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Little letter 'P' leads to big surprise

The surprise release of 2017 Philadelphia cents with a “P” mintmark has caused a stir in the numismatic community.

Will it be enough of one to give the whole year a boost by increasing interest in coins generally?

That is the question.

Since the Mint was founded in 1792 and the first circulating cent was released in 1793, the denomination produced in Philadelphia has never carried a mintmark.

Adding the “P” in 2017 is the first time in 225 years.

That, of course, is the point.

This year the Mint is celebrating its 225th anniversary.

Word is that it is a one-year special event.

In 2018, cents from Philadelphia will once again cease to have a mintmark.

Lack of a mintmark used to be a matter of routine.

Because the Philadelphia Mint was the only mint in the United States for many years, mintmarks on U.S. coins were not necessary to identify the facility that made them.

But when other minting facilities were established for gold in 1838, mintmarks became necessary.

But for Philadelphia coins, the tradition of no mintmark carried on.

Even when cent production began at San Francisco in 1908 and in Denver in 1911, Philadelphia continued with its tradition of no mintmark.

An exception was made 1942-1945 when mintmarks on the nickel were enlarged and relocated to a position over Monticello’s dome.

A “P” was also used.

This was done to alert the public to the change in alloy to the 35-percent silver used during World War II.

In 1946, the”P” disappeared. The standard 75-percent copper, 25-percent nickel alloy first introduced in 1866 resumed and continues in use to this day.

The tiny “D” and “S” mintmarks to the right of Monticello resumed too. Mintmarks moved to the obverse in 1968.

The peacetime tradition of no mintmarks for Philadelphia began to break down in 1979 when the Susan B. Anthony dollar was introduced.

Mint Director Stella Hackel Sims said the Philadelphia Mint would achieve a higher public profile using a mintmark.

All denominations but the cent saw a “P” placed on them in 1980 and in the years since when they were struck at Philadelphia.

Collectors had spoken up in defense of the tradition of no mintmark for Philadelphia, so the cent was the designated denomination to carry it forward.

Here we are almost 40 years later and that traditional role has now ended for this year.

How will collectors react to the change?

Will they buy more uncirculated sets because of the attention put on this year’s cent?

Will the public be drawn into coin collecting by this change to something different?

Certainly, the Mint hopes that both will be answered affirmatively as it attempts to reverse declines in sales of its traditional products.

Is the lowly cent up to this large task?

Let’s see how the year unfolds.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper has twice won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."

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