by Al Doyle for CoinWeek ……
Inexperienced and veteran collectors alike share a fascination with mintage figures. Hand a coin person a Red Book or other source of information, and it's likely that the annual mintages will receive some scrutiny. Focusing on the 20th century, there are dozens of U.S. coins with lower mintages.
Although U.S. Mint production numbers can and do provide valuable insights into rarity, the process goes far deeper than how many coins were struck in a certain year. The 1950-D Jefferson nickel is a classic example of how other factors play a major role in scarcity.
No one would argue that the mintage of 2,630,000 is an eye grabber by 20th century standards, but the vast majority never entered circulation. That means 40-piece BU rolls (occasionally with attractive toning) can still be found without too much difficulty. If anything, circulated 1950-D Jeffersons are the rarer items.
At first glance, the 1942-D Jefferson and its mintage of 13,938,000 should be a far more common date than the famed 1950-D, but that's not how things have worked out. The last of the copper-nickel Jeffersons before the introduction of the .350 fine silver pieces of 1942 to 1945 circulated widely, so few were set aside for future generations. This key date will cost $40 or more - a hefty sum by the frugal standards of the Jefferson series.
The 1954-S is moderately low (29,384,000) when it comes to original mintages, but try and find one with even four steps on the reverse and a dab of luster. Such a normally mundane piece won't be easy to locate. Go ahead and obtain a sparkling 1950-D in MS-65 if you want, but the '54-S in MS-63 may be the better prize.
Pre-1965 half dollars are a fertile field for those who seek coins with low original production numbers and affordable price tags. Mintages for 1946 and 1947-dated Walking Liberty half dollars range from 2,151,000 to 4,094,000, and even certified examples in the MS-63 to MS-65 range are within the reach of many collectors.
In the Franklin series, the 1953 (mintage 2,796,920) and 1955 (2,876,381) are the attention getters, but nine other dates feature mintages of less than 6 million, and that includes P-mint proofs. The 1949-S (3,744,000) is the high-priced key to a complete date set, but the other low-mintage Franklin halves are reasonably priced in all grades. If money is tight, just about all of these dates can be found in coin shop silver buckets for around spot value.
Want something more on the vintage side? Several Barber half dollars combine modest mintages with current prices that carry little or no premium above the most common dates. Check out the 1904-O (mintage 1,117,600), 1908 (1,354,000), 1911-D (695,080), 1913-D (534,000), 1913-S (604,000) and 1914-S (992,000) if you're a value-minded shopper. Since most Barber halves are heavily worn, anything in Fine or better is a wise purchase.
The 1946-S Washington quarter (mintage 4,204,000) is a classic example of a date with a low mintage and high survival rate, and the 1947-S (5,532,000) has a similar track record. What numismatist wouldn't glance at the 1955-D (3,182,400) or the 1958 (6,360,000) if they were thinking about Mint statistics?
Sticking with Washingtons, the 1932, 1940-S, 1946-D, 1949 and 1951-S feature mintages of less than 10 million combined with reasonable prices for uncirculated specimens. The 1934-D, 1935-D, 1935-S, 1937-S and 1938-S were made in modest numbers, and they won't break the bank in circulated grades.
The 1949-S Roosevelt dime is the key to the series, but a trio of other dates were struck in similar numbers. The 1955 (mintage 12,828,381), 1955-D (13,959,000) and 1955-S (18,510,000) were heavily saved by BU roll investors and hoarders, which means current prices aren't a great deal above spot for quantity buyers.
Mint State Mercury dimes can glitter like little jewels, and the 1936-S (mintage 9,210,000), 1937-S (9,740,000), 1938-D (5,537,000) and 1938-S (8,090,000) are somewhat scarcer than the 1940s issues while selling for prices that are friendly to the budget minded.
The story of 1931-S Lincoln cent (mintage 866,000) is quite similar to the 1950-D Jefferson nickel. At least 500,000 were held back from circulation and later sold to collectors. This has drastically skewed the mintage to rarity ratio. Four other coppers from that era had a more normal distribution pattern.
Just 9,062,000 1932 Lincoln cents were struck, while the mintage for the 1932-D was a very similar 10,500,000. Things didn't improve significantly in 1933, as 14,360,000 P-mints and 6,200,000 D-mints were coined.
Why were so few cents produced? 1932 and 1933 were some of the hardest times of the Great Depression, and demand for coinage had fallen off the cliff. No nickels, dimes or silver dollars were struck in those years. Quarters weren't minted in 1933, and a modest run of 1933-S Walking Liberty half dollars were the first 50-cent pieces struck since 1929.
That makes the 1932 and 1933 Lincolns among the few numismatic keepsakes from one of the grimmest times in American history. Plan on spending around $25 total to obtain all four of these Depression-era survivors in Extra Fine. That's a decent value for 80-year old coins from a very popular series.
Whether your coin budget is bountiful or meager, there are low-mintage dates at every price point. Go out and find some of the more interesting coins in U.S. numismatics.