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United States Mint

United States Mint.  The branch of the American government charged with the responsibility of making all the country's coins, and those medals authorized by Congress. Although the branch of the government had been called this term from its inception, April 1792 until 1873, a reorganization in 1873 changed the name to bureau of the mint. It was known by this name until 1985, when it reverted to it's former name. Eight U.S. mints have struck America's coins, seven branch mints and the chief mint at Philadelphia, where all engraving is done and dies are made (until 1997 when some dies were made in Denver). Medals were produced only at Philadelphia, which had presses and equipment to strike medals (until 1970 when mini medals were created and struck at branch mints as well on coining presses). In addition to three current operating mints, the agency also maintains assay offices and two bullion depositories; it has always been a division of the U.S. Treasury. The agency's chief official is the director of the mint.

History of the U.S MintLike any new mint in the world, the fledgling U.S. Mint in 1792 faced problems of obtaining a building, equipment, dies, workers and a continual supply of blanks. It was fortunate George Washington appointed an intelligent Philadelphian and amateur scientist, David Rittenhouse, who accepted the position as first Director of the Mint. Even though he lived only until 1796, he was able to solve these early organizational problems. Pattern silver coins were struck that first year, 1792, bronze coins were struck in 1793, silver coins for circulation in 1794 and gold in 1795. The mint overcame calamities, a typhoid epidemic in 1793 (which killed their first engraver, Joseph Wright) and, later, a fire in the mint in 1815.

Steam power arrived in 1816 and the mint embarked on an extensive technology

updating in 1836 by acquiring a new type coining press replacing the screw press (with the Uhlhorn knuckle-joint press), an early die-engraving pantograph (the Contamin) and improved techniques in assaying, blanking, upsetting, adjusting, coining, and other advancements. This was brought about by the farsighted fifth mint director, Samuel Moore, who sent an ingenious young engineer, Franklin Peale, on an official visit to the mints of Europe and who brought back the latest technology in 1834.  (Peale was to modify and improve the press equipment, but later began striking medals for his personal benefit and became, in effect, a mint embezzler.)

In 1837 the first branch mints were established in Charlotte, North Carolina, Dahlonega, Georgia and New Orleans, Louisiana. These locations were chosen for their nearness to gold mines of the time, and to reduce, somewhat, the costs of transporting bullion before coins are struck and bags of coins afterwards.

Coining presses were again improved at the Philadelphia Mint and were rebuilt

there in 1858. A new die-engraving pantograph, developed by Englishman, C.J. Hill, was purchased for the engraving department, 1867. New HUBBING presses to reproduce dies were acquired in 1892, and the Mint built two new modern mints. One to replace an overcrowded mint in Philadelphia, completed in 1901, and a complete new mint in Denver that began operating in 1906. These two mints were the most modern in the world, entirely electrified, all equipment run by motors.

Commemorative coins were first created for the Columbian Exposition of 1892, a practice to be repeated nearly a hundred times in the next century, with mixed results of public and collector disappointments. Gold coins became illegal for U.S. citizens to own beginning in 1933, but returned to legitimacy at the end of 1974. Commemorative coins became a fund raising vehicle, with a surcharge for the U.S. Treasury. Gold and other precious metals, once withheld from public ownership, became available – and promoted! –by the Mint in bullion coins.

Rising costs of silver and copper, metals necessary for American coins, led the Mint to seek new coin compositions. This began in 1857 when the old large copper cents were replaced by smaller coins made of  bronze. Silver coins were replaced by a silver clad for a brief time 1965-1970, but ultimately to be replaced by a copper-nickel clad over a copper core as a substitute for all silver coins permanently in 1971. The cent composition problem was replaced by copper coating zinc blanks beginning in 1982.

The first U.S. Mint obtained coin blanks from Matthew Boulton in the 1790s (until it learned how to blank and obtain blanking equipment). Two hundred years later, about 1983, private industry was supplying the mint with blanks for all current coin denominations. While completing the circle of obtaining blanks, this left the Mint with the important tasks of preparing dies and doing all the striking.

U.S. Mint's future.  New commemorative coins continue to be issued as more

designs are authorized by Congress and Congress has allowed the U.S. Mint to create coin "products" in an enterprise program of coin marketing. But the coin-buying public will probably develop even more resistance, leaving most issues short of announced limits and far short of their fund-raising goals. Coin collectors, who have objected to funding high cost coin programs in the past, will cause Congressmen concern initiating pet commemorative coins projects henceforth. Future innovations will likely include coins made in a variety of metals, shapes and sizes, and with color enhancements and embedments.

However, the Mint's future looks even more promotional than ever before, with expanded marketing of a wider range of mint products. It is expected this policy will continue.


CH3  {1853} Annonymous.

CH4  {1861-2} Abbott.

CH6  {1876} Johnston.

CH7  {1881} Smith.

CH8  {1885} Evans.

CH9  {1891} Smith.

CH11 {1926) Watson.

CH14 {1951} Williamson.

CH20 {1966} Taxay. 

NE40 {1984} Junge, p 264.

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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