The United States was still dealing with the Great Depression in 1938, though unemployment was on the decline. Germany had annexed Austria and the Sudetenland without an argument. Another World War was less than a year away, but what was happening with US coins.
For the past few years before 1938, no one was allowed to have gold coins or bars in their possession. With the depression in full force, silver coins were less in demand and some years would not even seen certain coins. Though coins would be minted in full force in 1934, there seemed to be decrease in 1938, then a boom afterward.
The Lincoln Cent was the only denomination to appear every year during the depression though San Francisco only minted 866,000 pennies in 1931 and wouldn’t mint anymore till 1935. 1938 would mint 156 million pennies in Philadelphia in 1938. After that, cents would skyrocket to 316 million in 1939, over half a billion in 1940 and by 1944, Philadelphia would mint over one billion cents for the first time.
The Buffalo Nickel would have over 100 million minted in Philadelphia in 1936, but would see its final year in 1938. Only 7.2 million of them were minted in Denver that year. The US mint was probably happy about this because the Buffalo Nickel was tough to mint and would wear in circulation very quickly. If you find Buffalo Nickels in change today, you’ll notice most of them have no date as result of the wear of the coin. The Jefferson Nickel was introduced in all three mints with only 30 million produced between all of them. Philadelphia would mint 120 million nickels the following year.
Mercury Dimes were in full force in the late 1930’s but after 56 million were minted in 1937 in Philadelphia, 1938 would only see 22 million dimes. After that, dimes would flourish again and would see over 175 million in 1941.
The 1930’s would see a lot of key date Washington Quarters. 1938 was no exception. That year would only see 9 million quarters minted in Philadelphia and 2.8 million in San Francisco. The quarter would not see under 10 million again in Philadelphia until 1949.
The Walking Liberty Half Dollar saw something in 1938 that would never be seen again in United States. The Denver mint only minted 491,600 half dollars which would be the last time that less than a million of a circulated coin was minted. There were only two Walking Liberty Half Dollars that are rarer than the 1938-D. They are the 1921 at 246,000 and 1921-D at 208,000 making it a semi-key date for this set.
1938 wouldn’t see any silver dollars as the last Peace Dollars were minted in 1935.
Of course, some people will look at this and say “this is nice about 1938 coins, but are they worth anything?”. Well, a nice uncirculated 1938 Lincoln Cent may be worth around $5 – $10. An uncirculated 1938-D Buffalo Nickel may set you back between $20 and $50. 1938 Jefferson Nickels are rarely found in change today, but an uncirculated one may be worth between $3 and $15. Uncirculated Mercury Dimes can get you between $10 and $50. Now, 1938 Washington Quarters start to show some good values. Uncirulated quarters start at $100 and MS-65s are worth over $200. As you can imagine, the 1938-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar has the best value. Between Good and Almost Uncirulated grades, you can see between $75 and $250. At MS-60, it doubles to $500 and continues to rise from there.
Many coin collectors would say that 1916 was the end of an era because of three new designs for the dime, quarter and half dollar. If it hadn’t been for the Great Depression, I would have agreed. If you look at 1938 mintages, they are lower than years before or after it. In many cases, US coins would never see a low again, primarily because of World War II. There were many coins minted during and after the war because jobs were on the increase and people were able to buy again.
So, that’s my post on 1938. You can decide when you think the big change occurred with US coins.