Collectors first approaching several popular U.S. series might notice a gap in the Red Book; no entries for 1922 Buffalo nickels, Winged Liberty Head (Mercury) dimes, Standing Liberty quarters, nor Walking Liberty half dollars are listed. This “Year Without Change” was an anomaly in the 20th century history of the U.S. Mint, a consequence of, among other things, pressure to produce the silver dollars mandated under the terms of the 1918 Pittman Act. This legislation, passed towards the end of the First World War, required the melting and subsequent recoining of up to 350 million silver dollars. 270,232,722 were ultimately melted and needed to be replaced. Recoining began in 1921, continued into the next year, and absorbed quite a bit of the Mint’s bandwidth in that year. Most of the few denominations the Mint produced in 1922 are relatively affordable.
Collectors interested in assembling a set of 1922 coinage won’t have much difficulty; the Mint produced a large number of Peace dollars, and the 1922 Saint-Gaudens double eagle is abundant too. The 1922-S double eagle was at one point considered a significant rarity in the series, until hoards were found in Europe and the U.S. from the 1950s to the 1970s. Large groups have been uncovered in the last half century, as well.
1922-D Lincoln cents are well-known for fairly good reason. In 1922, Lincoln cents were only struck at the Denver Mint with a mintage of 7.16 million pieces which, though small for the series, still leaves a reasonable number for collectors. One specific variety, struck with a specific obverse die, is a notable exception. The Plain 1922 cent appears not to have a mintmark despite having been struck at the Denver Mint. A Mint employee is thought to have filed or polished off the mintmark while relapping a die to extend its life, resulting in these “plain” coins.
Not everyone was concerned about the small mintage of cents. Mint Director Frank Edgar Scobey quipped about the small mintage of cents in 1922: “There have been approximately $46,000,000 worth of pennies coined since the mint began in 1792, so what’s the use of making more, when about the only things you can still buy with a penny nowadays are lollypops?” A comment that might resonate today.
1922 was not without commemorative coinage. The Mint issued half dollars and gold dollars marking the centennial of Ulysses S. Grant’s birth depicting his birthplace, Point Pleasant, Ohio. Laura Gardin Fraser, the first woman to design a U.S. coin (the 1921 Alabama centennial half dollar), designed the Grant Memorial coinage.
Remote as the idea of a “year without change” might be – perhaps less so since the Covid-19 pandemic – a century ago the Mint had to prioritize silver dollars over other denominations, resulting in many jumps in collectors’ coin folders and Red Books.