The early years of US Mint history were
difficult indeed. Political differences over the fate of the
Philadelphia Mint helped cement our two party system.
|The United States Begins Minting Coins|
Not until three years after the Constitution was
put into effect in
1789 did the newly seated Congress again take up the coinage issue.
Finally, on April 2, 1792, Congress approved an Act requiring coins to
be minted bearing the words "United States of America" and "an
impression emblematic of liberty, with an inscription of the word
Liberty, and the year of the coinage...". This was the first major step
in establishing our national coinage system.
The 1792 Act also mandated the construction of a
new minting facility
for the United States, the first buildings erected for public use under
the Constitution. Located at Seventh Street and Filbert in
Philadelphia, the stone foundation for the first building was laid in
the summer of 1792. Eventually, three buildings comprised the original
A bimetallic system was provided for, at a ratio
of fifteen (silver) to
one (gold). The copper coins were not designated as legal tender, and
so could be refused by banks, merchants, and private individuals.
Eventually, the non-legal tender status of the copper coins did lead to
a problem that wasn't solved until the 1850's.
Other patterns of various denominations were
also minted in 1792, none
released purposely into circulation.
The first coins to reach the general population
were the copper half
cent and one cent coins of 1793. The one cent coins were dubbed "large
cents" because they contained exactly twice as much copper as the
smaller half cent (in those years, a half cent could actually buy
|Machinery of the Early Mint|
The coining process of the early Mint was very
primitive by today's
standards. The first rolling mill machine, used to prep precious metal
sheet strips for flatness, was powered by a pair of harnessed horses
(though only one shown in the drawing) circling in the basement below.
The strips were then washed to remove the
lubricant, passed through the
annealing oven again, cut lengthwise to make multiple narrow strips,
and brought to a screw press machine to cut out circular planchets from
the metal strip. Each planchet was annealed and later cleaned. Unused
metal from the perforated strips were returned to the furnace for
melting down into other coins.
After another pass through the annealing oven to
renew softness, the
planchets were ready to be stamped with an impression, an operation
popularly known as "striking", though as we shall see shortly, perhaps
a better term for this action, using antiquated machinery, is
|Political Squabbling Nearly Dooms the Early Mint|
For many years after the Philadelphia Mint began
operating, coins failed to appear in sufficient numbers throughout the
United States. As mentioned in the sections above, the Mint was plagued
by poor facilities and the lack of a bullion fund for making possible a
"coins-for-privately-owned-bullion" exchange program. To make the most
out of a dismal situation, the Mint produced a disproportionate share
of half dollars, taking advantage of the increased productivity in
turning out half dollars (i.e. it took five "hits" to make fifty cents
in dimes, but only one "hit" with a half dollar to coin an equal face
value amount). As a result, tiny quantities of small denomination
silver coins were struck in those years. An 1830 Senate committee
reported that so few quarters, dimes and half dimes were made that the
total number of small-denomination silver coins produced since the
Mint's opening amounted to less than one piece for each person in the
As the Mint's reputation languished, a serious
move was underway,
beginning as early as 1795, to close down the Mint and transfer coining
operations to the Bank of the United States. The brainchild of
America's first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, the semi-public
institution was chartered in 1791.
Hamilton argued the Bank could operate more
efficiently than the Mint,
and was in a better position to acquire precious metal bullion. Several
votes in Congress to abolish the Mint were held, but were narrowly
|More Coin Shortages and the "1804" Dollar|
In addition to crude minting conditions and no
bullion fund, the expected movement of new coinage into the
channels of trade was greatly impaired by metals speculators, who
exported overseas as many gold and silver coins as they could obtain.
The basic reason for this one-way flow was the
existing weight ratios
between the American money and foreign currency. On the European
market, the bullion value of the American coins was more than their
face value, and as a result, many of these coins found their way to the
One of the most highly publicized U.S. coin
rarities is the 1804 silver
dollar, of which fifteen specimens are known to exist today.
Researchers have determined the 1804 dollars were actually struck in
1834-35 for proof set purposes. Jefferson's silver dollar ban of 1806
was still in effect, and so to avoid the appearance of violating the
prohibition, the date of 1804 was chosen. Re-strikes of the "1804
dollar" were issued in 1859 to satisfy a few well-connected collectors.
|U.S. Coins and History Chapters|
|The American Revolution|
|We the People|
|The Mint Survives Political Strife|
|A Rising Spirit of Nationalism|
|The Mint Branches Out|
|The Nation Drifts Toward War|
|The Money of the Civil War|
|The Reconstruction Era|
|More Chapters to Come ....|
|1||Allen, Jack, and John L. Betts. History:
New York, NY: American Book Company, 1967.
|2||Brinkley, Douglas. History
of the United States.
New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1998.
|3||Doty, Richard. America's
Money, America's Story.
Sydney, OH: Amos Press, Inc., 1998.
|4||Reiver, Jules. The
United States Early Silver Dollars 1794 to 1803.
Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 1998.
|5||Taxay, Don. The
U.S. Mint and Coinage.
New York, NY: Arco Publishing Company, 1966.
|6||Jordan, Winthrop D., Miriam
Greenblatt, & John S. Bowes. The Americans. Evanstan,
IL: McDougall, Littell & Company, 1988.
|7||Orosz, Joel J., & Augsburger, Leonard D. The Secret History of the First U.S. Mint. Atlanta, GA: Whitman Publishing LLC, 2011.|