

As the years passed, Colorado continued to grow in importance in terms of producing precious metal deposits. The Cripple Creek gold district proved to be a turning point in the 1890s. Typically of gold finds, some claims were far in excess of reality but it was enough to get Congress to try again on a Denver Mint and on March 2, 1895, the first appropriation was approved with the land being purchased the following year. The facility was constructed and machinery installed  and souvenir brass pieces were struck in November of 1905.

Now a century after producing its first coin, we can look back and see that while not as old as the other facilities except for West Point, the Denver Mint has made a significant impact when it comes to producing interesting and sometime extremely rare coins.

If you check the early mintages at Denver you will find no cents or nickels. That was actually not because of a failing at Denver but rather because there had been a law that did not allow the production of coins containing no gold or silver at any facility other than Philadelphia. By the time Denver was opening, that law was being changed, but it would be a number of years before Denver would produce it’s first cent or nickel.

In the case of the cent, San Francisco,  which was already well established, would produce its first cent in 1908. At Denver it would take until 1911. The early years of Denver cent production saw relatively low mintages, although usually not as low as San Francisco with one major exception and that was the 1,193,000 mintage for the 1914-D.

For some years, the 1914-D was somewhat overlooked as early Lincoln cent collectors tended to feel that if a cent was not from San Francisco it was likely to be available. The 1914-D was not available and it appears that it was never saved in large numbers.

Over the years the 1914-D has emerged as not only the toughest cent to be produced at Denver but also as one of the best Lincoln cent dates with a current price of $220 in G-4, which is about double what it was at just three years ago. An MS-60 is at $1,975 and an MS-65, where the 1914-D is seen as a definite key Lincoln cent, is $24,000.

There would be another awfully good cent produced at Denver, although it was not deliberate. In 1922 with all the mints being busy producing silver dollars, only Denver would produce cents and it would produce only 7,160,000 of them, making the 1922-D a better date. In the process, however, there was a problem and a small number were produced without a “D”  and the 1922 without a “D” is seen as a significant rarity today. It has a $750 price just in G-4. Where the no “D” 1922 is a real problem is in Mint State as it is $11,000 in MS-60, but $200,000 in MS-65 and in that grade the grading services report only a couple examples.

There was an even longer delay before Denver would produce its first nickel. Both Denver and San Francisco would finally produce their first nickels in 1912 and that makes both the 1912-D and 1912-S significant. The 1912-D is not a great rarity. It has a mintage of 8,474,000,  but is has to be seen as a significant coin as it opened the door for a number of nickels that would be produced in later years that would excite generations of collectors. A G-4 is just $2.70, so no collector can claim not to be able to afford the first Denver nickel. In MS-65, the price is $2,600, which is reasonable as far as coins in the upper grades go. The high price means it is scarce but not impossible own if you are committed to the set.

Realistically Denver has produced a number of better and interesting nickels. The 1913-D Buffalo nickel with the animal standing on a line on the reverse has proven to be a very tough Buffalo nickel at least in circulated grades. The 1918/17-D and 1937-D with a three-legged buffalo have been extremely popular errors for generations of collectors and there were also 1938-D/D and 1938-D/S errors as well and being more available they make it possible for virtually every collector to own at least one interesting Buffalo nickel with some feature in its design that is not normal.

In the case of Jefferson nickels, the coins from Denver really stand out. The 1939-D with its low mintage of 3,514,000 is the widely recognized key date in a Jefferson nickel set in Mint State. The 1939-D as the second year of the new design coupled a low mintage with the usual lack of saving seen when a design is in its second year of production and that has made the 1939-D the one Jefferson nickel from regular production worth over $100 in MS-65 at $125.

The real star of the Denver Jefferson nickels, however, has to be the 1950-D as it was a coin that excited an entire nation and an entire generation of collectors during the circulation finds era. The 1950-D had the lowest mintage of any regular date Jefferson nickel at 2,630,030 and that total touched off widespread hoarding and speculation in the 1950s.

The situation was unusual as any number of Buffalo nickels had lower mintages and not particularly high prices, but everyone seemed to ignore that fact as the 1950-D in everyone’s mind was going to be the dominant Jefferson nickel.

The thought that the 1950-D would be special was helped by the fact that there were hoards and they were sometimes huge hoards. With perhaps 50 percent of the entire mintage tucked away in hoards, the 1950-D seemed even tougher than its already low mintage suggested and that produced price increases. In the 1950s the 1950-D was one of the most exciting coins of an exciting time and it was only in the mid-1960s when mintmarks were discontinued to discourage collecting that the 1950-D really stopped its climb. It peaked during the roll and bag boom just under $1,000 for a 40-coin roll of BU coins, or roughly $25 each.

Only recently has the 1950-D begun to rise in price again as the 1950-D seems to be a true indicator of interest in Jefferson nickels and the special designs of the past few years have sparked interest in Jefferson nickels again, which as has historically happened, has been seen first in the 1950-D. An MS-65 is priced at $30.

If any facility has produced the best dimes of the past century, it would have to be Denver. You start with the key dime of the century in the form of the 264,000 mintage 1916-D Mercury. What caused such a low mintage is still uncertain. Perhaps the dies arrived late or perhaps Denver had other priorities, but whatever the reason the 1916-D has been a legendary coin ranking right up there with the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent and 1916 Standing Liberty quarter as a coin generation after generation of collectors dreamed of finding usually without much success.

Realistically, the great Denver dimes did not stop with the 1916-D as Denver also was responsible for the 1919-D,  which is a key Mercury dime in MS-65 with full split bands. While the 1919-D may not be as expensive as the 1916-D, it is tougher in MS-65 with full split bands. Not every Mercury dime collector collects them with full split bands, but this is still a significant rarity situation because the 1919-D in MS-65FSB is $38,500 where the 1916-D is $44,500.

In addition to the 1919-D, Denver also produced a 1942/41-D overdate,  which also ranks among the most difficult of Mercury dimes in all grades. Realistically, if you were to compile a list of the best dimes of the past century, the majority would have emerged from Denver.

In the case of quarters, Denver issues have also been among the leaders in the past century. There may be no particularly outstanding Denver Standing Liberty quarter although there are certainly some good ones, but when you turn to Washington quarters, the 1932-D is pulling further and further ahead of the rest of the Washington quarters in top grades. It is a little unusual as the 1932-D at 436,800 actually had a higher mintage than the 1932-S, but apparently the 1932-D was not saved in any numbers and that has seen its MS-65 price rise about $20,000 since 1998 to a current listing of $24,500 $17,500 more than the 1932-S.

It is worth noting as well that Denver Washington quarters especially from the 1930s are a group on the rise. In MS-65 the Denver Washington quarters from the 1930s are being discovered and as that happens some such as the 1934-D and 1936-D are now almost $2,000 each and for a Washington quarter, that is a very strong price, which seems likely to only get stronger.

Half dollars and especially Walking Liberty half dollars are another group where the coins from Denver have dominated the scene for much of the past century. The key Walking Liberty half dollar in MS-65 by a wide margin in price and availability is the 1919-D, which is currently at $130,000 in MS-65. That is $25,000 greater than the next highest price, which places it significantly rare territory in that condition. The price and the small numbers graded MS-65 by the grading services suggest that this pricing  situation will not change.

In circulated grades the traditional key to the Walking Liberty half dollar set has been another Denver product in the form of the 1921-D. Every 1921 half dollar had a low mintage as the mints were busy with silver dollar production, but at 208,000 the 1921-D was the lowest mintage half dollar of 1921 and the lowest mintage Walking Liberty half dollar and that has made it a favorite among collectors for generations. In G-4 it can be obtained for $315. In MS-65 it is $27,500.

Later half dollars from Denver were also special. The 1938-D Walking Liberty half dollar was the last half dollar to have a mintage of less than 1 million, but the 1938-D left nothing to doubt in terms of being low mintage as its total was 491,600. That saw it saved at the time of issue and despite better numbers than might be expected, the 1938-D in recent times has been moving significantly higher in price. It is $90 in G-4 and $1,550 in MS-65.

There are not many Franklin half dollars that get much attention, but in most grades it is the 1949-D that is frequently seen as the key and that is seen in its MS-65 price of $900, which makes it the only MS-65 Franklin half dollar even close to $1,000. The next two in terms of price are also from Denver as the 1960-D and 1950-D are both over $400. And no, I did not save a roll of 1960-D’s from the time. I, like most collectors of the time, considered the coin hopelessly common and my money was better spent on earlier series and lower denominations.

Denver was also the only site of production for the 40-percent silver half dollars in 1968, 1969 and 1970. The last date turned out to be not only the last one in the sequence but also the only way to get one was to buy the mint set of that year. Nobody knew until after sales concluded that the only way to get the 1970-D half dollars was to buy the set. So the “D” was the key, but it is not expensive at $38 each in MS-65.

Denver made silver dollars although none in the market today really stand out as rarities. The 1921-D Morgan dollar is special as it was the only Morgan dollar to be produced at Denver. This makes a neat story and a one-coin set. In MS-60, it is $45 and in MS-65, it is $420. Both prices are reasonable for the grade.

In the case of Peace dollar one made at Denver would stand out as a significant rarity if it exists and it becomes legal to own as in 1965 Denver made over 300,000 1964-D Peace dollars. Before they could be released, the government changed its mind and all were ordered melted.

Naturally, if anybody has one, they are not going to step forward with it today and have it confiscated by the government. The 1964-D remains a great mystery. It will probably be another generation before we know more, or at least write another chapter as we are now doing with the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle.

It is only appropriate that the Denver facility produced some rare gold. After all, it was created because of gold.

You start with the 1911-D quarter eagle, which is easily the key to the Indian Head quarter eagle set with a mintage of 55,680 and a price of $90,000 in MS-65.

There are also better Denver Indian Head half eagles, including the 1911-D,  which also had a low mintage of 72,500 and which is now $255,000 in MS-65 where only a couple are known. The 1911-D gold eagle is also better with a mintage of just 30,100 and it too is $120,000 in MS-65 so top grade Denver gold coins from 1911 are a very expensive and difficult group.

Denver produced a number of very good double eagles, but two stand out. The 1926-D back in the 1940s was believed to be a great rarity. In fact, the belief was that only a few were known and at the time that was true. A couple hundred examples, however, would surface in European bank vaults dropping the 1926-D from the great rarity class, but still leaving it as a better date  today starting at around $10,000 in VF-20 and going to $175,000 in MS-65.

The story of the 1927-D is the exact reverse. The 1927-D was not considered to be a great rarity. In fact, in the 1930s the government had offered to sell examples of the 1927-D along with others in the vaults for face value plus postage and handling. Apparently no one took the offer but the 1927-D was assumed to be available.

When none appeared in later years European vaults, it was too late as literally the entire 180,000 mintage had been destroyed in the Roosevelt gold recall and dollar devaluation. Today the grading services report less than 10 examples and even the most optimistic estimates suggest there are perhaps 15 and as a result the 1927-D has realized over $2 million at auction making it the most expensive Denver coin.

When you consider the list of rare and desirable coins, Denver which is frequently overlooked, has produced a significant share of the best coins of the past century. In fact, a collection of the key issues of Denver from the past century would represent an enormous challenge and that will probably be the case in the 21st century as well for Denver has a way of producing some awfully interesting and tough coins.

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