By David W. Lange – Research Director, Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) ……
It has now been more than 50 years since collectors had to face the unthinkable — the end of fine silver coinage
Numismatic writers frequently reference the year 1965 as the one in which copper-nickel-clad coins replaced the traditional silver issues, but this statement is quite misleading. The fact is that the first clad coins didn’t even appear until the 11th month of that year, and the only denomination actually released in 1965 bearing that date was the quarter dollar. The vast majority of United States coins dated 1965 were actually struck in 1966.
The whole situation is so intriguing that a study of our coins dated 1965 is worthy of this month’s column.
Beginning in 1961 there were increasing reports of coin shortages across the nation, and the U.S. Mint responded by upping production dramatically starting that year. This feverish activity affected primarily those coins which were needed in vending machines: nickels through half dollars. Cents were periodically in short supply, as there were still penny gumball machines back then, but annual mintage figures reveal that cent production remained fairly stable until 1964. On September 3 of that year a law was passed to freeze the date of all United States coins at 1964 until such time that the national shortage had passed. This measure was taken to discourage the hoarding of new coins by speculators (the boom in Brilliant Uncirculated rolls of modern coins was at its peak in 1964, and the coin hobby was unfairly blamed for the coin shortage). This would boost the mintage of cents dated 1964 to more than six billion pieces, but there’s much more to the story, as we shall see.
By year’s end the Philadelphia Mint had coined some 1,519,165,000 cents, while Denver added 1,865,163,400 more. Production continued on into 1965, the two mints striking 1964-dated cents totaling 932,780,000 and 1,933,908,100 pieces, respectively. The San Francisco Assay Office (its “mint” status had been revoked in 1962) was reactivated, and in September of 1965 it began coining 1964-dated cents, too. The S mintmark was omitted, and its cents are thus indistinguishable from those struck at Philadelphia. Cents actually dated 1965 were not coined until December of that year, when the Philadelphia Mint alone produced a mere 1,085,000 pieces.
To further discourage speculators, the Mint suspended the inclusion of mintmarks on all coins dated 1965 and later until further notice. This theoretically reduced the number of coins that would be hoarded by speculators, and it did have a chilling effect on the hobby. Since it was government spin to blame coin collectors for the shortage of change in circulation, Senator Alan Bible of Nevada introduced a bill on May 21, 1965 to prohibit coin collecting altogether! This silly action was taken to relieve some of the heat on his fellow Nevada Democrat, Mint Director Eva Adams. Hobby leaders of the time went to Washington to fight for their rights, but this proved unnecessary, as the bill was wisely allowed to expire without action.
Nearly the entire mintage of 1965-dated cents was performed during the first seven months of 1966. During that time the Philadelphia Mint struck 300,385,000 pieces, Denver 973,364,900, and San Francisco brought up the rear with 222,390,000. The total output was 1,497,224,900 pieces, all of them unidentifiable as to their actual year and mint of manufacture!
1965 cents are plentiful through the grade of MS 66 RD (red), but they become quite scarce in higher grades. All reveal the grossly worn obverse master hub that would not be replaced until 1969 after the coin shortage had ended. In addition to striking cents for circulation, the San Francisco Assay Office contributed 2,360,000 collector pieces for what the Treasury Department labeled Special Mint Sets. This offering resulted from the suspension of true proof sets starting in 1965, and the coins were struck with polished dies but without polished planchets. The 1965 SMS cents vary in finish, most having a semi-prooflike, satiny texture, while a minority display the brilliant fields and frosted devices reminiscent of actual proofs. Those lacking cameo contrast are common in grades through MS 67 RD, but pieces certified as Cameo or Ultra Cameo are quite rare.
The coining of 1965-dated nickels commenced at the Philadelphia Mint in the closing days of that year, evidently in an attempt to establish some credibility for the issue. A mere 972,000 examples were produced before 1966 arrived–imagine if these rare pieces could be distinguished in some way. Coinage with this date continued only through the month of July, at which point the three mints converted to all 1966-dated production. In fact, far more 1964-dated nickels were minted in 1966 than ones dated 1965. In 1965-66 the Philadelphia Mint struck a total of 12,440,000 1965-dated nickels. Denver and San Francisco coined this date only during 1966, producing 82,291,380 and 41,400,000 pieces, respectively, all without mintmarks.
As a rule, 1965 nickels are found weakly struck from overused dies. Examples are fairly plentiful through MS 66, but coins having the coveted FS (Full Steps) designation are all but unknown. The SMS coins are common in grades through MS 67 but only rarely display contrasting fields and devices. Cameo strikes are available in limited numbers, and Ultra Cameo coins are exceedingly rare. Many display full steps, but this designation is not applied to SMS pieces.
David W. Lange’s column, “USA Coin Album,” appears monthly in The Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association (ANA).
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