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Pride Taken in Anniversary Sets


Monica Barnes will be one of the first to order the special two-coin silver American Eagle proof set when it goes on sale June 7.

She has a vested interest in those coins because she is among the staff at the San Francisco Mint that prepared the dies for the presses.

And although the official name is the 2012 American Eagle San Francisco Two-Coin Silver Proof Set, everyone there proudly refers to it as “the anniversary set.”

After all, the current San Francisco Mint facility marked its 75th anniversary May 15.

A 25-year veteran at the San Francisco Mint, Barnes supervises the 11-member die polishing staff. It’s a job she had her eye on since starting at the Mint as a coin checker.

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“Everyone said, ‘Oh, that’s a hard job,’ but I got it,” she said.

And to her, it’s being part of making art.

That’s not to say the work is easy, especially a quarter century ago when all die polishing was done by hand.

“A silver proof die was so hard to polish,” she said. It took a while to perfect the technique.

The die would be sandblasted so the surfaces were frosted. The die polishers job was to then get rid of the frost finish in the coin field.

“You had to wood the die,” Barnes said. That meant taking a rotary tool with a piece of wood on it and rubbing it across the frosted field.

Her favorite dies to work on were the half dollar reverse eagle and the American Eagle’s
“walking lady.”

Today, the die polishing room looks much different. Although there are stations for doing polishing by hand, most of the work today is computerized using lasers.

The computerization means that each die now can be used to produce about 30,000 dies. Hand-polished dies could strike about 1,500 coins each.

Adding to the longevity of the dies is the use of a physical vapor deposition unit that deposits a thin layer of chrome on the die that adds to its thickness and makes it last longer.

Barnes is proud that the same staff that did the hand polishing has learned to program and operate the laser computers.
“I think it helped to have the hands-on knowledge,” she said.

Staff morale is high, she said.

“There is a lot of teamwork here,” she said.

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