Guest Author - Raymond F. Hanisco
Mint Marks are letter designations found on a coin to tell you from which Mint a coin was manufactured. Most countries follow a fairly sequential alphabetical format, for example, Germany used A for Berlin, B for Vienna, D for Munich, E for Muldenhutten, and so forth. The United States, however, used and still uses the first letter of the city for which the coin was manufactured, but you must understand there are always exceptions to the general rule. A prime example is, coins struck at the Philadelphia Mint do not have a Mint Mark on them if they were made prior to 1979, but the War Nickels made from 1942 to 1945 do have the P Mint Mark. Then just to confuse things a little more, in 1979 the P Mint Mark was used only on the dollar coin, and thereafter on all the other coin denominations, except on the penny. Are we all confused, yet? Great!! So, here are the US Coin Mint Marks in alphabetical order. Please note the dates these Mint Marks were used because there are two D Mint Marks.
C Charlotte, North Carolina 1838 1861 (gold coins only)
CC Carson City, Nevada 1870 1893
D Dahlonega, Georgia 1838 1861 (gold coins only)
D Denver, Colorado 1906 to present
O New Orleans, Louisiana 1838 1909
P Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1793 to present
S San Francisco, California 1854 to present
W West Point, New York 1984 to present
For the most part, the Mint Mark can be found on the reverse (back) of the coin, but on the penny the Mint Mark is on the obverse (front). Just for your general knowledge, the obverse is the side upon which the date appears.
Up until 1996, all the dies from which coins were struck were made at the Philadelphia Mint, now some are made at the Denver facility. The dies to be sent to other branch mints to make coins would have the Mint Mark hand punched into them. It seems that whatever style of font was available at the time was used to punch the Mint Mark into the dies, so we find fat ones, and thin ones, tall, short and even micro Mint Marks. We find coins where the Mint Mark was punched into the dies with a heavy hand and those that were lightly punched. There are even US coins where one Mint Mark was struck into the die and then they did it again as in the 1865 S over S Seated Liberty Quarter, or where one Mint Mark was struck into the die over top of another Mint Mark as in the 1900 O over CC Morgan Dollar. There was even a case, in recent years, where proof dimes were struck at the West Point Mint and the W Mint Mark was never put on the die. Oops! Somebody goofed.
Well technology has advanced the placement and style of the Mint Mark. Around 1990, the US Mint standardized the font and size of the Mint Mark. No longer are Mint Marks being hand struck into the coin dies. What the Mint is doing is making the Mint Mark a part of the template or hub from which the dies are made. It is now all one process.
To learn more about Mint Marks and other facts about coins, pick up a copy of the Red Book. The official title of the book is "A Guide Book of United States Coins" by R.S. Yeoman. Any bookstore should have it, or buy it on line. A new edition is published each year, so buy the paperback edition, its cheaper. It should be one of your reference books.