By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for PCGS ……
There’s much numismatic clamor for coins from the “CC” mint that operated in Carson City, Nevada, from 1870 through 1893, and many collectors love “S” mint coins from San Francisco – a mint with lore all its own. But what about the Philadelphia Mint, the one that started it all?
Yes, the first United States Mint facility may have opened its doors in Philadelphia back in 1792, but it seems like we don’t hear as many stories about this landmark, perhaps because its coinage is generally much more common. The Philly Mint carries its own colorful background, much of which lends some interesting trivia. Of note is the very existence of Philadelphia’s “P” mintmark – something that didn’t even debut until well into the 20th century, more than a century after the U.S. Mint began operations.
The first appearance of the P mintmark came in 1942, some 150 years after the Philadelphia Mint began production.
It was the early 1940s, and World War II had spilled onto America’s shores with the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the deadly mayhem that ensued. By 1942, the United States was sending troops overseas and needed plenty of materials to help put up a strong and successful fight against tyranny. Americans were doing their best to support the troops, and one of the most important things the nation did was conserve critical resources for war supplies. Among these was nickel, a durable metal used for producing artillery.
On October 8, 1942, the U.S. Mint was authorized to temporarily eliminate nickel from the nation’s five-cent coins and implement a special wartime alloy consisting of 35% silver, 56% copper, and 9% manganese. This new composition replaced the traditional 25% nickel, 75% copper alloy late in the year, and the silver war nickels are denoted with the presence of a large mintmark over the dome of Monticello on the reverse of the coin. All three U.S. Mint facilities then producing coins utilized this mintmark, including the Philadelphia Mint, whose “P” mintmark was seen on a U.S. coin for the first time with the advent of the wartime-alloy Jefferson nickel in 1942.
After the silver-based alloy was retired at the end of 1945 following the end of the war, the “P” mintmark also disappeared from the nation’s coinage. It wouldn’t reemerge until 1979, when the Susan B. Anthony dollar debuted. The appearance of the “P” mintmark on Philadelphia-struck Susan B. Anthony dollars in 1979 served as forerunner to what came in 1980 – the rollout of P mintmarks on all circulating Philadelphia coinage greater than one cent in denomination.
The Lincoln cent remained the only circulating denomination that didn’t receive a “P” mintmark until 2017, the year commemorating the 225th anniversary of the United States Mint. As a nod to the significant milestone that marked the establishment of the United States Mint in Philadelphia, all Lincoln cents struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 2017 donned a “P” mintmark. The “P” mintmark disappeared from the cent the following year in 2018, but many collectors wonder when, or if, the “P” will ever return to the nation’s one-cent coin.
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