Over fifty varieties of the copper Cent of 1794 have been classified, and as many of the Half Dollar of 1795. The 18l7 cent has nearly twenty dissimilar obverses, while, as all experienced collectors know, the number of early copper and silver United States coin that have approximately ten varieties, is too numerous to mention. The collection of these many varieties of the first fifty years of our coinage is thus very fascinating. But from the year 1840 the figure of a sitting woman, looking backward, seemed a good enough design for almost every thing in silver issues.
Taste and fastidiousness diminished, while mechanical methods of exactly reproducing and multiplying a die reached such perfection as to leave no appreciable difference between any two of a given date in thousands of pieces coined. For many persons the pleasure associated with the gathering of their early pieces has been succeeded merely by the slight interest of continuing their series, of having the later coins in 'proof,' or in possessing the very few of these which are really rare. Some well-meant attempts have, to be sure, been made in the new dies of 1892 and in the Columbian Half Dollar to awaken numismatic and artistic interest, but they greatly dispose the collector to slumber again until a worthy 'relief' is inspired.
We should on this centennial year of the first United States coinage (1893) advocate a return to the superb designs of our earliest dates were it not for the confusion which might result from much wear or from intentional alterations of the figures on modern pieces. Let us hope some imaginative brain and skillful band may yet be authorized to produce new coins with the dignity, beauty, and simplicity of the old.
In the meantime there is a generally overlooked or neglected means of dispelling all apathy in connection with our modern coinage. There is a region of activity and study appreciated by a few which it is the object of this Treatise to open and map out that the many may hasten in to enjoy and possess its riches.
And this is the territory whose acres and quarter sections are now free.
The collection of the coinage of the Branch Mints of the United States, in addition to that of Philadelphia, will not only sustain interest in the Nation's coinage as a whole, and especially in the issues of the last hay century, but will be found worthy of the enthusiasm of both the young collector and the most advanced numismatist.
The many causes of the attractiveness of the study and collection of 'Mint Marks' are given as follows:
2d. Mint Marks in their amount of issue in varied years at different points offer the monetary pulse of our country to the student of finance.
3rd. The denominations of any one Branch Mint, in their irregular coinage and their relation to each other at certain periods, indicate curiously the particular needs of the given section of the land.
4th. A knowledge of the Branch Mint coinage is indispensable to an understanding of the greater or less coinage of the Philadelphia Mint and its consequent numismatic value.
5th. A knowledge of the coinage of the different Branch Mints gives to many usually considered common dates great rarity if certain Mint Marks are upon them.
6th. Mint-Mark study gives nicety of taste and makes a mixed set of pieces unendurable.
7th. Several dies were used at Branch Mints which never served in the Philadelphia coinage, and their impressions should no longer be collected as mere varieties.
8th. The very irregularity of dates in some denominations of Branch Mint issues is a pleasant exercise of memory and numismatic knowledge.
9th. This irregularity in date, and in the distribution of coinage, gives a collection in most cases but two or three, and rarely three or more contemporaneous pieces, and thus occasions no great expense.
10th. As the Branch Mints are so far apart their issues have the character of those of different nations, and tend to promote correspondence and exchange, both to secure common dates in fine condition and the rarities of each.
11th. The United States coinage has a unique interest in this production at places far apart of pieces of the same value and design with distinguishing letters upon them.
12th. As Mint Marks only occur in silver and gold coins they can be found oftener than coins of the baser metals in fine condition, and neither augment or involve a collection of the minor pieces.
13th. As Mint Marks have not heretofore been sought, or studied as they deserve, many varieties yet await in circulation the good fortune of collectors who cannot buy freely of coins more in demand, and who, in having access to large sums of money, may draw therefrom prizes impossible to seekers after older dates.
14th. The various sizes of the mint marks O, S, D, C, and CC, ranging from the capital letters of average book type to infinitesimal spots on the coin, as well as the varied location of these letters, defy any accusation of monotony, and are far more distinguishable than the characteristics of many classified varieties of old cents and 'colonials.'
15th. Mint Marks include noble enough game for the most advanced coin hunter, as their rarities are among the highest in value of United States coinage, and their varieties permit the gathering in some issues of as many as six different modern pieces of the same date.
16th. The face value of all the silver Mint Marks to 1893, being less than one hundred and fifty dollars, they are within the means of any collector, as, aside from the economy of those found in circulation, the premiums for rarities are yet below those on many coins of far inferior intrinsic worth.
17th. As the new Mint at Philadelphia will have a capacity equal to all existing United States Mints, it is probable that others will be greatly restricted or even abolished in no long time, and that Mint Marks will not only cease as an annual expense, but be a treasure in time to those who have the foresight to collect them now.
Mint Marks, therefore, depend primarily for rarity upon a known small coinage, or, what is practically the same, though not as evident, a partial issue only of the amount coined. This partial issue is more apt to occur with large silver pieces than small, as the full coinage of the latter is generally required.
If the coinage of given dates of Mint Mark pieces is not limited, their scarcity is influenced by many causes and uncertainties that do not apply to older American pieces now almost entirely in dealers' and collectors' hands. While loss of a portion of each year's coinage must be conceded even to modern pieces through restricted issue, export, and injury, other conditions than loss also govorn Mint Marks more than Philadelphia coinage, The latter comes from one source, and can be gathered through regular channels, the former from many, which are very little known.
A collector in Philadelphia may have a fine set of that mint, and even of the O mint, and wait long before finding the majority of S mint pieces in circulation. One in Carson City may similarly, after gathering fine series of the CC and S mints, have his patience much tried in attempting to pick up a line of the O mint coinage of any series, although many of the dates exist, of course, in large numbers. Hence Mint Marks have an indirect rarity and value depending upon the location of the collector.
Yet, although he will usually collect the pieces of the nearest Mint in better condition than others, there are at times exceptional causes to the contrary, for when the banks of a community need subsidiary coin and the nearest Mint cannot supply it, shipments are made from a distant one, and the collector has unexpected opportunities.
CONDITION Also affects the value of Mint Marks to a greater extent than of Philadelphia Mint issues. Though the Branch Mint coinage is all relatively modern, gradual circulation across the length and breadth of a continent causes most pieces to be much worn. We have been surprised at the low average condition of thousands of dollars' worth of coin which we have seen counted.
The lower denominations, the Dimes and Quarters, suffer particularly from their more common use, and but few Halves and Dollars are very fine. They serve a collector but temporarily, and, if a date of unusually rapid transfer from a distant section does not come to his view from time to time, he can only depend upon the uncertainty of correspondence to secure choice pieces by mail. He may find the coins of the nearest Branch Mint in high condition, but wait long to perfect his series of the others. Even the most accessible Mint Mark pieces are difficult to gather uncirculated. Hundreds of the Philadelphia issue have been for a long period saved annually in this condition, but very few coined elsewhere. We know, from prolonged visits to New Orleans and acquaintance with the very courteous officials of the Mint and sub-treasury there during the winters of 1892-'3, that about the only pieces of each year's coinage that escape circulation are the very few written for from a distance and those taken by visitors as keepsakes; but we were less surprised at this when we sought several months in vain for collectors in New Orleans and found no reputable coin dealers other than money brokers.
As to San Francisco, we know from correspondence that the coinage of the mint there has been very little collected, and is most difficult to procure of even a few years back in uncirculated condition. We have heard of no collectors in Carson City, Dahlonega, or Charlotte who might search current money or bank accumulations for the coins of these mints in past years.
Why is it that the South and the far West neglect such great numismatic opportunities? As a striking illustration of the result, we mention that the Twenty Cent piece was, in 1877, limited in coinage to but five hundred and ten 'Proofs' struck, of course, in Philadelphia. In 1876 there were ten thousand specimens of this coin struck at Carson City, yet, while any one can buy the proof of '77 for about three dollars, the '76 CC piece is excessively rare in any condition, and would, even if worn, command two or three times that price from a Mint-Mark collector. Therefore a series of Branch Mint dates is not only difficult to gather individually and collectively in any condition, but is especially so in the state numismatists most desire. There are, of course, some exceptions in dates of every denomination, which from very large issues are only of value when uncirculated, but in general the preceding statement holds. An uncirculated series is thus a worthy object of numismatic ambition, and choice Mint Marks will assuredly yet command far higher prices than the same dates from Philadelphia, or even than some of their own scarce pieces greatly worn.
Meanwhile Mint-Mark values must vary, more or less, with the growing demand, the supply discovered, the condition, the location of the collector, and the estimates of sellers and buyers in different sections of the country. As their number increases and the good judgment of dealers grows with daily observation of the supply and demand and the prices obtained at sales, we may expect to see the worth of each Branch Mint coin determined in given condition with something of the accuracy pertaining to the pieces issued at Philadelphia.
But existing rare dates of Mint Marks and uncirculated pieces should be searched for without delay that the supply may be known. Persons near the Branch Mints with access to large quantities of coin have a great opportunity for rich collection and very profitable exchange in this new field, and upon their activity partly the question of rarity and value for a while depends.