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1964 a Momentous Year in Coins
By Ginger Rapsus, Numismatic News
August 19, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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Take a good look at your 1964 proof or mint sets. Common coins, readily available, no major rarities. Mintage figures were in the billions for the cent and nickel. Most of these coins went out into circulation and did their job.

But 1964 was one of the most important years in United States coinage. This was the last year of silver coinage, the first year of the Kennedy half dollar. And so much went on behind the scenes. This year saw major changes beginning to form in U.S. coinage.

A set of 1964 coins includes the cent, nickel, dime, quarter and half dollar, minted at Philadelphia and Denver. Mintage figures were healthy. 1964-D dimes had a mintage of well over a billion, with quarters from both mints over half a billion. The Kennedy half dollar debuted this year, to much fanfare. This coin also boasted mintage figures in the hundreds of millions.

Yet, half dollars all but disappeared from circulation. People who remembered the recently slain president saved these coins as souvenirs. Kennedy fans lined up at banks to obtain a specimen of the new coin in March 1964.

Proof sets including the new Kennedy half dollar were in high demand, selling at premiums well over the $2.10 issue price, despite a record mintage of nearly 4 million.

Not only did the year 1964 spell the end of circulating 50-cent pieces, but also, this was the final year of 90 percent silver coins. So much went on behind the scenes this year, unknown to the general public, although coin collectors followed the news each day.

Besides a worldwide silver shortage becoming evident, there was a widespread shortage of small change. Coin collectors were blamed for this shortage, although the vending machine industry had a lot to do with it. Coins sat in vending machines for weeks without being picked up and put back into circulation.

Kathryn O’Hay Granahan, Treasurer of the United States, mentioned the vending machine industry as a part of the problem, but added, “There are too many coin collectors for the comfort of the U.S. Treasury.” On June 26, Senator A. Willis Robertson (D-Virginia) introduced a bill to keep the 1964 date on all coins minted from the day of enactment, until Jan. 1 of the year after the Treasury determined there were enough coins. The bill was passed by voice vote on July 24, and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on September 3.

Senator Robertson also blamed coin collectors for the shortage. Even the Wall Street Journal reported that the Treasury planned the date freeze because it was “driven to desperation measures by coin collectors.” Eva Adams, Director of the Mint, blamed a “coin craze” for the shortage, not blaming real collectors per se, but rather speculators and investors who saved coins by rolls and even bags. The minting of proof sets would also come to an end.

Coin collectors were upset enough by these claims, but the worst was yet to come the following year, when the famous “Bible Bill” was introduced – a bill that would have outlawed coin collecting.

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And amid all the talk of coin shortages and the end of silver coins, a bill allowing the mintage of silver dollars was passed on Aug. 3. Representatives from Western states said that silver dollars were traditionally used in the West, and a metallic coin would last longer in circulation than a paper dollar. The following year, 316,076 silver dollars were minted at Denver with the 1964 date. Mintage was halted after only 10 days. Supposedly the entire mintage was melted, although rumors persist that a few escaped the melting pot.

Proof sets were discontinued in favor of Special Mint Sets that appeared in 1965; however, a few prototypes of the SMS coins are known, dated 1964. Exact mintage figures and the details of their distribution are unknown.

When you look at a 1964 quarter, remember that the date 1964 does not necessarily mean the year of its production. Ninety percent silver coinage was struck through 1966, until the coin shortage was alleviated.

Silver dimes dated 1964 were struck until February, 1966. 238,770,000 1964 dimes were struck in 1964, and another 3,950,762 for proof sets. The 1964-D dime mintage included 572,154,430 struck in 1964; 617,457,120 struck in 1965; and 167,905,630 in 1966. There are also a few off-metal strikes known, 1964 dimes in clad material and 1965 dimes in silver.

Ninety percent silver quarters dated 1964 were struck until January 1966. 258,132,000 were stuck in 1964. There were also 3,950,762 made for proof sets. Of the 1964-dated quarters struck in 1965, 282,388,000 were struck in Philadelphia and 15,229,720. 4,640,865 quarters dated 1964 were struck in San Francisco in 1966. 1964-D quarters included 123,801,308 in 1964 and 580,334,220 in 1965. There are off-metal strikes known for 1964 and 1965.

Kennedy half dollars dated 1964, in 90 percent silver, were struck until April 1966. Mintage included 87,448,004 and another 3,950,762 for proof sets. 144,182,000 were struck in 1965 and 41,674,000 in 1966. 1964-D half dollars included 114,411,608 struck in 1964 and 41,793,838 in 1965. There are off-metal strikes known for 1964 and 1965.

No one can know with certainly just how many 1964 dated coins of 90 percent silver were lost in the silver melts of 1979-1980 and in recent years, when the price of silver was high and melt value was many times face value.

Once in awhile, a 1964-dated coin will turn up in circulation or, in the case of half dollars, in bank rolls. Look at that coin with a different eye. It’s not just another common coin. There is no way to know exactly when the coin was struck and how many survive. That 1964 coin is a real piece of history, a souvenir of a time when United States coinage was about to undergo great change. The year 1964 is unforgettable in numismatic circles due to the massive changes about to come, the news behind the scenes and the coins with stories that are still unknown nearly 50 years later.

Breakdown of 1964-dated coin mintages came from “Dating of U. S. Coins,” issued by the Director of the Mint in January 1967, and the article, “Breakdown of 1964, 1965 and 1966 Coinage,” from the Whitman Numismatic Journal, May, 1967.



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