Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Denver: The Mint

We all use money and handle it a multitude of times throughout our lives. But many of us never think about the money that passes through our hands whether it be paper currency or coins. Can you name the denominations of all the money currently in circulation in the United States? Do you know who is being honored on each one? For each coin or bill can you describe what is on each side as well as what it means or represents? Do you know where and how it is made? All of the money our country produces has an interesting history, and it is worth learning about.

Do you know what this coin is? Who's image is on it? Find the date at the bottom right. What letter is under the date? What does it mean, and why is it there? The "D" stands for Denver, the city where the coin was minted. Coins have been struck at the current Denver Mint since early 1906. If you visit Denver, you can take a tour of the Denver Mint to see in person how coins are created. You also can see the process for minting coins by visiting this website: http://www.usmint.gov/faqs/circulating_coins/index.cfm?action=coins

Denver Mint
The largest producer of coins in the entire world is in Denver, Colorado. Here all denominations of United States circulating coins are made as well as coin dies, uncirculated coin sets, and other commemorative coins that have been authorized by the United States Congress. These are all legal tender, that is, money that you can spend. In addition, both gold and silver bullion are stored at the Denver Mint.

The history of how it all began in Denver is fascinating. Gold was discovered in Colorado in 1858 causing adventuresome individuals to head for the Rocky Mountains. Settlers, miners, and merchants arrived in Denver hoping to capitalize on the discovery. By 1859, the city of Denver was founded and began to grow. As miners found gold, they would bring it to an assay office to have it evaluated for quality and then melted and cast into ingots. The gold bars were then stamped showing both their weight and the quality of the gold. As a result, the United States government established the Denver Branch Mint facility in 1863, but it only served as an assay office for 46 years and did not mint coins. Both gold and silver continued to be mined in Colorado throughout the latter part of the 1800s, so much so that by 1895 more than $5,600,000 in these precious metals were assayed in Denver each year. Outgrowing its facility in a local Denver bank, in 1896 the government purchased a site to build a new Denver Mint.

In 1904, the US government converted the Denver Assay Office into a working mint that strikes coins. To meet this need a larger facility--the one in the photo above--was erected on the new site, and by 1906 it was in full operation. In its first year alone, the new Denver Mint struck more than 167,000,000 gold and silver coins. Today the Denver Mint has the capacity to produce 50,000,000 coins per day.

Colorado State Quarter
Throughout the history of the United States, there have been many mints in various cities across the country, but most are no longer in operation. Today, the US Mint maintains these facilities in addition to the Denver Mint: 
  • United States Mint Headquarters in Washington, DC
  • United States Mint in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • United States Mint in San Francisco, California
  • United States Mint in West Point, New York
  • United States Bullion Depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
If you have an interest in coins, you can begin a collection. I began one when I was ten, and I continue to add to the collection today. It is an interesting and enjoyable hobby, and some of my favorite coins were ones I received in change after making a purchase. Coin collectors are called numismatists. Here are a few fun facts about coins that I have learned over the years while collecting coins:

1. Originally laws required that all United States coins to be made of gold, silver, or copper but that changed in the 1960s. Today's coins are made of nickel, zinc, and copper.
2. From 1942-1945 five-cent coins contained no nickel and instead were made from an alloy because nickel was needed for the war effort.
3. Pennies made before 1909 were called Indian Heads because the image on the coin was an Indian chief.
4. From 1856-1858 there were pennies called "white cents" made from copper and nickel. 
5. After 25 years in usage, a coin design can be changed by order of the Secretary of the Treasury. 
6. "Wheat pennies" were coined from 1909 to 1958 when the backs had wheat stalks on them.
7. In 1943 pennies were made of steel and turned a dark gray. 
8. A coin will last in circulation for about 30 years. 
9. The first commemorative coin was made in 1892 to celebrate the Columbian Exposition.
10. When the first Lincoln penny was minted in 1909, it had the designer's initials at the bottom in tiny letters. VDB stood for Victor D. Brenner.

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