This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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One reason mintmarks were invented was to announce to the world what facility was making coins. If any coin was found to be underweight or of incorrect fineness, the source of the problem was obvious.
In the world coin field mintmasters and coiners also had marks that laid any bad quality coins directly at their door. They were marks of responsibility. They were the ones who had to make good for any deficiencies.
Nowadays, mintmarks tend to be used by the United States in a haphazard manner. Marks or their lack no longer indicate production facilities with any consistency.
True, you do not find “P” marks on Denver coins and “D” marks on Philadelphia production, but you do find that no mintmark can mean Philadelphia if it involves a cent, or West Point if it involves bullion coins. The “W” is used to indicate collector versions of bullion coins, both proofs and the burnished uncirculated coins.
Another step down the road of inconsistency is about to be taken if or when the Mint decides to strike silver American Eagle bullion coins at the San Francisco Mint. No mintmark will be used to indicate these coins were struck in San Francisco.
Bringing another facility on line is a logical move in light of the unprecedented demand for the very popular silver coins.
I expect the Mint convinced itself that if an “S” mintmark was used that collectors would then clamor for the coins all the more, pushing the goal of meeting demand for the coins out of reach yet again.
I cannot fault that logic. But let’s examine this more closely. What this means is the Mint will only place mintmarks on coins when it doesn’t care, or when it wants to create artificial collector demand for a product.
This gambit was employed in 1984 on the $10 Olympic coins when the Mint hoped to goose sales with the creation of “P,” “D” and “S” proofs to “force” collectors to buy more than the proof and the uncirculated “W” examples they had already purchased.
This gambit was employed again when the second uncirculated version of bullion coins was created in 2006, giving collectors the proof and uncirculated “W” while the actual “W” bullion coins had no mintmark on them. This version disappeared when the Mint had trouble meeting bullion coin demand. It will return this year to confuse collectors yet again and “force” them to buy yet more coins for a complete set.
Isn’t time for consistency? Put a “P” on the Philadelphia cent. It is time it stopped being different. Isn’t time to put an end to the use of mintmarks to goose collector sales? I think so.
It is also time to return to the consistent practice of always using mintmarks to indicate the facility that manufactured the coin.
Put the “S” on the bullion silver Eagle. Collectors might want to buy a few more this year as a result, but that would show that the Mint respects them rather than playing games with them.
I know it is probably too late, but my point needs to be looked at eventually.