New Polishing and Laser Frosting Technique Enhance Coins, US Mint Says

by Mike Unser on April 8, 2013 · 16 comments

A new generation of United States Mint numismatic and commemorative coins appears to be knocking on the door, potentially displacing the traditional picture that collectors have formed over the years for such coins.

New Proof Polishing and Laser Frosting Technique Used on 2013 Proof 5-Star Generals Silver Dollar

New Proof Polishing and Laser Frosting Technique Used on 2013 Proof 5-Star Generals Silver Dollar – Click Image to Enlarge It

Using varying polishing and laser frosting intensities that are intended to enhance a design’s artistic features, the new technique produces dies that are said to make coins "pop."

That was the news delivered in a telephone conference Wednesday by Steve Antonucci, Branch Manager, Digital Process and Development, at the United States Mint at Philadelphia.

Antonucci noted that the traditional method to create proof coins with the cameo effect of frosted foregrounds and mirror-like fields can unintentionally subdue or even destroy design elements.

"In a lot of cases, the detail really wasn’t obliterated but that’s the general consensus of what we heard," said Antonucci. "It’s just that the frosting was so intense that it absorbs the light" and that makes it difficult to see the detail of the art.

Antonucci and team started exploring various finishes, differing polishing techniques and alternate laser techniques to specifically "enhance the beauty of the coins."

Collectors who have received proof 5-Star Generals $5 gold or silver dollars can judge the changes for themselves. These are the first two coins made with dies where the new polishing and new laser frosting technique was applied.

Images of 5-Star General Silver Dollars produced with dies made the old way and with dies using the new technique offer some comparison.

2013 Proof 5-Star Generals Silver Dollar Obverses - Technique Comparisons

2013 Proof 5-Star Generals Silver Dollar Obverses – Technique Comparisons

Tom Jurkowsky, U.S. Mint Director of Public Affairs, noted that the comparison images cannot do justice in showing the real differences.

2013 Proof 5-Star Generals Silver Dollar Reverses - Technique Comparisons

2013 Proof 5-Star Generals Silver Dollar Reverses – Technique Comparisons

Having seen both versions side-by-side, the coins from the new technology "popped, they really popped," he said.

"We have an opportunity now to show the artistry and to try to perfect how things are depicted on coins," Jurkowsky added.

The enhanced uncirculated Silver Eagle expected out in May as part of the 2013 American Eagle West Point Two-Coin Silver Set is the third coin to receive new treatments. It has three varying finishes.

Obverse Image of 2013-W Enhanced American Eagle Silver Uncirculated Coin

Obverse Image of 2013-W Enhanced American Eagle Silver Uncirculated Coin

Polish and laser frosting recipes will differ going forward and will depend on the design elements of coins. Artists can actually create designs with the new method in mind.

Antonucci said he could soon foresee "five or six different frosting intensities on a single design."

Antonucci indicated they will decide as a group on how to apply the polishing and laser frosting technique to every design going forward.

Steve Antonucci has been with the United States Mint for eleven years and is respected for advancing digital technologies now used by the bureau.

"Little did I know how he (Antonucci) would ultimately change the face of numismatics in the Mint as far as die production, preparation, and proof polishing," retired U.S. Mint Chief Engraver John Mercanti described Antonucci in his book American Silver Eagles: A Guide to the U.S. Bullion Coin Program.

In an answer to a likely question, 5-Star General gold and silver dollars made with the old dies will not get released to the public.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

thePhelps April 8, 2013 at 5:57 am

I thought the $1 proof looked a lot better in hand than the pictures had been showing. It’s like the proof displayed using the old method was the one they had displayed on the Mint’s website. I’ll be really anxious to see the enhanced Eagle now.

Vachon April 8, 2013 at 8:07 am

I would have to say “about time”. Either I’ve been very unlucky or the proof sets for the past decade or so have had so much frosting that the finer elements of the design were difficult to make out. Maybe if expressed designs on our coins hadn’t been so flattened since the 1990s it wouldn’t have mattered. The ATB quarter obverses have practically no detail on Washington’s bust in proof whereas the circulated strikes, though their relief is ridiculously low, the details show up just fine.

Ken April 8, 2013 at 8:41 am

This laser technique continues to improve the look of the coin in my estimation. Many traditional collectors dislike the new laser etching but I rather enjoy it.

jim April 8, 2013 at 10:46 am

So is the “enhanced uncirculated eagle” going to have the (I call it) greenish tint that all the pictures show? Is the laser causing the change in color? Still don’t like the “enhanced” name.

Munzen April 8, 2013 at 11:28 am

“is the “enhanced uncirculated eagle” going to have the greenish tint that all the pictures show?”

My guess is that the tint is a byproduct of the way the images are reproduced. Unless laser polishing produces a surface that causes interference patterns at the nanometer scale (which _is_ possible, btw) the color will probably be what one expects of a silver coin.

But again, just an educated guess based on what I remember from a long-ago college minor in physics.

James Bucki April 8, 2013 at 11:35 am

jim: I got to hold and inspect one of the Enhanced Uncirculated Silver Eagles when I was at the US Mint in West Point. These coins are absolutely stunning and there is no greenish tint on the coins.

James Bucki
coins.about.com

thePhelps April 8, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Jim – guessing by what I see on the Silver Proof Generals – the change is in crispness and definition. There is no coloring affect at all. Honestly when I got the proof I was truly amazed at how clean it was and then I read about the new laser being used to create them. If that is an example of the lasers affect – i will be in for a couple sets of the new enhanced ASE.

RonnieBGood April 8, 2013 at 5:36 pm

They may have to drop a few (more) now at the mint to get less than a Proof 70 Ultra (Ultra) Cameo grading! lol

Coin Talk April 8, 2013 at 7:36 pm

They may be pretty to look at but I suspect it’s just going to be justification for the mint to push more product and raise prices. And, real coin collectors should be putting that money toward something more interesting and less expensive, like ancients, the Roman Republic era coins for example.

Brian V. April 9, 2013 at 1:12 am

Read Coinworld article on Enhanced Eagles…very infomative about heavy and light laser techniques, and a chemical change to the gas used. They’ve used on 9/11 Memorial coin and one of the 5 oz. ATB bullion “coins?”.. I think the volcano release. At least they have created a buzz among collectors.

jim April 9, 2013 at 11:23 am

Looks like with a little more experimenting the mint may figure out how to do holographic images on coins like Canada did in 2000. We’ll probably see that soon unless Canada has a patent or copyright that prohibits.

thePhelps April 9, 2013 at 1:37 pm

jim – did I detect just a hint of sarcasm in there? Actually, I compare the Canadian mint and the US mint only in terms of what they do. Canada has 34 million people and the mint there is producing coinage for that size of a nation. The US has 320 million people… and the mint here produces way more yearly coinage than Canada often will see in several years.

Canada is more of a cafe style mint in my opinion – and as such specializes in small production coinages – attempting to entice buyers by low production high cost coins. Comparing the 2 mints isn’t really the same. While I like the innovation – I am sure it comes with a price and scaling production around it may be a limitation we haven’t heard about yet.

jim April 9, 2013 at 3:35 pm

tP – perhaps a little sarcasm. I also only look at what the two mints do. The coloring and adding crystals isn’t something I would expect the US Mint to do. But unless holograms require special equipment I think with the laser technology they’re using with the “enhanced uncirculated” coins holograms could be entirely within the capability of the US Mint for both gold and silver coins, especially in a limited edition multi coin set like the 2011 25th anniversary silver coin set for example.

Brian V. April 9, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Lets hope they set the planchets aside. With the rate of bullion and proof eagle sales, they may get eaten up if nobody’s keeping an eye on them. Don’t forget 2009 !!!!

Dale April 10, 2013 at 9:35 am

Got mine today this new laser frosting technique was applied and the coin is very nice, can’t wait to see the enhanced unc silver dollar ! May have to order a bunch…

Rick October 10, 2013 at 7:52 am

I personally work with these programs and all I can tell you is the US Mint in Philadelphia does the research and developing for the laser techniques and the quality is way better than Canada. The new programs in the mix will even be better with the 50 cent and Hall of Fame in developing. The complete laser technique changes started with the 911 medal program and the rest will continue to grow better.

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