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P-Mintmark Firsts on US Coins

2017-P Lincoln Cent - P-Mintmark Firsts on US Coins

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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11 COMMENTS

  1. It’s my understanding that Philadelphia cents are struck without a P mint mark so that San Francisco or West Point can be called on during times of high demand. By omitting mint marks, any cents struck at those mints can simply be mixed in with Philadelphia issues without creating “instant rarities” that would be hoarded rather than remaining in circulation.

    • Unless they’re uncirculated it’s extremely doubtful you’ll be able to _sell_ them. Any that you get in change are only worth face value.

      Almost 4.4 BILLION were made for circulation, which is more than a dozen for every person in the country. You might be able to find a beginning collector who wants to add a few to their collection, but given the number minted any serious collector or dealer will almost certainly have all that they want.

  2. While I’m not completely sure of exactly why the reasoning for the P being left off of cents for Phyllis minted coins. I would think that if high demand were the case, it would be just as easy to have different mints, West Point or San Francisco, use dies with the P mint mark as it would for them to “omit” the mint mark since I am quite sure the mint marks are part of the die, not something added at a different time. Therefore, would they not have to manipulate their dies to remove their mint mark to produce no mint mark coins for high demand? I would think they would just have stock die sets that could include the P just as easy as not. But I’m by no means educated in the well in this topic and am only commenting on it, hoping to gain knowledge. Any thoughts, or better yet, facts. Thanks.

    • To add a bit to my answer from March 3, the consideration’s more than just meeting demand. Valid or not, there’s concern among Mint management that business-strike S or W cents would be pulled out of circulation as perceived rarities or speculative acquisitions regardless of their actual availability.

      While West Point and San Francisco are capable of moderately large outputs, they can’t match the capacities of Philadelphia and Denver which each typically strike 3 to 5 billion cents annually and have peaked as high as TEN billion. Given what’s happened in the past when there are significant disparities in production among, it’s my opinion there may be at least some justification for the Mint’s concern about “creating instant rarities”.

      To answer your question about how mint marks are placed on dies, I found the following at the US Mint website:

      “The Mint adds mint marks to the master hub, the first stage of the die making process. The Philadelphia Mint makes a master hub for each facility that will strike the coin.”

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