Dr. Sol Taylor

1964: Big Year for Numismatics

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, December 8, 2007

he year 1964 stands out among numismatists (coin collectors) as a significant one for various reasons. The first major event was the release of the heavily anticipated 1964 proof sets featuring the newly issued Kennedy half dollar.
    At $2.10 per set, the Mint was oversubscribed as compared to more recent years. The sets sold out in a matter of days. Circulation strikes went on sale May 30, 1964, at selected banks across the country.
    I was in Philadelphia that week visiting my sister and her family and went to the nearby Cheltingham Bank, where I was greeted by a long line of eager customers ready to buy the new half dollars. Fortunately, the bank had prepared for the rush, and the line moved rather quickly as I got my two rolls of the new coins.
    Due to the demand for the proof sets, prices rose that summer to $25 or more at the retail level. Single coins from these sets were selling for highly inflated prices; I sold proof 1964 cents on bid boards for $3 a coin and the nickels for $5 each. By August, the Mint announced that additional proof sets would be sold to customers who had not ordered them before or who had their orders returned when they sold out earlier in the year. Prices fell to about $5 a set. Proof cents fell almost immediately to 25 cents each. By then it was also announced that the Mint would be discontinuing its use of 90-percent pure silver for dimes, quarters and halves and replacing the alloy with a copper-nickel sandwich. The half dollars would be made with a 40-percent silver alloy in the sandwich format starting in 1965.
    Once the news of the end of the silver coinage was out, people began to hoard silver coins. The premium value was based on the silver bullion market which for years had hovered at 91 cents per ounce and then bumped up to $1.29 per ounce making silver coins worth more than face value. It would take several years before dealers would be paying five to 10 times face value; by 1979, prices peaked at about 25 times face value.
    By 1980, bullion prices began a downward spiral to about $3 per ounce and then recovered to current levels of $11 to $12 per ounce in mid-2007.
    Silver coins of the pre-1964 era now bring about eight times face value and the 40-percemt clad halves about three times face value. These prices are about double the values of just two years ago.
    It was also the era when our $1 (and some $5 and $10) silver certificates were being redeemed for silver. That redemption ended a few years later. The Treasury was offering silver ingots and bars at $1.29 an ounce in exchange for silver certificates only at selected sites such as the Old San Francisco Mint.
    It was also the beginning of the Treasury's disposition of its hoard of some 3 million silver dollars stashed in their vaults for up to six decades. Here again, at the selected Washington site, buyers armed with wads of cash were buying bags of these silver dollars ($1,000 face value). Many of the coins were almost immediately put on the market at prices starting as low as $1.25 for the most common dates and much more for the better dates and Mint State coins.
    Overall, 1964 was a pretty exciting numismatic year.
    It was also the year I joined the American Numismatic Association and, in 1971, converted to life membership No. 805. It was also the year I was elected as president of the Whittier Coin Club, where I would serve for three additional terms).

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.