When the Mint had to abandon the coin collecting community
?A century ago, in 1917, the Bureau of the Mint largely abandoned the coin collecting community, though not out of malice.
Since 1858, the Mint had offered the public Proof coins, from the cent to the $20 double eagle. The boom in coin collecting in 1858 and the Mint’s positive reaction to public interest in coins established a symbiotic relationship that lasted for decades, through a Civil War and a brief war with Spain.
That all came to an end in 1917 with another war. The United States had resisted being drawn into the war that had raged throughout much of the world since 1914, but by April 1917, we were at war with Germany.
Concurrent with this was a huge increase in the demand for coinage, starting in Fiscal Year 1918 (which began on July 1, 1917). As Mint Director Raymond T. Baker wrote in his annual report for 1918, “The coinage executed approached the half-billion mark in number of pieces, against approximately 155 million pieces in the previous year. This was the largest year’s coinage in the history of mint service.”
With the Mint’s facilities churning out record numbers of coins, something had to give, and it was the Mint’s numismatic program that paid the price. The Mint abruptly stopped issuing Proof coins for public consumption in 1917, though officials already had scaled back the program in 1916 when they offered no Proof gold coinage. (While commemorative coinage production continued sporadically, the Mint was not involved in the sale of the coins.)
No Proof coins would be struck for public sale until 1936, a move that cheered collectors though they were a bit grumpy over the increased costs of the coins. Just six years later, another war ensued, as did another hiatus in Proof coin production from 1943 to 1949.
Since 1950, Proof production has for the most part remained steady. However, could a halt happen again? We saw Proof American Eagle production stop in 2009 in response to bullion coin demand, but it seems unlikely that Mint will ever repeat its actions of 1917 as long as collectors continue to make its numismatic program a highly profitable one.