US Coins

New book covers U.S. Proof coins of 1936 to 1942

From 1917 to 1935, collectors of U.S. coins lacked something that had been offered to them by the United States Mint from 1858 to 1916 — new Proof coins. In 1936, however, Proof coinage was reborn, and the modern era began.

Now a new book by an acclaimed author explores the first seven years of modern Proof coinage. United States Proof Coins 1936–1942 by Roger W. Burdette is the most comprehensive work on the subject in decades and covers new ground not previously published.

Burdette approached the book as he did his other works: the Renaissance of American Coinage trilogy, his United States Pattern and Experimental Pieces of WW II, From Mine to Mint, and the Guide Book of Peace Dollars. He reached deep into the archives of the United States Mint and found information not previously published.

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As a press release states, “This much anticipated book covers proof coins made at the Philadelphia Mint from 1936 through 1942 in detail,” adding that subjects “include background and origin of the series, the number of pieces struck from each die, when dies were pulled from service, delivery dates of coins, plus quantities sold and returned for destruction,” adding, “The coins are examined both by year of issue, and individually by date and denomination. Clear, logical text and hundreds of full color illustrations provide the collector and numismatic professional with encyclopedic coverage of the fascinating series.”

Burdette writes that Mint and Treasury officials were not supportive of any effort to restart production of Proof coinage after its long hiatus. As late as April 1936, Mint officials routinely replied to collector enquiries “that proof coins are no longer made at the Mint of the United States.” However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, himself an avid stamp collector, and Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. disagreed with the bureaucracies, Burdette writes. On April 28, 1936, Morgenthau ordered a resumption of Proof coinage.

In the historical section in the chapter on resuming Proof coinage production, Burdette cites the positive collector reaction to the news, reflected in orders pouring in, which seemed to catch Philadelphia Mint officials off guard, since they had not planned on the program.

However, some collector criticism was heard; collectors were unhappy that the finish of some pieces lacked the mirror-like fields and frosted devices of the coins in past decades.

Two styles of 1936 Proof coins were produced: Satin Proofs and Brilliant Proofs.

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While a Brilliant Proof finish had been standard throughout the 19th and into the 20th century, Mint officials changed things in the last few years of production that led up to the series’ end in 1916, when only a few denominations were produced. Matte Proof coins were issued at the end of that era. Some assumptions were made in 1936 that collectors would be satisfied with Lincoln cents and Indian Head 5-cent coins bearing a Satin Proof finish, while the dimes, quarter dollars, and half dollars would be given the Brilliant Proof finish last used on the Proof coins of those denominations issued several decades earlier. 

Eventually in 1936, cents and 5-cent coins would be struck with both types of finishes before the Brilliant Proof finish became the standard for all denominations starting in 1937.

Burdette’s book examines Proof coins by both date and denomination. The section dealing with the coinage by date focuses on historical aspects, including Proof coin deliveries by denomination as well as sales. Where the documents are available, Burdette reprints important correspondence dealing with the coinage of a particular date.

The section dealing with Proof coinage by denomination includes detailed information on delivery, plus on the number of dies used. The author also explores such areas as “appearance,” addressing the “look” of a particular date and denomination, and “notable die varieties,” exploring such varieties as doubled dies or coins struck from overpolished dies. He also discusses counterfeits when such pieces are known to exist.

The book opens with chapters on the “Origin of Modern Proof Coinage” and “Manufacturing Proof Coins,” both providing a detailed historical analysis on their respective subjects.

According to a press release from the publisher, “Overall, there is surprisingly little duplication of content between the chapters. Author Roger W. Burdette noted, ‘It has been amazing to go through the data and analysis, and then see unexpected results and explanations appear — almost magical.’ “

The book “resolves many long-standing mysteries of the proof series,” according to the press release. “Among these are the origin of ‘1940 reverse of ’38 nickels,’?‘1939 reverse of ’40 nickels,’ production of ‘cameo proofs,’ and quantities actually sold during the year of issue.” 

The book is being released by Seneca Mill Press LLC.

The book is 330 pages in length, printed in full color with hundreds of illustrations. Each book includes a CD-ROM containing the full text in searchable format. The digital file may also be transferred to the purchaser’s portable digital device for use away from home or office.

United States Proof Coins 1936–1942 by Roger W. Burdette is available from the distributor, Wizard Coin Supply. The book is priced at $39.95. 

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