In 1964 the U.S. Mint struck circulation strike coins, proof coins and surprisingly, it also struck a very limited number of Special Strike coins also referred to as Special l Mint Sets (SMS). It is believed that only about a couple dozen sets of Special Strike coins were struck in 1964. However, to this date it is a complete mystery as to why these coins were ever produced.
The special finish for the 1964 SMS Lincoln cents is characterized by a nice, smooth, satin-like finish. The fields are usually well struck, very clean and tend to come without any major nicks or scratches. The edges for most 1964 SMS coins also tend to be square and sharp. The bust and legends are usually highly detailed and sharp on most examples, especially when compared to circulation strike coins. The surfaces are non-reflective compared to proof coins of the era, yet, are not the same finish as regular issue coins from the same year.
The Year 1964
The U.S. Mint definitely had a rough year in 1964. That was the year they introduced the Kennedy half dollar series both in MS and Proofs, including hundreds of thousands of 1964-D Peace dollars which were later melted. Most significantly, in 1964 all production of 90% silver coinage was being discontinued because of the rising price of silver. The only coins containing silver would be the Kennedy half dollars dated 1965 to 1970, but even those coins only contained 40% silver.
During this time the Mint was also making plans to produce Special Mint Sets from the years 1965 to 1967. These coins were introduced in hopes of eliminating coin shortage within the nation's monetary system. Consequently, in order to deter the public from hoarding coins, the Mint produced all 1965 to 1967 Special Mint Set coins without any mintmarks. The Special Mint Sets dated 1965 to 1967 were produced instead of regular mint or proof sets for those three years.
1964 Special Strike Coins
There are many different theories on why the 1964 SMS coins were produced. These coins could have been produced as prototypes for the 1965 to 1967 SMS coins. The 1964 SMS coins could have also been produced as introductory pieces, possibly even intended to include a 1964-D Peace dollar. Furthermore, it is believed these SMS coins came into existence somehow through the involvement of Eva Adams, U.S. Mint Director at the time. After Eva Adams passed away, her estate was sold off and well-recognized dealer and auctioneer Lester Merkin purchased many of the coins from her estate. Lester Merkin's collection was then sold in a Stack's auction in the early 1990s, including some, if not all, of the known 1964 SMS coins.
Many experts believe there are anywhere from 20 to 50 sets in existence in all grades combined, making these coins very scarce. Many of the 1964 SMS coins could have also been lost, damaged or even tossed aside since their mysterious status was only somewhat solved by early 1993 (almost 30 years after they were initially produced). The 1964 SMS coins are extremely scarce, but regardless, more are still believed to be out there that have not been attributed yet.