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Keep using ‘P’ on Philadelphia cents

It has been five months since the United States Mint began quietly releasing Philadelphia cents with a “P” mintmark on them.


I am noticing an uptick in questions related to mintmarks.

Is there a connection?

I think there is, but I cannot prove it.

There is also an uptick in interest in cents generally, spurred on by reports of scarce cent errors.

This is a happy place for numismatics to be in. Cents have been the starting point for many if not most collectors active today.

It was a brilliant move by the Mint to celebrate its 225th anniversary by putting a “P” mintmark on the 2017 cents from the Mother Mint.

Since it was created in 1792, the Philadelphia Mint has never put a mintmark on the cent. Until the 20th century, it had never used a mintmark at all.

But times change.

First came the use of the “P” on nickels made of a 35 percent silver alloy during World War II. Those coins were struck 1942-1945. Then the “P” disappeared.

It returned in 1979 on the Susan B. Anthony dollar. In 1980 it was put on all denominations except the cent.

Now it is unanimously used. The 2017 cent has a “P” on it. But only this year.

Perhaps the Mint should simply continue using it.

Back in 1979-1980 it was important to collectors that the tradition of no mintmark on Philadelphia coins continue. They were happy it did so in a small way.

Now from the distance of nearly four decades, it just seems strange to not use the “P” mintmark.

I keep trying to explain this to newcomers who breathlessly report to me that they have certain coins without mintmarks. Invariably, they are Philadelphia issues that were made before the mintmark changeover began.

It is a good thing to be noticed, but it is a bad thing when the explanation gets harder and harder for ordinary people to understand.

It all boils down to the fact that Philadelphia now has a “P” mintmark. Use it without exception going forward.

Not using a mintmark was a tradition for all Philadelphia coins, then it was for just the cents. Can you say there is a tradition any longer when fewer and fewer people remember it, or the reason for it? When there was only one mint, there was no need for a mintmark.

Only with the addition of branch mints starting in 1838 did mintmarks become necessary.

But after 225 years, it is time to start a new tradition. Use the “P” on all coins, cents included.

As time goes on, the mintmarkless coins will disappear, perhaps aided by curious people who can’t quite believe a coin without a mintmark isn’t valuable.

That is all to the good. We want people to continue to be interested in coins. This is a small contribution to changing the topic from abolishing the cent, or a cashless society. This is helpful. Use the “P.”

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

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