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West Point called Fort Knox of silver

The U.S. Mint facility at West Point is recognized today as an official U.S. mint. Are gold and silver still stored there as well?

The West Point Bullion Depository was known as “The Fort Knox of Silver” when it first opened as a storage facility in 1937. Today gold is stored there, with sufficient silver kept on hand as is necessary to strike coins.

Recently I purchased at a show a Canada 1982 double-dollar proof set with the Regina commemorative dollar in a deluxe padded case closing with a snap closure. After getting it home and examining it more closely I saw that to my complete surprise there is no clear plastic, or anything else, protecting the surfaces of these superb proofs. When I examine them with a loupe I’m afraid to breathe lest I leave some moisture on the coins. When the case is closed this protects the coins, but obviously this is not enough. Is this the way it was originally packaged, and if so, what might account for this bizarre feature?

The original packaging should have included a protective cover that is now absent. It is likely someone removed it.


At top, a 1980 half-ounce American Arts gold medallion depicting singer Marian Anderson. At bottom, a 1983 one-ounce medallion depicting poet Robert Frost.

I understand the American Arts Gold Medallions weigh either an ounce or a half ounce of gold. What is their total composition?

Each medallion weighs more than a half ounce or an ounce since they are composed of 0.900 fine (21.6 karat) rather than pure gold. The 1980 issue is composed of 90 percent gold, 10 percent copper. The later issues are composed of 90 percent gold, seven percent copper, three percent silver. The weight of the gold in each medallion is either an ounce or a half ounce.

Why was the metal composition of the American Arts Gold Medallions changed?

According to a U.S. Treasury report the silver was added to “enhance the appearance” of each medallion.

How good are price guides, including that of Numismatic News?

Coin prices provided by Numismatic News or other sources are for coins where a verifiable retail transaction and grade can be established. Ideally these will be for problem-free coins purchased at a generally recognized hobby venue. A coin you purchase appearing to be identical and in the same grade as a value that has been published can still be better or worse than the coin reported. Pricing is a guide, not an absolute.

Was any metal mix other than that of zinc-coated steel considered for the wartime 1-cent coins of 1943?

Plastics, other metal compositions, and even glass were considered as substitutes for copper (bronze is more technically correct) for in the 1943 cents.

Why was a zinc-coated steel composition selected for the 1943 cent, considering the problems this created for the vending industry as well as for the public.

The lighter weight 1943 cent also has magnetic qualities, which made it unusable in vending machines. The vending industry did not at that time have the powerful lobby in Congress it now has, making it easier to reach this decision without much political wrangling.

I’ve seen 1985 cents with a zinc color. What gives?

The zinc color brass-plated variety was caused by overheating during the processing.

I think there were many things that led up to the U.S. starting the state quarter program. At the Detroit 1994 American Numismatic Association Convention in Detroit there was a meeting of the Citizens Commemorative Coin Advisory Committee, which newly appointed Mint Director Philip Diehl attended. The first question he took was from me, asking about whether the U.S. would consider starting a state quarter program, similar to Canada’s. It was a suggestion that was on the minds of a lot of people at the time, and did not catch him by surprise. You can read my question, his response, and the conversation that ensued about the idea on Page 18 of the Aug. 16, 1994, edition of the Numismatic News.

Reader Bryan Ryker offers this interesting bit of numismatic history regarding what led to the state quarter circulating commemorative series.

Is it my imagination or is the 1921 Morgan dollar obverse slightly different from that of the issues of 1878 to 1904?

The dies for what was perceived to be the obsolete Morgan silver dollar were destroyed in 1910. Mint engraver George Morgan created a new master die for the issue of 1921.

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