A few weeks back I said that I would give a brief synopsis of the US Mint and its many branches. I have found a moment away from coin dealings to give you the information regarding our nation’s minting facilities both past and present. Here we go.
I figure the best place to start is usually the beginning. By the early 1790’s our founding fathers realized that to be respected as a sovereign nation it was important to strike our own coinage. Up to this point, a rag tag ensemble of foreign coins, coins minted by individual colonies, and even privately issued tokens were used for trade. It was time for the infant United States to grow up. In 1792, before having an actual mint facility we went to work at producing a silver five cent coin called a half disme, along with a few other pattern or prototype coin designs. The following year saw the establishment of a permanent minting facility and the striking of our first copper coins; the cent and half cent. Now, nearly 220 years later, the Philadelphia Mint has grown from its humble beginnings to a modern coin factory that is the envy of nations worldwide.
The first branch mint to begin operations was in New Orleans, Louisiana. Striking of coins bearing the famous “O” mint mark began during 1838. During January of 1861 control of the New Orleans mint was taken over by the Confederacy. In 1862 the federal government reclaimed the facility. The “O” mint continued producing silver and gold coins intermittently until finally closing its doors in 1909.
Gold was first discovered in North Carolina during the late 18th century. Some forty-odd years later, during 1838, the first striking of coins commenced at the mint in Charlotte, bearing a “C” mint mark. This first year saw the striking of Quarter Eagles ($2.50 Gold) and Half Eagles ($5 Gold). From 1838 to 1861 the Charlotte mint was employed to strike gold coins exclusively, never striking a coin of higher denomination than the Half Eagle. This branch mint was taken over by the Confederate States during May of 1861 when North Carolina seceded from the Union. The building was later utilized for various functions including an assay office, but never again were coins struck at the facility.
Another great source of gold in the early 19th century was in Lumpkin County Georgia. By the late 1820’s there was a full on gold rush. To tap this great gold resource a mint was erected in Dalonega and the first coins were produced during 1838. These coins bore a “D” mint mark but should not be confused with coins later minted in Denver as the Dalonega Mint was shuttered long before the Denver Mint was ever conceived. Dalonega took essentially the same trajectory as its Charlotte counterpart. The mint exclusively produced small sized gold coins- nothing larger than $5, and was closed after takeover by the Confederates during 1861 never to reopen for business.
By 1854 the California Gold Rush had been in full force for over five years and a mint was established to convert the raw gold into a finished product. The first year of “S” mint production saw over 4 million dollars worth of gold bullion transformed into glistening US coins. By 1874, the mint outgrew its original digs and was moved to a building now known as the Old Mint or more affectionately “the Granite Lady.” This building was one of few to survive the great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. The building survives as a museum, and was used for minting until 1937 when operations moved to its current location. The San Francisco Mint still operates but currently is only used for the production of collector’s coins such as proof or commemorative issues.
Perhaps the most famous and iconic of all the US mints is the one at Carson City. This mint was constructed to accommodate Nevada’s Comstock Lode which was the first major discovery of silver ore in the US. This short lived mint is primarily known for its silver dollars, but it also produced both gold and silver coins beginning in 1870. The mint closed for political reasons and produced no coins during 1886-1888. The mint reopened in 1889 only to produce its final coins before it closed four years later in 1893. Carson City gained much of its fame during the 1970’s after hoards of Morgan Dollars struck at Carson City were released to the collecting public after being forgotten in government vaults for close to a century. To this day coins bearing the “CC” mint mark conjure thoughts of the “Wild West” among numismatists.
Although the first Denver Mint coins were not issued until 1906, its roots run much deeper. The US government established an assay office in 1863 where local miners could bring their gold ore to be melted, assayed, cast into bars and stamped with the weight and fineness. In 1904 it was decided to turn Denver into a full- fledged mint. A new, much larger facility was constructed. Coins produced at Denver bear a “D” mintmark, not to be confused with coins produced in Dalonega which last struck coins in 1861. To this day, the Denver Mint is a numismatic powerhouse, capable of producing over 50 million coins a day!
Founded in 1937 as the West Point Bullion Depository, the facility was originally used to store silver bullion and was nicknamed “the Fort Knox of Silver.” Starting in 1973, West Point was used to strike cents for 12 years. The facility was also used to produce many of the 1976-dated bicentennial quarters and halves. None of the coins during this period bear a mintmark, and are indiscernible from their Philadelphia counterparts. The first coin to bear the “W” mint mark was the 1984 $10 Gold Olympic Commemorative Coin. Although the West Point facility had been striking coins for years, it was not granted official mint status until March 31, 1988. Currently the West Point Mint is very active producing commemorative coins as well as gold, silver and platinum American Eagle coins.
There you have it. I bet you didn’t know just how many places our coins have been produced. Our coins are truly history that you can hold in your hands. Whether produced in West Point last year or in Philadelphia during 1793, US coins have a great story to tell, and that is why I love collecting!