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Date and mm placement on "American Renaissance" coin designs

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This question popped up from member Keets on the PCGS board:


Wednesday July 01, 2015 8:53 AM


Most agree that the designs from the "Renaissance of U.S. Coinage" during the beginning of the 20th Century are spectacular. I'm one of them. One thing I have noticed and wondered about is the date and mm placement, most notably on the Nickel and Quarter, but also to a lesser degree on the Dime and Half-Dollar. On the first two the placement and design was so poorly done that a re-design of some sort was undertaken. On the latter two the trouble only developed with significant wear, mainly on the Dime.


Why do you suppose that is?? Do you think that the designers/engravers were so consumed with the lovely designs that they didn't want to distract from them with wear consideration of the date/mm??


Thanks in advance.

Al H.


Bill Jones provides a good response and here’s a little more of the story – None of the “Renaissance of American Coinage” artists include a specific location for mintmarks. All included their initials or monogram, however. Dates were part of the artist's design.


The mint used identifying letters as part of quality control so that the output of each mint could be tracked and patterns of defective coins could be identified and corrected. According to engraver Charles Barber, a mintmark was supposed to be clear, easy to locate but not intrusive to the design. Monograms were supposed to follow a similar approach although this depended more on the artist than on mint engravers.


Mintmark placement on SL quarters and Buffalo nickels followed the “unobtrusive” mantra. That they appeared in areas subject to excessive wear was a function of the original designs and Barber’s decisions on letter placement. The quarter was eventually corrected following the suggestion of Henry Frank in 1924.


Jan. 21, 1924


Secretary of the Treasury:

Washington, DC.


Dear Sir:

If you will examine at random a few silver 25¢ coins of the current design, you will find a serious fault in the fact that after a very short period of circulation the date is almost invariable worn off. The rest of the design is reasonably well protected by a raised edge – but the date, in low relief on a sort of plateau, is the first detail to show abrasion. If the date has any reason for being on a coin, it should be permanent: coins of the older mintage show dates plainly after 20 to 30 years active circulation – two or three years are enough to make the date on the newer design either wholly illegible or nearly so.


Respectfully submitted,

Henry Franc, Jr.


The reverse of the new nickel was changed very soon after introduction in response to complaints that the “token of value” on the reverse would wear off and the coin would cease to be legal. The obverse date was not changed, and nothing has appeared to indicate why this was left in a high, exposed position.


The eagle and dime also fall into the unobtrusive location category.


Odd coins were the 1909 Lincoln cent, 1908 double eagle and 1916 half dollar, all of which had the mintmark in a prominent location on the obverse. The half was moved to the reverse in 1917 after Mint Director Baker received questions about it being the artist’s monogram or initial. But I’ve never seen an explanation for why the letter was placed near the date, or seen negative comments in mint correspondence about the location.


The change to obverse mintmarks in the mid-twentieth century was presented as part of operational improvement and efficiency. But by that time, there were no artistic designs on which the mintmark could intrude.


PS: The SL quarter design was so poorly proportioned that few coins ever had a chance of being fully detailed. The initial 1917 version had been revised by Morgan to strike well and present a good looking coin. But he worked under Barber’s orders at that time. When the Type II version was being prepared, Morgan was the Engraver and was told to leave MacNeil’s design alone. I suspect that if Morgan had been permitted to make technical changes, the Type II would have turned out much better. The same applies to Morgan’s work in the 1922 HR Peace dollar….this was a lot better than deFrancisci’s original, and might have been used if Morgan had only cut down the obverse relief.


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I don't know why the mint mark appeared on the obverse on the 1908 $20's, but I have never seen anything wrong with it.


The 1909 cent might have copied the new mint mark placement, or it may have been done simply because the designer's initials, V.D.B., were already occupying the logical mint mark position.


The 1916 half mint mark placement looks fine to me. The 1917 quarter mint mark placement may have copied it being on the obverse, only to be left there when the half changed.

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On the half dollar, Mint Director von Engelken found the obverse mintmark to be intrusive to the design and ordered its removal to a less conspicuous place. The obverse of the quarter dollar effectively hid the mintmark in the design and didn't experience this issue.


I believe the cent and quarter had obverse mintmarks for the very reason that they would have been more intrusive on the reverse. By placing them next to the date on each coin, they better served their function as statutory, yet changing, features.


When mintmarks were restored in 1968 after a three-year suspension, the Mint opted to put all of them of the obverse for purely practical reasons. This made all reverse dies interchangeable and put an end to the D/S and S/D mintmarks that had resulted whenever the dies were needed at a mint other than the one for which they'd been stamped. This was much more of a problem with reverse dies, since they could be stored at Philadelphia and used in the following year and were thus more likely to be needed elsewhere on short notice.


When mintmarks began to be sculpted into the original models during the 1980s-early 90s, the Mint was then able to create entirely new master dies for each mint every year, rather than allowing the original master hub to wear down from repeated use. That's why we no longer see blurry designs such as those of the 1968 cents, 1970 nickels and 1980 dimes.


The downside is that all mintmarks on our current circulating coins are now oversized and overly obvious.

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Baker's comments refer to the half dollar obverse mintmark as being confused with an artist's initial....but it could also be said to be visually intrusive. Von Engleken left in Feb for the job he really wanted. The original plan had been for Woolley to return as Director, but by that time Woolley liked his new work and Ray Baker was appointed at the urging of Sen. Pittman.

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I still think that the presence of the V.D.B. on the reverse MIGHT have been the reason that the mint mark was not placed in the same position as on the Indian cents, but it is just a theory.



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The DE and cent were the first US coins to have an obverse mintmark since the 1830s. Barber placed VDB in what he said was the most unobtrusive location. Had Sec MacVeagh possessed a backbone, he would have ignored the Washington Star's comment about advertising on a coin. The limited letter files from 1909, say almost nothing about VDB and nothing about the mintmark.

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