Privy Marks and Mint Marks: Knowing the Difference

Mint Marks

Originally called magistrate marks, mint marks were used on coins in ancient Greece to refer to the magistrate who was in charge of their production. The idea was that if a problem were to arise with a specific coin, such as if it were found to be under or overweight, the mark would lead you right to the person in charge. Should one magistrate be found to have a lot of issues with the coins he was in charge of, he would suffer the consequences of that penal code. The mint marks would be a way of keeping track and to ensure magistrates and mints were not being dishonest with the production of coins.

In the modern day numismatic world, a mintmark is defined as a mark on the original die used to show the location where the coin was struck. For example, in U.S. minting, the country’s mint has four active facilities that each carry their own individual mint mark: Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, and West Point. Their mint marks are placed on the reverse of U.S. coins to denote which facility where a coin was struck, P for Philadelphia, D for Denver (coins with this mark have a mintage of 1906 until the present day in order to distinguish it from an earlier D mint mark which is shown below), S for San Francisco, and W for West Point.

Here are examples of mint marks that appear on certain numismatic coins:

  • C - Charlotte (Only appeared on Gold Coins 1838 to 1861)

  • CC - Carson City (1870 to 1893)

  • D - Dahlonega (Only appeared on Gold Coins 1838 to 1861)

  • O - New Orleans (1838 to 1909)

Along with standard and bullion coins, mint marks also appear on commemorative U.S. coins.

Privy Marks

Privy marks were created in fourteenth-century England for use on the coinage created under King Edward III as secret marks used to show in which period the coin was crafted. Today, they are used to mark sets of coins, designers, commemoratives, or special events. Therefore, coins still show the mint mark where the coin was minted, but these privy mark act as an additional sign of the uniqueness of a specific coin. One of the most well-known mints that make common use of privy marks is the Royal Canadian Mint. Instead of a letter, the Royal Canadian Mint has symbols, animals, and objects to commemorate special occasions and coin series. The annual Silver Maple Leaf program also runs a special Chinese Lunar Calendar privy mark mintage which features the celebrated animal of that specific year.

Privy marks provide added symbolism to a coin, for example, the fireworks privy mark was used by the Royal Canadian Mint on the 2000 Maple Leaf in celebration of the new millennium. This extra piece gives coins an additional sentimental value which can, in turn, garner higher demand and greater value.  

Summing up the Difference

To state it simply, a mint mark tells you where specifically a coin was minted. A privy mark may also tell you where a coin was minted, but will additionally show a coin’s designer, celebrate a special event, or act as a mark to show that this coin is part of a set.

Mint marks and privy marks add to your knowledge of your coin and can help you recreate the path they took to get to you. Knowing the difference between the two and what that “W” on your 2018 American Liberty Proof Gold Coin means can help you understand your collection and know exactly what you have. It’s also important for determining the value of your collection, as the three main categories assessed are the date, mint mark, and condition of the coin.

Knowing the importance of certain mint marks and privy marks can make all the difference in the world to collectors and investors. One example of this is the 1894 dime, of which 2,050,024 were minted. Of this large number, 1,330,000 were minted at the Philadelphia Mint and 720,000 were minted at the New Orleans Mint. But only 24 were minted at the San Francisco Mint. Thus, if you were to own the 1894 dime with the S mint mark, you would be the owner of a very valuable and rare coin. If you weren’t aware of the importance of the mintmark, you may only think you own one of 2,050,024 dimes and dismiss this one as unimportant.

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