The Coinage Act of 1792, passed by Congress, established the renowned United States Mint in the same year. However, the Mint took several decades of expansion before becoming the behemoth minting institution we all know today.
Although, the President of the United States appoints the Director of the United States Mint, the Director operates under the guidance of the United States Treasury Secretary.
Functions of the Mint include:
Domestic, bullion, and even foreign coin production
The manufacture and sale of national commemorative medals
The design and production of Congressional gold medals
Design, production, and marketing for special or commemorative coinage
Control the movement of bullion in the United States
Gold and Silver disbursement for authorized purposes
Distribution of coins received from various branches to Federal Reserve Banks
However, the US Mint plays no part in the production of paper money, as the sole responsibility for it rests with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
United States Mint History
Philadelphia, the erstwhile capital of the United States, was chosen as the site for the first facility for the US Mint. In fact, the Philadelphia minting facility was the first building established under the newly formed constitution of the United States.
Although the United States Mint was created as part of the State Department in 1792, it was made an independent organization in 1799. Moreover, the Coinage Act of 1792 did not specify a fixed term for the Director, who served at the pleasure of the United States President. However, the Coinage Act of 1873 modified this clause - limiting the position to a five-year term.
The President signed the Act on April 2nd, 1792, enabling the creation of the US Mint with a facility at the erstwhile capital of the country, Philadelphia. President George Washington appointed David Rittenhouse, a renowned scientist of that era, as the first Director of the Mint – where he served from 1792-1795. Another key position in the United States Mint is that of the Chief Engraver - an individual responsible for coin designs and engravings. Robert Scot served as the first Chief Engraver of the Mint, where he held the position until his death in 1823. Unlike the post of the Director, serving in this post does not have a fixed term yet.In the early days of its functioning, the US Mint converted precious metals into standard coinage, without charging premiums other than the actual cost of refining the precious metals in question.
Rittenhouse, as one of his first acts as Director, purchased two lots in Philadelphia - Seventh Street and 631 Filbert Street in Philadelphia for a total of $4,266.67. Once all the pre-existing construction was demolished, the foundation work commenced on July 31st, 1792. The first building, a smelting house for the mint, was completed on September 7th, 1792. Although it wasn’t an impressive structure, this smelting house was the first public building commissioned by the newly formed United States Government. Gold and silver deposits were held in secure vaults, constructed in the basement of the building. After the Philadelphia Mint started operations in 1792, in a building called ‘Ye Olde Mint,’ the establishment of branches to expand minting output capability brought about the need for mint marks.
The first few branches that cropped up after the Philadelphia facility were – Charlotte, North Carolina (1838-1861), Dahlonega, Georgia (1838–1861), and New Orleans, Louisiana (1838–1909). The mint marks C, D, and O were assigned to the Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans branches respectively. Interestingly, the first 2 of these branches exclusively minted gold coins, while the New Orleans facility handled both gold and silver. However, the Civil War in 1861 resulted in the closure of the North Carolina and Georgia branches, permanently. Even though the New Orleans branch closed during the civil war, it reopened only at the end of the reconstruction era in 1879.
A newer branch in Carson City, Nevada (mint mark CC) closely followed these branches in 1870. Although this branch remained operational for only 20 years, with a three-year hiatus from 1886 to 1888, ultimately shutting down in 1893, it allowed the United States to consolidate the vast precious metal deposits in the area. In addition to these branches, another facility was established in Manila, Philippines in 1920, which was a United States colony at the time. In fact, this branch is the only facility of the United States Mint to be instituted outside the continental United States. Each coin (one, five, ten, twenty, and fifty centavo) struck by this branch bears the ‘M’ mint mark.
Presently, the US Mint boasts of four active coin-minting facilities and another facility for the storage of United States as well as other nations’ gold and silver bullion reserves.
Founding of a mint under the newly erected Constitution of the United States was top-priority for the Founding Fathers. This need brought the Philadelphia Mint into being, under the Coinage Act of 1792.
Just two blocks from the site of the first mint, sits the current, modern Philadelphia Mint. It was erected in the year 1969, designed by the famous architect – Vincent G. Kling. In fact, this facility was so enormous that it held the distinction of being the world’s largest mint until January 2009. Boasting a massive output potential of one million coins per 30 minutes, this facility enhanced the production output by a significant margin. The striking of the same number of coins, when produced by the older facility, took three years to achieve.
This facility is also responsible for creating various medals and awards for military, governmental, and civil purposes. Additionally, all dies and strikers are exclusively engraved by this facility. Hence, it also houses the engraving and design departments of the United States Mint. Until 1968, nearly all official proof coinage was minted here as well. Each uncirculated coin minted at the Philadelphia Mint bears the ‘P’ mint mark. Interestingly, circulated currency minted at this branch before 1980 bore no mint mark at all (the Jefferson nickels are the only exceptions). However, post-1980, all coins other than cents, bear the familiar ‘P’ mint mark.
Tours are available for the curious who want to know more about the minting process, along with viewing impressive displays of past machinery. An enclosed catwalk, right above the minting facility, is used to showcase the different processes involved in minting coins. The David Rittenhouse room, named after the first Director of the United States Mint, exhibits tools and hardware from that era, in addition to the deed of the original Mint.
A branch that began operations on February 1st, 1906, the Denver Mint is another active coin-producing facility of the US Mint. As part of the United States Mint, it produces coins for circulation, coupled with mint sets and other commemorative coins. Each coin minted by the Denver Mint bears the ‘D’ mint mark. Even though the Dahlonega facility also used the same mark, all the coins minted by it were issued between 1838 and 1861. Moreover, the Dahlonega Mint dealt exclusively in gold coins, while the Denver Mint produces both gold and silver coins.
A little-known fact – the mint was originally established as a United States Assay Office in 1863. The establishment assessed gold and nuggets, brought to them by miners. This gold was melted, assayed, and stamped as cast gold bars. Once the process was complete, the original depositor received the gold bars, complete with the weight and fineness of the gold stamped on it. In 1906, coinage operations first commenced at the Denver branch of the USMint – continuing to this day.
San Francisco Mint
This facility of the United States Mint was commissioned to handle the gold mines of the famous California Gold Rush in 1854. However, its operations expanded swiftly, requiring them to shift to a bigger building in 1874. This building is known as The Granite Lady and is one of the few buildings that survived the destructive 1906 San Francisco earthquake. This facility served only until 1937, from where it shifted to its present location. 155 Hermann Street is the official address of the San Francisco Mint today.
From 1975 to 2012, the San Francisco Mint was used only for the production of proof coinage. The only exceptions are the Susan B. Anthony dollar from 1979–81 and the mintage of cents in the early 1980s. Each coin from this facility bears the ‘S’ mint mark. However, post-2012 this facility started to mint circulation strike quarters in the ‘America the Beautiful’ series.
Interestingly, the Mint status was revoked in 1962. Hence, from 1962 to 1988 the San Francisco facility functioned as an assay office. Mint status was granted again in 1988, and the San Francisco Mint commenced minting operations the same year.
West Point Mint
This New York-based branch of the US Mint is the newest addition to the minting capabilities of the Mint. However, the facility itself is older – originally known as the West Point Bullion Depository. In fact, this storage facility had the highest concentration of silver than any other United States establishment. It gained official recognition as a minting facility of the United States Mint in 1988 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places later that year.
All American Eagles, proof and uncirculated bullion coins in gold, silver, and platinum are struck at the West Point Mint. In addition to these world-renowned coins, this facility made all the American Buffalo gold bullion coins as well. Each coin minted by the West Point facility features the ‘W’ mint mark. Even though it now functions as a fully-operational minting establishment, it still acts as a gold bullion depository as well. However, the silver bullion on-site is intended to meet minting demands only.
Since it acts as a depository for a substantial amount of gold bullion, the security is relatively high. Hence, this facility does not allow or provide tours to the public. Moreover, due to security, the National Park Service also withholds the West Point Mint’s address in its National Register listings.
One of the most famous buildings in the United States, synonymous with precious metals bullion deposits, Fort Knox is not a minting facility. It only acts as a bullion depository and has done so, since 1937.
Popular Gold, Silver and Platinum Coins Minted by the US Mint
American Eagle Coins
The United States Mint releases American Eagle coins annually, in gold, silver, and platinum variants. However, the American Gold Eagle coin was the first coin released in this series. It was authorized under the Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1985. The first coin from this series released in the year 1986. These coins quickly became popular among the precious metals investors and coin collectors. As all these coins were minted with the full backing of the United States Government, they are assigned face values and are accepted as legal tender in the United States.
The American Gold Eagles are struck using 0.9167 purity gold, the Silver Eagle coins are minted from 0.999 purity silver, while the platinum variants are created using 0.9995 pure platinum. Moreover, American Gold Eagle coins are available in 1/10, 1/4, 1/2, and 1 troy oz weights, with a release each year. Their obverses and reverses feature iconic American designs, with the gold, silver, and platinum variants displaying different imagery. However, the annual releases do not feature any design changes.
American Buffalo Gold Coins
First introduced by the United States Mint in the year 2006, these coins were instant hits in the precious metals market. The design on the coin is fashioned after James Earle Fraser's famous Buffalo Nickel, which was released years ago in 1913. Obverses of these coins feature the famous Indian Head design - an amalgam of the images of three Native American Chieftains. The clans used for this portrayal are Iron Tail (Lakota), Two Moons (Cheyenne), and John Big Tree (Seneca).
On the other side, the reverse features a classic American image of a wild buffalo, which gives the coin its name. The design is modeled after Black Diamond, a bison residing in the New York City Central Park Zoo at the time. Each of these coins contains 1 troy ounce of 0.9999 purity gold, making them valuable additions to precious metals portfolios. Moreover, since the United States Mint issues Gold Buffalo coins annually, collectors who wish to maintain complete collections always snap up these coins as soon as they are issued every year.
America the Beautiful Quarters
A series of 25-cent pieces issued by the United States Mint, with the first coin issued in 2010. Even though the series is slated to continue until the year 2021, with annual releases, the series may be extended at the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury. America’s Beautiful National Parks Quarter Dollar Coin Act of 2008 established this series of coins.
Obverses of these coins depict the portrait of George Washington. In fact, this portrait is the restored version of the original portrait used on the 1932 Washington quarter. On the other hand, the United States Mint has released 5 design variations for the reverse sides, each year. Moreover, the series plans to continue with these changing designs every year. Each image on the reverse depicts an image of a famous National Park or National site. These classic reminders of the intrinsic beauty of the United States in a brilliant design, in addition to the pure silver they are imprinted on, make each coin in the series extremely collectible as well as investible.
Presidential Series of Coins
The Presidential $1 Coin Act aimed to honor past Presidents of the United States. In accordance with this Act, the presidential coin program commenced on January 1st, 2007. George Washington was the first President honored by this program with a coin release in 2007. In fact, the United States Mint has already released the last coin in this series in 2016, featuring President Ronald Reagan.
Spouses of the Presidents honored by the Presidential $1 Coin Act, are also honored by issuing half-troy ounce gold coins with a face value of $10. The United States Mint released the first coin in this series in 2007. Although all of the first spouses to date have been women, called ‘First Ladies,’ the law prefers the term ‘First Spouse.’ The obverse of these coins features the portrait of the nation’s First Spouses, in the order they served. Interestingly, both sides of these coins feature unique designs – related to the First Spouse gracing the coin.
This makes each of these products extremely sought after by collectors, investors, and even those who maintain collections of Presidential memorabilia. Each of these coins is minted using ½ troy ounces of 0.9999 purity gold. This series ended with coins featuring Lady Reagan in September 2016.