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Inside the West Point Mint

Inside the West Point Mint
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Posted: 05-13-2019 11:23:00 AM

Over the years, the West Point Mint has admirably served the Numismatic community by producing a number of iconic, noteworthy, and highly sought-after releases.

 Historical Overview

The facility that would eventually become the West Point Branch of the United States Mint began operations as a bullion depository back in 1937. Due to the high amount of silver it contained it was called the “Fort Knox of Silver.” It also functioned as a gold bullion depository, although it contained less gold than Fort Knox. Due to the value of these precious metals, the exact address of the heavily guarded facility is not published. 

Interestingly, the West Point facility has a history of striking coinage prior to it becoming an official branch mint. From 1973 through 1986 circulating Lincoln cents were struck there with no mint mark. Periodically over the same years, similar supplemental “no mint mark” runs of Lincoln Cents were also struck at San Francisco. These coins are not distinguishable from the coins struck at Philadelphia. The mint mark was withheld to discourage collecting by date and mint mark, and therefore to maximize circulation of these supplemental, needed-for-commerce coins.

Like the supplemental cents, the West Point facility struck quarters with no mint mark in the seventies. Bicentennial quarters were struck there as well as quarters bearing the years 1977, 1978 and 1979.

In response to the easing of gold ownership restrictions for U.S. citizens beginning in 1975, the early eighties saw the West Point facility strike the famous American Arts Medallion series. Each medal features a notable American Arts figure, with each medallion weighing 1 oz. or 1/2 oz. Subjects for this series included diverse arts luminaries from the American historical landscape like architect Frank Lloyd Wright, actress Helen Hayes, musician Louis Armstrong and writer Mark Twain. Despite this series being the first West Point struck gold offered to the American public, the medals did not have any identifying mark regarding their origin.

The first coin to bear the iconic “W” mint mark was the 1984 Olympic $10 Commemorative designed by future Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, John Mercanti and artist James Peed. This coin was the first legal tender gold coin struck in the United States since 1933 and featured the mint mark below the date on the obverse. The first silver commemorative to bear the “W” mint mark was the 1990’s uncirculated Eisenhower Centennial silver dollar.

Full Mint Status

The year 1988 saw the West Point Bullion Storage facility become the West Point branch of the U.S. Mint. Since the Eighties it has struck all the gold coinage issued by the United States. This includes the American Gold Eagle series and all the U.S. Modern Commemorative gold issues. The West Point Mint also strikes the Platinum and Palladium Eagle series. (The first year of the Palladium Eagle was struck in Philadelphia). Many of the “numismatic” versions of the beloved American Silver Eagle series as well as most of the regular bullion production of that series and every single coin to date in the popular American Gold Buffalo Series has been struck at the West Point Mint.

Coins

In their extraordinary efforts to serve the American public and especially coin collectors, the U.S. Mint produces “numismatic” versions of bullion coins. This is a catch-all phrase used for lower mintage, high quality specimens, proof and reverse proof coins, the popular “burnished or Uncirculated” finish coins, and the various enhanced or laser-etched versions of special sets or issues. Much, but not all, of this numismatic production happens at West Point.

It is also interesting to note that the bullion versions of the American Eagle series often do not carry the “W” mint mark. From time to time, through Freedom of Information Act requests and identification of sealed boxes, the origin facility can be determined with certainty by numismatic leaders like MCM and third-party grading services like Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) and Professional Coin Service (PCGS). When it is determined that West Point is the mint of origin for an encapsulated coin, the label will have the notation and the “W” will appear in parenthesis after the year.

Notable Coins struck at the West Point Mint

The 1995-W Proof Silver Eagle is the outstanding, low mintage, key date coin of the series. The issue has a tiny mintage of only 30,125 pieces!

Another monumental first for the U.S. Mint was struck at West Point: the 2000 Library of Congress bi-metallic gold/platinum coin. This spectacular issue is, to date, the only bi-metallic coin ever struck by the United States. The issue features the Library of Congress on the obverse and a heraldic eagle displayed on the reverse. The outer ring consists of gold and the inner ring of platinum. It also features some of the low mintages with 27,445 for the proof version and a stunningly low 7,261 for the uncirculated finish.

The 2008 American Gold Buffalo coins mark the only issuance of coins smaller than 1 oz. in the series. These “fractional” Gold Buffalo coins are wildly popular with collectors. While all the coins in the series have been struck at West Point, only the proof versions bear the iconic “W” mint mark. Fractional coins in this year were offered in both the “uncirculated” and proof finish.

The 1996-W Roosevelt Dime was struck to mark the 50th Anniversary of the series. Interestingly, this is the longest running circulation series featuring the original and unchanged design in the history of the U.S. The issue has a mintage of 1,457,000 coins and was originally included in the 1996 Mint set, similarly, the 2019-W Lincoln collector cents are being distributed in much the same way. This clad coin has known to be infrequently found in circulation from sets that have been inadvertently broken up and spent.

One of the modern key dates to the Roosevelt dime is the 2015-W Silver Proof which was distributed as part of the March of Dimes commemorative set. This marked the second time dimes were struck at West Point. The issue is a popular one with collectors and has a low mintage of 74, 430.

2019-W Cents

The fabled Lincoln Cent is being included as a premium this year for three different U.S. Mint products. These West Point struck cents will bear three different finishes: proof, reverse proof and uncirculated. They are anticipated to be popular with collectors of the series, with U.S. Mint set collectors as well as West Point Mint coin enthusiasts and proof specialists. The only way to get them will be through leaders like MCM or through the U.S. Mint directly by purchasing the 2019 Proof set, 2019 Silver set, and 2019 Uncirculated set, each of which will carry one of these specially dated 2019-W Lincoln Pennies in a different finish.

2019-W Quarters

This year the U.S. Mint will issue five America the Beautiful Quarters to continue this classic and popular series. The beloved State Quarter program is credited with invigorating a generation of new coin collectors and turning them on to the history behind the coin subjects and the thrill of going through pocket change.

Never an organization to rest on its laurels, the Mint is releasing into circulation West Point struck versions of the Lowell National Historical Park quarter; the American Memorial Park in the Northern Mariana Islands quarter; the War in the Pacific National Historical Park, Guam quarter; the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, Texas quarter and the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, Idaho quarter throughout the year. Only 2 million examples of each quarter were struck at West Point. These coins were and will be mixed into the production coins at the Philadelphia and Denver branches of the Mint, so they will be circulating all over the country. They will not be available from the Mint in any special product or as a special offering. The only way to get them is to search through your pocket change, like grandpa used to do.

Collecting Strategies

Collectors can enjoy the history and rich tradition of the West Point Mint by assembling the 2019-W circulation ATB quarters or the 2019-W Lincoln Cents in all three fabulous and attractive finishes.They could specialize in the Roosevelt Dime and collect the two lower mintage issues from that iconic series. The various American Eagle coin series offer abundant opportunities for low mintage acquisitions as well as date and mint mark collecting. All Modern Commemorative $5 gold issues are struck at West Point. (Pro tip: these classic $5 gold coins contain .242 oz. of bullion and have been struck with the proof finish and a high quality standard uncirculated business strike finish. The non-proof versions tend to have lower mintages).

Conclusion

As you can see, while over the years the role of the West Point facility has changed, it has admirably served the Numismatic community by producing a number of iconic, noteworthy and highly sought-after firsts. It is home to some of the most storied coins and series ever struck. Even now, as the new century is taking shape, examples of what are destined to be some of the lowest mintage, highest quality and most in-demand coins are being struck at the West Point branch of the U.S. Mint. As ever, ModernCoinMart is privileged to be your partner of choice as you seek out these exciting issues.

Sources

https://www.usmint.gov/about/mint-tours-facilities/west-point
https://www.usacoinbook.com/encyclopedia/coin-mints/west-point
http://news.coinupdate.com/background-and-history-of-the-west-point-mint-4402/
https://coins.thefuntimesguide.com/west_point_mint/
http://www.lincoln-cent.com/mint-marks/san-francisco/

https://moderncommemoratives.com/

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About The Author

Ray James

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