Numbers are critical in numismatics, but are not always easily determined
Numismatics is a numbers game.
Collectors are obsessed with numbers.
To answer the primary question, “What’s it worth?” collectors often rely on mintages in making that assessment.
But what are mintages and what do they mean? Things have changed quite a bit since the U.S. Mint’s founding in 1792.
Production at the fledgling United States Mint during the waning years of the 18th century, and well into the first half of the 19th, was derived from a combination of official Mint records and speculation.
Official records might indicate a specific number of coins were struck during a specific calendar year or with a specific date; however, the Mint in its early years was prone to have dies from previous production years reused. So, in some instances, production figures from the 18th and 19th century coinage from the U.S. Mint may reflect output over more than one calendar year regardless of the date on the coin.
A coin may have a reported mintage or production of 1 million coins, but circumstances resulted in half the output being melted.
Should the mintage be reported as 1 million or 500,000?
Today, while production can begin in 2014 for a coin to be issued in 2015, the coin can’t be officially released until the year whose date appears on the coin.
Production may eventually span more than one calendar year, but must end no later than December 31 of the year of issue.
The topic can be debated as to what a coin’s mintage actually is. Is it the number of actual coins struck? The number struck and issued? The net number after production and a quantity of that output subsequently melted?
Many of the classic early commemorative coins dated and issued from 1892 through 1954 have had the production recorded as number struck, number sold, and number melted, from which the end result is the net mintage.
Some of the early commemoratives had all the coins authorized struck on speculation they would eventually be sold.
Today, the U.S. Mint strikes commemorative coins to order, up to the maximum authorized mintage for each issue according to the enabling legislation. While a program may be called a sellout, the combined Proof and Uncirculated sales reported might fall short of the maximum authorized mintage because some coins are returned for damage or other reasons, and eventually melted. The figures reported by the Mint that serve as the mintages are actually sales.
Legislative language sometimes specifies no more than a certain number can be struck or issued, while on occasion, the language specifies the maximum that can be issued. In those latter instances, more coins may be struck to compensate for rejected or damaged coins, but not more than the number authorized can be issued.
Again, what is often publicly reported are the sales, not the number actually struck, which includes rejected coins, although those figures are likely available somewhere. Should the damaged, rejected or returned coins be reported as part of the mintage, even though those coins would not be available to the collector marketplace?