The Top 10 Things You Need To Know About the United States Mint

United States coinage has a rich history. From its beginnings up until now, the evolution of coins has only gotten better with time and obviously, the United States Mint has everything to do with that. As the backbone of the numismatic hobby and the lifeblood of circulating coinage in today’s monetary system, the Mint has been a steadfast facility for 230 years now. With this much history, it is hard to learn everything there is to know about its ins and outs. However, we are here to let you in on some of the most important facts about the institution that has brought you some of the most famous and rare coins ever produced.

1. It was first established in 1792.

On April 2, 1792, the Coinage Act was passed by the United States Congress. This act would establish the first national mint in the United States and choose Philadelphia as the site. At the time, Philadelphia was the nation’s capital and appointed first director David Rittenhouse would buy two lots at 7th and Arch Streets to build the three-story building. It was the first federal building built under the Constitution. The Coinage Act would specify that the half cent and cent be struck in copper, the half dime, dime, quarter, half dollar, and dollar be struck in silver, and the quarter eagle, half eagle, and eagle be struck in gold. Coin production began immediately and the first coins were delivered into circulation in March of 1793.

2. There have been several branches, past and present.

In the early 1800s, the United States experienced its first couple of gold rushes in the south. The demand would become too much for the Philadelphia Mint to endure, so Congress would pass legislation in 1835 to establish three new branches located in Charlotte, North Carolina, Dahlonega, Georgia, and New Orleans, Louisiana. However, the effects of the Civil War would cause both Charlotte and Dahlonega to shut down and never reopen. The New Orleans Mint would continue on in 1879 and produce both silver and gold coins until it closed in 1909.

The effects of the California Gold Rush would see the opening of the San Francisco Mint in 1854 and the branch Mint of Denver in 1862. The country’s largest silver strike, the Comstock Lode, would require the authorization and opening of the Carson City Mint in 1870. The only branch Mints still open today are Philadelphia, West Point, San Francisco and Denver.

3. One of the first federal agencies to hire women.

Dating all the way back to 1795, the Mint was one of the first federal agencies to hire women. Just three years after it opened, they hired two female employees. More opportunities for women continued to grow after that. In 1865, Elizabeth Wyer became the first woman clerk and would work in the Superintendent’s office of the San Francisco Mint. By 1911, before women had the right to vote, a woman would fill the second highest position at the Mint. Margaret Kelly would hold the title of examiner.

4. The Mint has a six-step process once designs are approved and the sculpting is finalized and digitized.

The process follows:

  • Step 1: Blanking - The Mint produces black for nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars, and dollars. Blanks are flat metal discs that eventually become coins.
  • Step 2: Annealing - Blanks are annealed to prepare them for striking. Annealing is the changing of physical properties of the metal to make it softer and allow it to be formed into a shape without it breaking. Annealed blanks hold a design better during the striking process.
  • Step 3: Washing & Drying - The blanks are washed to restore them back to their original color. They are then dry steamed.
  • Step 4: Upsetting -This means that the edge of the coins are ‘upset’ to create a raised rim. The upsetting mill pushes them through a slightly narrower area that allows the metal to form an edge. This allows for the final coin to be protected from wear and makes them stackable.
  • Step 5: Striking - The striking of the design takes place as the planchets travel to the coin presses. The press forces the obverse and reverse dies together against the planchet to strike both sides of the coin at once.
  • Step 6: Bagging & Packing - After inspection, the circulating coins that pass are counted and weighed. Dimes and quarters fall through a counting machine and dumped into bulk bags while pennies and nickels are dropped into bulk bags without being counted. All the bags are weighed and then stored until they travel to their appropriate Federal Reserve Banks for distribution.

5. Other than circulating coins, the Mint produces coin-related products.

There are coins used for everyday transactions, but they also produce coin programs that cater to the collector side of things. There are coin programs, such as the 50 State Quarter Program that started in 1999, that launched to create interest in the circulating coins but also provided collectability. Those coins were also struck in a Proof finish. The Mint also produces precious metal coins geared towards collectors such as the American Eagle Program. Struck in silver, gold, and platinum, the program has Proof, uncirculated, and bullion finishes. In addition, they have commemorative coins and medals geared towards honoring people, places, events, and institutions.

6. The Mint has a team of artists in house in addition to a program for American artists with diverse backgrounds.

A team of medallic artists create and submit designs for the production of coins and medals. These artists have a wide range of experience in medallic art and play a crucial role in the development of coins and medals for the United States Mint. There are a total of six artists, including the 14th Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, Joseph Menna. In addition to this steadfast team, the Mint established the Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) beginning in 2003 that contacts talented artists representing different backgrounds to work with Mint staff to create and submit designs for coins and medals. Today, a lot of AIP designers have their work featured on many of the products you see today.

7. More than 1,600 employees work at six different Mint facilities.

There are four production facilities including Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, and West Point. United States Mint headquarters is located in Washington, D.C., and a bullion depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

8. The Director of the Mint is a presidential appointed position.

The director of the United States Mint is a presidential appointment that requires the United States Senate to confirm. The first holder of the position was David Rittenhouse, appointed by the first President of the United States, George Washington. Ventris C. Gibson was nominated by President Biden on December 13, 2021, to fill a five-year term as the 40th Director of the Mint after David J. Ryder resigned in October. She is the deputy U.S. Mint director and current acting Mint director.

9. They work on a cost-recovery basis.

Not able to use any tax dollars to fund their operations, the United States Mint prices products based on covering all associated costs in addition to factoring in a margin that cushions against any volatile circumstances. With self-sufficiency in mind, they determine their costs to produce and sell. When talking about precious metals products, those prices vary by the average cost of the metal at hand as they use a pricing range table a week prior to sale of the product.

10. The Mint provides production sales figures on their website.

Producing a number of different products, the Mint provides production reports on their website. This includes numismatic products, numismatic precious metal products, bullion, circulating coins, and overall historical commemorative coin sales. Some are updated weekly, some annually, and some monthly.

Source: United States Mint