The 1940s was my parents’ decade, just like the ’70s was mine. When I see coins of the ’40s, they remind me of them. They lived in the same rural Vermont town where my dad was the “annoying” friend of my mom’s older brother. That decade was the era my parents became adults and the heyday of Lincoln “Wheatie” cents, Mercury dimes and Liberty Walking half dollars.
War will come
When Pearl Harbor happened in December 1941, my dad was 17 and a junior in high school while my mom was 15, and a freshman. She said she heard about it on the radio that Sunday morning. Later in the afternoon, neighbors gathered to talk about what had happened… They knew war would come, and my mom and her parents knew her older brother would be one of many boys from her neighborhood to go to war.
As my grandparents, parents and America geared up for WWII, the economy recovered from the Great Depression. People who had jobs earned about 30¢ an hour. Surprisingly, small change still bought a lot. Stamps cost 3¢, a bottle of Coca-Cola (Coke) 5¢, a pound of coffee 24¢ and a gallon of gas 15¢.
My mom said, “Things didn’t cost much, but we had to ration after Roosevelt declared war. There were coupons for sugar and meat and other things. We saved up the meat coupons, so we could buy a nice roast or ham for Sunday supper and used the leftovers all week. There was also a no-sugar chocolate cake I remember eating… we made do. And once the war started, tropical fruits were few and far between… Rationing affected everyone, but we didn’t mind, we knew we were doing our part.”
2 Collector Favorites Debut
It wasn’t only people who rationed, the government did too. Rationing and metal reallocation created two popular WWII coins. The Wartime Jefferson nickels of 1942-1945 marked the first time a 5¢ coin was struck in 35% silver and represented the first time the “P” mint mark, for the Philadelphia Mint, was used on a U.S. coin. They were released in the fall in 1942; about the same time my uncle, a navy medic, sailed to the south Pacific. And, to save copper for the war effort, U.S. cents were struck in steel, creating the one-year 1943 Steel cent.
These shiny steel pennies were released in January about the same time my dad, who was now 18, headed for Fort Devens, MA. Being a skier, he became part of the 10th Mountain ski troops and was sent to Camp Hale, CO before going to Italy. I often wondered if the beautiful image of Liberty walking toward the dawn of a new day on the half dollar gave him hope while he was overseas.
Mercury dime replaced by Roosevelt
In April 1945 as my dad fought in Italy’s Po Valley, Franklin Roosevelt died. That year was the Mercury dime’s final year, because the Roosevelt dime replaced it in 1946. Germany surrendered in May, my mom graduated from high school, and headed to college in Boston in the fall. My dad finished up in Italy, earning a bronze star, and was sent to patrol villages in Yugoslavia while waiting for orders to Japan. Then, the Japanese surrendered in September 1945 and he returned stateside in January 1946. My parents reunited several years later and eventually married.
So whenever I see coins of the 1940s, I imagine my parents as teenagers and in their early twenties, during WWII. What about you… did you or your parents grow up then? What do these coins make you think of… what’s your story?