Mintmarks Added to Deceive Buyer|
January 03, 2014
Mintmarks are tiny letters or symbols placed on a die to indicate the mint facility where the coin was struck. Our country has been content to rely on letters or nothing at all in the case of the Philadelphia Mint and some modern silver American Eagles struck at West Point and San Francisco. Many foreign nations have used both letters and symbols such as an anchor, rooster or dot as mintmarks.
Mintmark letters were punched into the dies of our vintage (pre-1964) coins at the Philadelphia Mint. When a coin blank is struck by a die to make a coin, metal flows into the recesses of that die – including the tiny mintmark. This produces a raised letter on the coin in the position where the punch was placed. Since this was hand work done to each die, the location and orientation of mintmarks can vary for each die – and they do.
While examining the mintmarks on a large group of coins, collectors can find examples that are tilted, double punched, and even very weak ones as the dies became worn or filled with debris. So for some coins with high mintages such as a 1943-D Mercury dime, there are countless microscopic positional varieties. At this time, many of these variations do not add significant value to a coin. However, some specimens, especially those with dual mintmarks, are very popular. This variety occurs when a die made for one mint – say one with an “S” made for San Francisco – is returned to the die shop and repunched with a “D” for the Denver Mint. Thus we have a coin with a D/S mintmark as seen on some 1938 Buffalo nickels.
When a mintmark is placed on a die, in some cases, the punch will raise a tiny bulge in the metal around the depression (Figure 1).
On coins struck with one of these dies, the mintmark will appear to sit in a valley (Figure 2). As a new collector in the 1960s, a “folksy” column dealing with coin alterations written by a noted “counterfeit expert” caused me to mistakenly sell my Lincoln cent collection. Many of my mintmarked cents did not look authentic to me because this “Valley Effect” characteristic made the mintmarks on many of my coins appear to be added.
Since the mintmark is part of the die, on a struck coin, the letter and area around it should resemble the rest of the coin in both appearance and wear. In grades above XF, the surface may have microscopic flow lines and original mint luster with no trace of damage, scratches, tooling or change of color. As the coin becomes worn, its surface should change evenly. Thus, barring any damage or oxidation, the mintmark area should look similar to other parts of the coin with regard to color and amount of wear. On coins whose mintmark is near the rim, extreme cases of circulation can actually blend part of the mintmark into the worn surface.
The shape and appearance (style) of mintmark letters used on our vintage coins over the years has been studied and documented by numismatists. Their work is available on the Internet. You will discover many cases where the same style mintmark could span many years and even appear on several different coin denominations.
I’ve used 1916-D dimes to illustrate this column because they are one of the most commonly altered coins. Examples with an added “D” are plentiful. Additionally, the position of mintmarks on coins such as this, with low mintages, are easier to document. Perhaps the most useful example of this can be found in “Counterfeit Detection a Reprint from the Numismatist” where four positions of the mintmarks found on genuine 1916-D dimes are illustrated. The mintmark in Figure 3 is a typical alteration. In addition to the wrong style, you can see tooling scratches in the field around the “D.” Altered coins are often cleaned or buffed to hide traces of the alteration. Many added mintmarks appear to “float” above the coin’s surface. These specimens usually have a dark seam of separation at their juncture with the field. Please don’t become complacent due to the crudely done alteration I have shown here. As far back as the late 1970s at least one faker was doing much better work (Figure 4). Although this mintmark is out of position, he (she?) took the time to add metal flow down its side and onto the adjacent field to hide any seams at the points of attachment. This faker is either still at his craft or others have studied his technique as more deceptive mintmark alterations than this are occasionally found on Standing Liberty quarters and Walking Liberty half dollars from the San Francisco Mint. I recommend everyone should check the key and semi-key coins in their collection for alterations and send any suspicious coins to a major grading service to be authenticated.
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