By Bullion Shark LLC ……
Today, the United States Mint is the largest producer of coins in the world, striking billions of circulating coins, millions of bullion coins in four metals, and various commemorative coins and special issues.
There are even circulation-quality coins not made for circulation and sold to collectors, like the American Innovation and Native American dollars and Kennedy half dollars, though last year some were released into circulation.
Many collectors complain that the Mint issues too many coins, and that it is almost impossible to keep up with all these new issues each year.
One hundred years ago the situation was completely different, with no nickels, dimes, quarters or half dollars struck that year at any of the mint facilities in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco, and the number of Lincoln cents made that year was a paltry 7.16 million – all of which were produced by the Denver Mint.
Collectors were not happy with this situation, especially since it resulted in gaps in their collections for the coins not made that year. And with cents perhaps the most widely collected coins of this period, some speculate that the reason the Mint made the coins that year despite having a surplus of cents on hand was to produce enough coins to “maintain date continuity” and “discourage speculation,” as David W. Lange suggested in 2008.
There was even discussion at the time in the American Numismatic Association’s magazine The Numismatist about the Mint striking special examples of the coins not made for circulation that year just for collectors.
But there were some other coins made that year, too. The problem is that they were not widely collected at the time – namely, silver dollars and $20 gold Double Eagles.
As for the cent situation, normally tens of millions of cents were struck each year during this era, but for the first time since 1793 – with the sole exception of 1815 – no cents were made in Philadelphia in 1922.
And because of that unusual situation, a certain number of the 1922-D cents were made without the D mint mark or with one that is very weak. Three dies were involved with two producing the Weak D cents and one was used to produce the very rare and valuable No D cents. This is the only coin in the series that lacks the mint mark that it should have had. PCGS, which had graded over 6,000 of the No D coins, estimates that about 15,000 have survived in all grades.
Worth about $500 to $2,000 in circulated grades, those 1922 No D cents are valued by PCGS in the top grade of MS65 Red Brown at an impressive $150,000.
What’s more, is the fact that in 1922 the Mint had on hand a surplus of undistributed cents including 15,493,230 at the San Francisco Mint and 20.250,700 at the Denver Mint. Why it felt the need to make another seven million coins at Denver that year remains unknown, as David Lange has said.
The redundancy of pennies was matched by a similar situation with nickels, dimes, quarters, and half dollars, which is why none of those circulating coins were made in 1922. The reason is that during the economic boom of 1916-1920 driven mostly by the American intervention in World War I, a glut of circulating coinage had been made.
Also, by 1921 the country was in an economic depression, with unemployment reaching 11.7% in 1921. Typically during such periods, there is less demand for circulating coinage for commerce.
Peace Dollars and Double Eagles
Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress had passed the Pittman Act in 1918, which had authorized the conversion of up to 350 million Morgan dollars into silver bullion. 270 million of those coins were melted and mostly sent to the United Kingdom to help shore up their currency.
The Pittman Act also required that an equal amount of new silver dollars be struck from silver from American mines, which paved the way for the Peace dollar that debuted in 1921 with a one-year-only high-relief issue.
None of those million or so 1921 Peace dollars were released to the public until 1922 because the coins were struck late in the year due to production problems, and the relief had to be lowered for the 1922 coins. In that year, the Mint struck over an amazing 84 million 1922 Peace dollars–about one million coins a day–including an annual total of 51,737,000 in Philadelphia, 15,063,000 in Denver, and 17,475,000 in San Francisco. This vastly exceeded what was needed for commerce.
As for $20 gold coins, in 1922 the Mint produced 1,375,500 of those coins in Philadelphia and 2,658,00 in San Francisco, with those pieces intended primarily for settling international payment exchanges.
Today both coins are relatively common apart from Gem specimens, but until the 1950s the 1922-S $20 was one of the rarities of the series. But then a hoard was discovered in Europe.
Finally, in 1922, an important pair of commemorative coins were also issued – each in two versions with and without a star.
Designed by the legendary Laura Gardin Fraser at the recommendation of her husband James Earle Fraser, designer of the Buffalo nickel and who was serving on the Commission on Fine Arts at the time, the coins were issued to mark the centennial of the birth of renowned Civil War general and former President Ulysses S. Grant.
The coins included silver half dollars and gold dollars of the same design that featured an obverse portrait based on a Matthew Brady photo and Grant’s childhood home in Ohio on the reverse. They were struck with and without an incuse star on the obverse’s right field — with the versions with the star being much scarcer and more valuable today.
All told, 1922 was a truly remarkable year and a perfect storm for U.S. coinage, the likes of which we will surely never see again!
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R.S. Yeoman et al., A Guide Book of United States Coins 2023 (Whitman, 2022)