The Nov. 14 installment of “Making Moderns” discussed the Special
Mint Sets produced in 1965, 1966 and 1967. Yet, some 1964 issues exist
with the SMS finish and they are among the most mysterious U.S. coins
of the modern era.
According to Scott Schechter and Jeff Garrett’s book, 100 Greatest
Modern U.S. Coins, 1964 coins with the SMS finish used from 1965 to
1967 surfaced in 1993 at a Stack’s auction.
On the mystery, the authors write, “There was no way to explain
the existence of a 1964 Special Mint Set, as Proof coins were produced
that year and no documentation concerning the creation of a 1964
Special Mint Set exists.”
What is consistent about all of the known examples is that they’re
sharper and better produced than any regular 1964 circulation strike,
but lack the Brilliant Proof finish of that year. Some auction lot
descriptions have noted that the 1964 pieces lack the reflectivity
seen on the 1965 SMS pieces. The majority of the 1964 SMS pieces that
have survived are in exceptional condition.
Several theories have been put forth about their origin. The coins
may have been produced as practice to assess the feasibility of
production. They could have also been presentation coins issued to
honor the final 90 percent silver coins or the introduction of the
Kennedy half dollar.
While they may have been produced in 1964, some suggest that they
may have been struck in early 1965, and a date of 1966 has also been
proposed. Stack’s has noted that the set offered in 1993 was from the
estate of a coin dealer. Speculation holds that they may have come
from dealer Lester Merkin, who might have acquired them from a Mint
employee, possibly former Mint Director Eva Adams. Adams was director
from 1961 to 1969 and passed away in 1991.
With no mintage records, one can only use grading service
population reports and instinct to estimate the population, but these
coins continue to be rare. Most estimates place the mintage of 1964
SMS sets at 15 to 50 sets.
These coins are infrequently offered and their pricing is
inconsistent. For example, an SMS 1964 Washington quarter dollar
graded Mint State 66 SMS realized $1,265 at a 2009 Heritage sale, with
other auction results for cent through quarter dollars cluster at the
$3,000 to $4,000 range.
SMS 1964 Kennedy half dollars bring the highest prices. An MS-67
SMS example realized $16,100 in January 2010 and an MS-68 SMS piece
realized $10,350 at an April 2009 Heritage auction.
The 1964 SMS coins are among the more enigmatic coins produced in
the modern era. More may be out there, waiting to be discovered and
confirmed by major grading services.
Steven Roach is associate editor of Coin World. Email him