This part of the Resource Center will discourse the fundamentals of getting started in coin collecting, namely, the ins and outs of the modern coin minting process. Here, we will also cover some basic terms that will be integral towards arming yourself with the necessary knowledge to start, or build upon, a coin collection of your own.
Many collectors, both new and experienced, are intrigued by the coin manufacturing process. This practice is known as minting. Have you ever asked yourself, “How are coins made?”
Coins have been a part of daily life for thousands of years and the process has changed greatly since the first coins were struck. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on the modern minting process. Now, let’s investigate the process of how coins are made with modern technology.
Before we dive into the process of minting coins itself, it’s helpful to know the basic terms that you will see throughout the discussion.
The modern minting process of the United States Mint begins with coin design. An artist concept of a coin’s design is created. Once a design is approved, the process of reducing and refining it to coin size begins. Two dies (steel rods with a face that is the same size of the coin) are needed to strike coins; one will have the obverse design and the other will have the reverse design of the coin.
Once the coin design is set up in a computer, a machine will carve the design directly onto the face of a master hub. Master hubs are created with a computer numerical control milling machine that carves the design directly onto the face of the master hub.
After the master hub is created, it is tested on test dies that strike sample coins. This is done so that if there are any issues, they can be altered and a new master hub can be created. Once it is perfected, the master hub is used to make master dies. The master dies are then used to create working hubs, which will then be used to make working dies that will be used to strike coins.
After the coins are produced, the bagging and distribution process begins. To begin, an automatic counting machine counts the coins and drops them into large bags. Fork lifts then move the pallets of sealed bags to vaults for storage. That’s when the distribution process begins. Trucks take the new coins to the Federal Reserve Banks first, and then are counted and wrapped before being sent to the local banks. The United States Mint is constantly evolving their processes to ensure efficiency and timeliness.
To produce coins with features like high relief or ultra-high relief, mints around the world craft special dies. In addition to using special coin dies in the presses, high relief coins also typically require multiple strikes.
For more information on modern coin minting techniques, read this Info-Vault article.
Modern coins can be made from a range of metals. Most of the circulating United States coinage that we all use on a daily basis when making or receiving change are made from a mixture of copper and nickel. Some examples include modern U.S. quarters and dimes.
One exception to this is the Lincoln cent. While these coins were once almost entirely made of copper, modern Lincoln cents are primarily made of zinc.
Both bullion and collectible coins are made of precious metals. The American Silver Eagle is made of silver, the American Platinum Eagle is made of platinum, etc. In the case of bullion coins, sometimes small amounts of other metals are added for aesthetic or practical purposes. This can be seen in the American Gold Eagle. Small amounts of silver and copper are included in the alloy. You will see other less common metals used to mint coins from time to time including the less precious copper and rhodium, as well as the growing in popularity, palladium. The United States Mint has even started releasing .9995 pure palladium coins from time to time, including an impressive Reverse Proof Palladium Eagle released in 2019.
As mentioned in the terms defined above, coins are struck at a facility called a Mint. Mints around the world today are capable of striking astronomical amounts of coins daily. While many well-known Mints are owned and operated by national governments, there are many privately owned Mints as well.
Let’s focus on one of the world’s most impressive minting facilities, the United States Mint. In 2018 alone, the United States Mint struck billions of coins for circulation and that doesn’t even include the coins that were struck just for stackers and collectors.
The United States Mint has facilities in Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, and West Point. Most of the circulating coins are struck in Denver and Philadelphia. The San Francisco Mint handles a large portion of the proof coins and the West Point Mint strikes many of the Mint’s bullion coins.
Much of this article has focused on how coins are minted and the most critical technicalities of the subject. However, as collectors we should make it a point to keep in mind why coins are minted.
Of course, there’s the practical side of things. There are incredible numbers of coins changing hands on a daily basis. The minting technology that’s in use today is a necessity for making sure there are enough coins for everyone’s transactions. While debit cards and payment apps like Venmo have risen to incredible prominence in the last decade, most people do still carry change in the pockets.
Other than the practical side of things, some coins are minted to honor people, places, events, and organizations. Perhaps the best example of this is the U.S. Mint’s modern commemorative coin program. The modern commemorative program began in 1982 and each coin from it features a significant theme. Often times a portion of the proceeds from such United States Mint commemorative programs go towards the organization being honored.
There are also custom coins. For the most part, these are struck by Private Mints. The designs on custom coins can depict almost anything.
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