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A look back at 55 years of Numismatic News

The anniversary issue of Numismatic News celebrates 55 years of publishing hobby news. Here is a look back at some of the top stories from each of the decades.

This special issue of Numismatic News celebrates 55 years of publishing the hobby news. It seems, therefore, appropriate to take a look back at some of the top stories from each of the decades.

Due to time constraints (and because many more trees would have to have been sacrificed to tell the full story), I have limited this review to stories appearing on the front page of the News. In each case, the stories that follow represent one story in Numismatic News on a given topic, they are not necessarily the only time this topic made the front page or was picked up in the paper's interior. As a story unfolded, the News continued to cover important developments. Thus, in some cases, the pieces presented here are, by necessity, incomplete. In other words, there's more to each story than could be covered in a synopsis format such as this.

Still, these snippets present some of the flavor of each decade. For instance, in the 1960s you had the "roll craze," coin shortages and the temporary removal of mintmarks from U.S. coins. In the 1970s, you find the release of a major Lincoln cent variety and the "loss" of the 1974 aluminum cent patterns. Other decades had equally important hobby stories, many of which are presented here under the banner "In the News." I hope you enjoy this little trip into the hobby's past.

In the News: 1950s

"New Reverse for 1959 Lincoln Cent - Lincoln Memorial is Featured" reads a headline on the front page of the Jan. 5, 1959, issue of the News. The story announced that President Dwight D. Eisenhower had just approved the new reverse for the cent, replacing the wheat ears design in use since 1909.

"Henceforth the reverse of our one cent coin shall bear the likeness of [the] Lincoln Memorial built in 1922 as a tribute to the great emancipator," the News wrote. The change, it noted, was in time for the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's birth.

"It is a fitting tribute that the Lincoln Memorial be added to the coin," the article continued, "in that the structure was built since the Lincoln cent was originally designed and that it is a living symbol of leadership that has held our great nation as one."

Production of the new cent was set to begin on Jan. 2, 1959, with sufficient quantity available by Feb. 12, Lincoln's birthday, so that the coins could be released into circulation.

In the News: 1950s

"Old Wartime Pennies Melted At Steel Plant," reads a headline in May 4, 1959, issue of the News.

According to the front page article, the Alan Wood Steel Co., of Conshohocken, Penn., the day prior had melted down 13,500 pounds of the old wartime zinc cents, dating from 1943.

"The U.S. Mint in Philadelphia shipped the pennies, which are actually made of low carbon steel and coated with zinc, to the steel company in 500-pound cans," the News wrote. "It amounted to about 1,250,000 pennies. The company will keep the steel in payment for disposing of them

"The government is engaged in doing away with the pennies, all made in 1943 to save copper for the war effort. They are now worn and faded memories of another era."

In the News: 1950s

"As most collectors and dealers are aware of, the uncirculated Jefferson nickel has skyrocketed to almost unheard of prices," starts an article titled "The Fantastic Price Rise of the Jefferson Nickel" in the Dec. 21, 1959, issue of the News. The article, which originated during the "roll craze," observed:

"There are various reasons for the great demand for these coins. Almost every collector of U.S. coins starts out with the minor denominations. The Jefferson type is a natural collection for the beginner to start with. Most of those coins can be found in circulation with a little effort. The next step after completion of a set is usually to improve on the condition of these coins. The ultimate goal is to obtain a brilliant uncirculated set and this is where the scarcity comes in and thus the demand. Also the investors have jumped on the bandwagon and along with the dealers, do a brisk business in buying and selling rolls of uncirculated Jeffersons." The article noted the average roll price for the 1950-D was $130 (as compared to $5 in 1955), while the 1939-D was trading at $1,400 (up from $125 in 1955), the 1939-S was selling for $450 (as compared to $100 in 1955), and the 1942-D was $400 (up from $42 in 1955).

"It must be kept in mind that these prices are the dealers' selling prices for uncirculated rolls," the News reported, adding, "One must realize that the high prices on these coins is due in a large degree to the investors and speculators which have entered the field. It is difficult to see how a roll of coins can be included in the collection of a numismatist, either as a thing of beauty or an educational piece."

In the News: 1960s

"Newspaper Error Contributes to Large Club Attendance," reads a headline in the Nov. 19, 1960, issue of the News. According to the News, an error in the local Binghamton Sun newspaper led to a normally quiet Triple Cities Coin Club August meeting enjoying an overflow crowd.

"It all started when Q. David Bowers wrote an article entitled 'Rarity One Factor Determining Value of Coins to Collectors,'" the News reported.

"The article appeared in the newspaper [the Binghamton Sun] the day before the regular meeting of the Triple Cities club. Bowers first mentioned the 1960 small date cents which was enough to kindle the fire.

Then he mentioned that several coins are worth a very high premium, giving as examples the 1894-S dime and the 1822 five dollar gold piece. However, the Linotype operator left the 'S' off the 1894 and changed the date of the half eagle to 1882, and, quoting Triple Cities president Fred Hunter, 'the riot was on.'

"Switchboards were jammed and Bowers and almost every member of the coin club answered phone calls well into the night.

"The final result was an overflow crowd at the coin club meeting to here Q. David talk on the '60 small date cents."

In the News: 1960s

"Former MANA President Killed in Collision" announced a headline on the front page of the April 2, 1962, issue of the News. George Walton, former president of the Middle Atlantic Numismatic Association, "acknowledged owner of one of the country's outstanding collections of Charlotte-minted and Bechtlers gold coins," was killed instantly in a head-on collision in Middlesex, N.C., while "en route to the Eastern North Carolina Coin Show at Wilson to exhibit his collection valued at over a quarter of a million dollars," according to the News.

Besides rare early gold coins, Walton was noted at the time of his death for possessing a subsequently long-missing fifth example of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel. Some speculated the coin was lost in the accident. A freelance real estate appraiser, Walton obtained the nickel in 1945, in a trade with a Winston-Salem collector. "He said he paid $3,750 for the nickel," wrote the News. "In 1959, he valued it at $35,000 and in the last year he raised the value to $65,000."

In the News: 1960s

In a stunning blow to the silver dollar market, the Dec. 17, 1962, issue of the News reported: "Federal Reserve Releases Drop Silver Dollar Values: New Orleans Silver Dollars Tumble in Price." The News reported that, at least for a while, the appearance of large quantities of formerly scarce silver dollars by the Fed cause some "wild dreams" of striking it rich for some collectors.

"So far some 33 million dollars have been shipped by the Mint," the News wrote. "A fraction of the shipment reached a Flint, Michigan Bank, where two collector employees found 500 1904-O's. Cataloging at $375 each, the men were dreaming how they would spend their $175,000 bonanza. The price has plummeted however. They were not the only ones to find the rare dollars. Thousands must have reached dealer hands. The price s fell to $100 each, to $50 each to $10 each." The 1903-O Morgan was another casualty of the government holiday coin release.

At the time, the Treasury still held 102 million of the old silver dollars in inventory.

In the News: 1960s

Beloved President John F. Kennedy having been assassinated in late 1963, the government moved quickly to honor his memory. On Jan. 6, 1964, the News announced: "Johnson Signs Bill For Kennedy Half-Dollar." "The Treasury supported bill to provide a coin with the likeness of President Kennedy passed both the House and the Senate by record vote," the News reported. "The House had voted 352 to 6 in favor of the measure. The bill, HR 9413 read:

"'Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled that in lieu of the coinage of the 50-cent piece known as the Franklin half-dollar, there shall be coined a silver 50-cent piece which shall bear on one side the likeness of the late President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and on the other side an appropriate design to be prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury.'"

The Kennedy half would be struck in 90-percent silver for circulation for only that one year. It was minted in 40-percent silver clad from 1965-1970 and today continues in a copper-nickel clad composition.

In the News: 1960s

With the coin shortage raging, and the need to convert coinage presses to production of circulation coins, the July 20, 1964, issue of the News reported there would be "No 1965 Proof Sets" coming from the Mint.

"In a series of moves to help stem the ever-increasing coin shortage," the News wrote, "Treasury Department Officials have taken a number of steps that directly affect the coin collectors.

"Perhaps foremost of these steps is the discontinuance, at least temporarily, of proof sets. The proof set equipment will be converted to higher speeds for production of regular coins, after present commitments are met for proof set coin orders which have been accepted. Some two million sets remain to be stamped."

In an effort to discourage hoarding of 1964 coins for "their possible speculative numismatic value," the News wrote, the Treasury was also proposing to continue with the 1964 date indefinitely on all new coins.
It was also announced that the U.S. Assay Office, which was formerly the San Francisco Mint, would be put back into partial coin production, being used as a facility for annealing blanks for nickels and cents.

"New coin presses have been ordered and some stamping equipment located in government surplus is going to be converted to coin use."

In the News: 1960s

"President Signs Bill to Mint 45 Million New Silver Dollars" reads a headline in the Aug. 17, 1964, issue of the News announcing government plans to mint new silver dollars bearing the Peace dollar design last used in 1935.

Included in a Treasury appropriations bill was one small provision that "will make numismatic history," the News reported. The provision set aside $600,000 for the minting of 45 million new silver dollars.

In a letter supporting the reintroduction of the silver dollar, Treasury Secretary Dillon wrote:

"'I want you to know that the administration feels it important to continue the use of the silver dollar, as it is one of the six standard coins prescribed by law, and is particularly used as an ordinary and traditional medium of exchange in many Far Western States. Also, use of the silver dollar will, to a great extend in the West at least, alleviate the heavy demands we have had on the quarter and 50-cent pieces. This eventually will about balance out the use of silver, as the minting of enough halves and quarters to substitute for the 45 million silver dollars will take almost as much metal for the same end use.'"

The Treasury secretary's letter continued, "'Present plans call for the minting of the dollars, if approved, at the Denver Mint only, using an old design, and the 1964 date.'"

Ultimately, 316,076 1964-dated silver dollars were struck but not released. The coins were all to have been melted, though rumors persist to this day that a few specimens survived.

In the News: 1960s

"Coin Shortage Is At End-Bankers" announced the Jan. 3, 1966, issue of the News, reporting on a News' national survey that showed few pockets where it remained a problem.

"Recent weeks have witnessed cautious utterances from within the Treasury Department and Bureau of the Mint indicating they feel the worst of the once severe coin shortage has passed, that the country will shortly be on the road to full recovery," the News recorded. Perhaps the most encouraging signs of this, according to the article, was a recent speech by Mint Director Eva Adams before the National Association for Bank Audit Control and Operation in Chicago in which she noted, "We think we have the coin shortage under control and will have the facilities in the near future to prevent one from ever recurring."

Encouraged by these signs, the News said it undertook a survey of bankers to obtain their thoughts on the matter.

"Chosen on a geographical basis as representatives of their geographical areas, the banks stretched from Bangor, Maine, to Walla Walla, Washington," the News wrote of the scope of its survey. "The consensus of the opinions expressed by the various bankers questioned indicates that in general the coin shortage is over, though a few isolated shortages do exist," but with it being the Christmas season when the survey was taken, these seemed seasonal in nature.

In the News: 1960s

"San Francisco Mint to Strike Special Sets for Coin Collectors" read the headline in the March 28, 1966, issue of the News announcing that the Treasury was beginning to accept orders for the 1965-dated Special Mint Sets. As a result of the coin shortage, mintmarks were dropped from U.S. coins in an attempt to prevent hoarding. Coinage of proofs had also been suspended as the Mint focused on production of circulation coinage. "The Treasury Department has announced that the Bureau of the Mint would begin immediately accepting orders for 'Special Mint Sets' composed of the new half-dollar, the new quarter, the new dime and the five cent and one cent pieces," the News reported. "The sets are to sell for $4, including postage and handling.

"Coins in the new sets will be struck one at a time from specially prepared blanks, on high tonnage presses and handled individually after striking. They will have a higher relief than regular coins and be better in appearance than any of the regular uncirculated sets heretofore issued. All coins in the new sets will be dated 1965 and they will carry no mint marks."