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Take the Mint Tour

If you have the opportunity to visit the Philadelphia Mint, I think you will be impressed with the new public tour that opened last month. I had the chance to see it yesterday.

If you have heard stories of Peter the Mint eagle, you will find him there appropriately mounted. There are many other artifacts on display from an old screw press to a blank for a silver center cent with a hole in it where the silver center would have fit.

Videos and displays screens that describe the various stages of coin manufacturing can be glanced at or studied, depending on the time you might have. A truly thorough visit might take as long as one and a half hours.

Barbara Gregory, editor of The Numismatist, and I were able to see more than the public tour. We were actually taken to the floor of the plant to see close up how U.S. coins and medals are presently made. The extent of computerization and automation is astonishing if you haven’t seen the operation for a while as I had not.

I even joked that had I seen the place as a kid I might have become an engineer instead of a newspaper editor. There is something compelling about seeing something like the minting process as it occurs rather than thinking about it as an abstract exercise.

I was particularly interested in seeing the machine that puts the edge lettering on dollar coins. Unfortunately, dollars are no longer in regular production, so I simply had to look at the machine as it was idle.

Then there are moments of trivia.

Did you know coins were shipped to Puerto Rico in wooden crates? I didn’t.

For the United States they go out in Federal Reserve Bank bags. These bags are huge, containing, for example, 400,000 cents weighing 1,000 kilograms. And the coins are no longer counted. They are accounted for by weight. For every 1,000 kilograms there is a tolerance of 1 kilo, which means each bag could weigh as little as 999 kilograms or as much as 1,001.

In all, I spent over four hours at the Philadelphia Mint, including witnessing the final meeting of the Old-Timer Assay Commissioner Society. Without intake of new members since the Assay Commission was abolished to save money in the Jimmy Carter Administration, the number who attended was down to 12 with spouses, traveling companions and people like me bringing the number present to 35.

I would like to say thanks to the Mint’s Tom Jurkowsky, Tim Grant, Marc Landry, Joe Falls and Paul Zwizanski for making it possible. I would also like to thank the other employees who spent time with us but whose names I have not written here. They deserve recognition for the work they do and the pride they take in the quality of the coins and medals that result from their efforts.

I hope I have the opportunity to return.