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‘P’ Mintmarks Added Long After Absence

1980-P Roosevelt dime. (Images courtesy 

1980-P Roosevelt dime. (Images courtesy 

In 1980 a remarkable thing happened. Since 1792, the only other time such a truly unusual event had taken place was in 1942-1945.

The truly unusual event that took place in 1980 was that a “P” Philadelphia mintmark was added to coins that had previously been produced using no mintmark – that is the nickel, dime, quarter and half dollar.

The Anthony dollar had appeared with a “P” mintmark in 1979, but the Anthony was a new coin, so there had not been decades of production without a Philadelphia mintmark before the first one appeared.

The addition of a Philadelphia mintmark to the circulating coins other than the Lincoln cent in 1980 was a truly ironic twist of fate. Only 15 years earlier, the government had discontinued mintmarks. The reasoning had been that coin collectors were causing a national coin shortage. In fact, that 1965 action had been among the most ridiculous in American numismatic history.

By no longer producing silver coins except for the 40 percent silver Kennedy half dollar, the government had caused the widespread public hoarding of silver. The proof of that came years later as the price of silver climbed to $50 an ounce. People lined up at coin shops all over the country to sell their silver. The silver coins the people were selling were not in Whitman folders or in organized collections. At best they were rolled, but in the vast majority of cases the silver coins were ones the owners had saved back in the mid-1960s because the government stopped making silver coins.

Small wonder some collectors and numismatic observers were likely to shake their heads in disbelief to see that the very government that had decided that eliminating mintmarks was a way to discourage collecting a mere 15 years earlier suddenly decided to begin placing a “P” mintmark on the coins produced in Philadelphia.

The addition of a Philadelphia mintmark in 1980 might seem like a small matter, but that small “P” has a lot of historical importance. While other branch mints might seem more romantic or historic today, remember that for decades it was Philadelphia where all the coins of the United States were produced. It was the mother mint. As such, it did not use a mintmark.

Over time, facilities like Carson City, or Dahlonega, or even in some cases San Francisco, may have earned a reputation for production of great rarities, yet in reality it is behind the doors of the Philadelphia Mint where coins such as the 1804 dollar or 1913 Liberty Head nickel were produced.

The list of historic coins produced at the Philadelphia Mint would be almost a complete listing of the rarities of the United States for virtually the first 50 years of the nation’s history.

In some respects, collectors might be excused for having mixed emotions about the notion of a “P” mintmark, because except for those few years of Jefferson nickel production during World War II, the Philadelphia Mint had been producing coins without any mint-mark.

That is why the nickels, dimes, quarters and half dollars of 1980 are so special. They marked the end of the line for what was in a sense the anonymity of the Philadelphia Mint, making them a truly special group.