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Mintage numbers are something that coin collectors must become well-versed in if they are to understand part of what makes a coin valuable, as well as what helps to make a coin rare.
The mintage number of a coin simply refers to how many coins were struck by the mint.
It does not, however, necessarily refer to how many coins still exist. After all, there are many coins which, over the years, have been minted in great quantity — only to be later melted down or destroyed, either by the mint or by private interests.
There are also many coins which have inevitably become lost to time, either through burial or corrosion. There are also countless coins which have been lost through disposal, which can happen unintentionally or purposefully.
Therefore, a mintage number essentially acts as a means to help one understand how many coins the mint actually made.
It in no way solidly tells us how many coins of a given date or mint mark may actually be left, though there are any people who have estimated such numbers.
As you may imagine, to know what a coin’s mintage number is can be very important — even vital — to understanding how rare coin is.
After all, if we are to judge the issue of supply and demand, we must know how much supply there is (or at least once was) to get a better idea as to how significant relative demand really is for a coin.
And this is, in fact, where things can get a little difficult.
How Mintage Affects A Coin’s Value
It seems odd, doesn’t it, that a coin almost a century older, of a higher denomination, and lower mintage actually costs far less than the newer, “more common” penny?
Well, if you understand the idea of supply and demand, you will quickly see how the aforementioned pricing scenario is not really odd at all. In fact, it makes perfect sense. After all, there are relatively few collectors who take time to acquire Bust dimes, and many of those who pursue Bust dimes do not even attempt collecting a whole run of dates.
Therefore, demand for the 1837 Bust dime is far lower than that of the 1909-S V.D.B. cent — a coin often dubbed one of the most sought-after rare coins.
Consider that the 1909-S V.D.B. is a coin which belongs to a very popular series of coins — Lincoln cents. Furthermore, Lincoln cents are usually collected as a series, which means one must have the 1909-S V.D.B. cent in order to complete a collection of Lincoln cents.
Bear in mind that many silver and gold coins with seemingly high mintages actually may be far scarcer than a mintage number would indicate. That is because during times when silver and gold have become particularly expensive (such as during the late 1970s and early 1980s), people have actually sold these coins by the millions to scrap metal dealers who place the coins in the melting pot.
This phenomenon has made a number of 20th century silver and gold coins far more scarce than mintage numbers may suggest.
Mintage numbers are figures which are released every year for coins. Many coin publications, including websites, state these figures. A really good book for finding U.S. coin mintages is A Guide Book of United States Coins by R.S. Yeoman and Kenneth Bressett, which is published annually by Whitman publications.
My love for coins began when I was 11 years old. I primarily collect and study U.S. coins produced during the 20th century. I'm a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) and have won multiple awards from the NLG for my work as a coin journalist. I'm also the editor at CDN Publishing (a trusted source for the price of U.S. rare coins), editor at the Florida United Numismatists Club (FUN Topics magazine), and author of Images of America: The United States Mint in Philadelphia (a book that explores the colorful history of the Philadelphia Mint). I've contributed hundreds of articles for various coin publications including COINage, The Numismatist, Numismatic News, Coin Dealer Newsletter, Coin Values, and CoinWeek. I've also authored nearly 1,000 articles here at The Fun Times Guide to Coins — and I welcome your coin questions in the comments below!