Mintage is the total quantity of a particular coin that the mint produced. However, early record-keeping at the United States Mint was not exact. Very early in the history of the mint, the number recorded was actually the number of coins turned over to the Treasury Department and not the number of coins produced.
Additionally, before the hubbing process was used to produce dies, coin dies from previous years were used to make coins until they broke or wore out. This practice could have resulted in coins being counted as being minted in 1815, but actually carrying the date of 1814.
Finally, early on the United States Mint only made Proof coins for coin collectors and they were made on an as-needed basis. Today Proof coin production is tracked precisely, but early in the history of the United States Mint Proof coins were not tracked separately nor were they added to the final production counts recorded at the mint. Therefore precise mintage numbers for early Proof coins are unknown.
Mintage Effect on Value
Although mintage is a prime determinant of a coin's value, other factors determine a coin's value. As stated above, the accuracy of early mintage records is suspect. Many records were maintained by hand in a facility that was usually understaffed. This antiquated method of record-keeping makes accuracy suspect. However, this is a reasonable basis for determining the relative rarity of a coin.
If the mintage of a particular coin is low, it will definitely be scarce in all grades. If the mintage is high, several factors come into play. If a coin was heavily hoarded when it was first released, the value of a coin in uncirculated grades might be lower than expected. Conversely, if coin collectors did not save a large quantity of these new coins, the value may be higher than coins with a similar mintage since the survival rate will be lower.
Given that total mintage for a particular type and date of coin is the beginning number of coins that can possibly survive, we know that not all coins produced will exist forever. As coins circulate, they wear out and are lost. This normal usage of coins in circulation reduces the total number of coins that are available for coin collectors. Additionally, coin collecting has its ups and downs. If coin collecting was popular at a particular point in time, more uncirculated coins will be saved for future collectors.
Also, there have been periods in the history of the United States where the Treasury Department has melted millions of coins that have been in storage and never released into circulation. The mint may have kept records of the total number of coins melted, but it did not keep track of the date and mint marks of the coins. Therefore, we can only speculate on the survival rate for a given coin type, date, and mint mark.
Export of United States Coins
Before the advent of international banks, goods were traded between countries using gold and silver coins as payment. Once these coins left the country, many merchants melted the coins for their bullion value. However, some did survive as foreigners used the United States gold and silver coins as a method to accumulate wealth. With the advent of the Internet and international marketing, many rare coins are being purchased overseas and are returning to their country of origin.
More recently, families in Europe are finding anywhere from several coins to hoards of United States gold coins that were accumulated in the 1920s and 1930s as a store of wealth. Remember, Europe was just coming off of World War I when prosperity was returning to Europe. Little did these people know that World War II would be upon them in the very near future.
For some of these families, the men went off to war never to return to their families. In the chaos that followed World War II, many families got separated, and the coins remained well hidden. Now families are finding these coins, and some of them are rare and valuable. They are now being offered at auctions and sold to coin dealers, thus increasing the survival rate for some very rare coins.