Snapshots taken at different times reflect changes in popularity.
This week I go back more than 45 years to 1964 and 1965. Coin World,
founded in 1960, enjoyed over 100,000 circulation. My “Numismatic
Depth Study” column in Coin World, predecessor to today’s “Joys of
Collecting,” was a reader favorite.
The difference between 1964 and 1965 was like day and night. In
early 1964, Lincoln cents were plentiful in circulation, ditto for
Jefferson 5-cent coins, Roosevelt dimes, Washington quarter dollars,
and Walking Liberty and Franklin half dollars. The higher
denominations were made of 90 percent silver. Some banks still had
silver dollars in their vaults, payable at face value, and at the
Treasury Department in January untold millions were still available.
Supplies ran out in March of that year, and the Treasury called a halt
to the dispersal.
On international markets, the cost of silver bullion was rising.
It seemed that soon it would take more than 50 cents worth of that
metal to make a half dollar, and other silver denominations would have
the same problem. If you have an interest in numismatic tradition you
know that history repeats itself. The exact same thing happened in
1850 when silver became too costly to use for current coins. Just
about every one in circulation disappeared into the hands of
speculators and few new such coins were made. In 1851 the silver
3-cent coins were made with just 75 percent silver instead of 90
percent silver, so people wouldn’t hoard them.
In 1965, silver was dropped from the dime and quarter dollar, and
the Kennedy half dollar, now the second year of the design, was made
in a special clad metal with sharply reduced silver content.
The price of silver continued to go up. Untold numbers of silver
coins from earlier years were in circulation. Speculators and
investors scrambled to find all they could, for it was now profitable
to melt them down. Oddly, Lincoln cents, of no particular intrinsic
value at the time, were also hoarded by the public — so much so that
some stores ran advertisements offering to pay a slight premium for quantities.
The Mint director at the time was Eva Adams. She blamed collectors
for the shortages of all coins. In response to Mint requests, Congress
ordered Mint marks removed from current issues, making them less
interesting to collect, and also froze the dates on the dies, with
1964, 1965 and 1966 coins struck past their calendar years. In
addition, Proof set production was terminated.
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, email@example.com,
or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.