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Beginner’s Corner: The History Of Coins In The United States

Beginner’s Corner: The History Of Coins In The United States
Category: Beginner's Corner
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Posted: 12-24-2014 10:00:00 AM

Learn about the history of U.S. coins and the invention of the steam press in this week's Beginner's Corner.

US Gold and Silver Coins

United States coinage didn’t come about until the 1700s. Prior to that, people used foreign coins to trade for goods. Though it was in 1792 that the American Congress passed the country’s first coinage act, the Coinage Act of 1792, use of foreign coins did not actually end until the 1800s when the National Bank Act was signed by President Lincoln. The Coinage Act of 1792 established the US Mint, which meant that the US was officially responsible for creating their own coins for public use. The two main pioneers in US coinage were Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin who contributed research and ideas toward the early versions of coins.

Before the steam press was invented, coins were minted with the screw press. This process involves a rolling machine that rolled metal to the desired thickness. Then, a punch machine punched out the coin blanks and the blanks were placed in the screw press between dies. Men would turn the screw which applied pressure to the dies and pressed images onto the blank, resulting in a coin. The first powered coining press was first used at the US Mint in Philadelphia. It was operated by steam rather than by hand and was imported from France. It was first operated on March 22, 1836. This steam-powered press used a toggle joint, a special type of link mechanism that yields great pressure, instead of the screw press. It was able to produce 100 coins a minute. This was a turning point for coinage in the United States.

The US Mint in Philadelphia soon discovered that they were hard-pressed to produce enough coinage, and as the country continued to grow, it became necessary to expand the Mint facilities. The discovery of gold in the Southeast and the West also fueled the branch extension as people needed hard currency and people began to mint their own coins. In the mid-nineteenth century, additional mints were opened in Charlotte, NC, Dahlonega, GA, New Orleans, LA and San Francisco, CA. Another mint opened in Carson City NV in 1870 and in 1904 the Denver, CO Assay Office became a mint facility. Today, there are facilities in Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco and West Point, as well as a bullion depository in Fort Knox, KY to keep our economy flowing smoothly. Today, Denver and Philadelphia each produce tens of millions of coins each day.

Check back next Wednesday to find out how modern coin production ties into all of this history.

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About The Author

Kelsey Kay Howard Kelsey graduated from the University of South Florida in Tampa with a B.A. in mass communications. She is new to the world of numismatics, but as the Marketing Specialist for MCM is dedicated to learning all there is to know.

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