In Colonial Philadelphia, it took coiners three years to strike 1 million coins. Today, the U.S. Mint at Philadelphia can make that many in the time it takes to watch a 30-minute TV show.
Some exhibits from the Philadelphia Mint Public Tour – Larger, many more photos below
How does it happen? You won’t find out sitting around the TV. The best way is to stop by the Philadelphia Mint and take their free tour. Bring your kids or grandchildren. They’ll love seeing all the coins from 40 feet above the factory floor and they’ll remember it forever.
On the downside, you and your kiddos will have to pass through a metal detector to start things off. Don’t forget your government-issued photo ID. Do forget your camera. They’re not allowed for security reasons. On the upside, you can primer your visit with this and more articles to come about the Philadelphia Mint.
We visited the Philadelphia Mint earlier this month for a private tour after similar trips to the San Francisco Mint and West Point Mint. Since we were there, we also went on the public tour. We enjoyed it twice — once like everyone else with the same security restrictions and another time with U.S. Mint officials so we had permission to snap some of the photos you’ve already seen as well as the larger ones below. These photos offer some insights on what you can look forward to when visiting the Mint, with upcoming CoinNews.net articles and photos offering information about what goes on behind the scenes.
Quick Links to Large Tour Photos and Tour Tips
Skip the chatter; take me to the large tour photos. I plan on visiting the U.S. Mint at Philadelphia, take me to the tips.
Newly Renovated Tour
Last year about 220,000 people went on the Philadelphia Mint public tour after it re-opened on July 3, 2012 following a six-month renovation project. The new tour created a hubbub in numismatic circles with visitor reviews overwhelmingly positive.
Reviews this year remain equally strong. To get to that point, the U.S. Mint contracted Quatrefoil Associates and spent $3.9 million to modernize the tour area for the first time since 1969. At a cost of about $250 per sq. foot, they got a bang for their buck. Much of the tour is museum-like, yet museum space often costs $500/sq. foot.
What to Expect on the Philadelphia Mint Public Tour
You can take as long as you like since the tour is self-guided. A thorough visit will consume about 1 1/2 – 2 hours. If you’re a coin collector, plan on the two hours. If you bring younger children and prefer a quicker trip, you could get a good one in about 45 minutes.
Starting with the lobby and moving up to the second-floor mezzanine, the experience has a warm museum feel and is most enjoyed by older children and adults. Here there are exhibits with mixings of coins, medals, plaster models and other artifacts with some dating back to the Mint’s very beginnings.
One of the exhibits showing examples of coins produced at the Mint over the years.
Descriptions and information about the Philadelphia Mint, its history, and exhibit contents are readily displayed. There’s also the David Rittenhouse Theater, named after the first Director of the United States Mint. Inside a short film traverses time as Founding Fathers discuss the pros and cons of creating American coinage. It ends with the April 2, 1792 passage of Coinage Act which established the U.S. Mint.
Get ready for some walking to view the factory floor. It’s worth it. Kids really take to this section of the tour. We could hear their excited chatter during our visits and watched them work the many interactive displays. While here, there’s no doubt you’re at the largest coin manufacturing facility in the world. The Philadelphia Mint sits on a city block. From 40 feet above, you’ll walk along one side of the plant and then make the return trip from the other side. That’s two blocks of activity.
The Gallery portion of the tour is divided into color-coded areas to help visitors better understand the coin and medal making process. At the start of the Gallery, look for a key with special images and colors to help distinguish the different coin design and manufacturing areas.
Throughout this third-floor Gallery, you can look down and see robotic machinery in action. The factory tour is divided into color-coded areas to help identify the coin and medal making process with displays describing everything that’s happening below. Stages include artwork creation, die making, blanking, annealing and upsetting, striking, inspecting and bagging coins. Touchable examples are found along the tour to include plaster models, blanks, master hubs, dies, coins and coin errors. There are also many video and audio touch screen stations that let you dive deeper and watch the coinage process up close.
Let’s take a quick photo tour of some the tour exhibits.
Philadelphia Mint Tour Photos
First United States Mint Coining Press. This is the original coining press from the first United States Mint; it was used to strike our nation’s first coins. Coin production was not an easy task in Colonial Philadelphia. Working 11 hour days, it took coiners at the first Mint three years to strike one million coins. (Today, it takes about 30 minutes). This press was built by Adam Eckfeldt, a die sinker and mechanic at the first Mint. Eckfeldt became the Chief Coiner of the United States in 1814. At that prestigious post, Eckfeldt collected samples of United States and foreign coins and medals. The collection, known as the Coin Cabinet, later became the foundation of the National Numismatic Collection.
Peter the Mint Eagle. A young Bald Eagle made the first United States Mint his home where he was befriended by the Mint’s employees. It’s said that he flew about the city by day but returned to the Mint each evening. After his death, Peter was immortalized by a taxidermist. For over 180 years, Mint artists have studied Peter when designing eagles for coins and medals. The tradition will continue thanks to current Mint employee Jerry Burdsall who helped clean Peter and return him to his original perch.
Boot Scraper. It is likely that the Founding Fathers use this scraper to remove mud from their boots before entering the Mint. In the middle is a piece of copper scrap. To the right is the personal ledger of Adam Eckfeldt, Chief Coiner of the United States in 1814.
Third United States Mint Gates. These beautifully ornate gates once graced the entrance to the third United States Mint facility in Philadelphia at 17th and Spring Garden Streets. The third Mint was in operation from 1901 – 1968. The fourth and current United States Mint facility in Philadelphia opened in August 1969 and is the largest mint in the world. The third Mint building is now part of the Community College of Philadelphia.
Coin Design Models by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. This display features the work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of America’s greatest sculptors, who helped redesign America’s coins in the early 20th century. Exhibited are early coin design models, courtesy of Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire, and the original final design models for Saint-Gaudens’ Standing Liberty Twenty Dollar gold piece, considered by many to be the world’s most beautiful coin. Also displayed are a 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle, and 1916 and 1917, modified design, Standing Liberty Quarters, courtesy of the American Numismatic Society.
Artifact collection from the first United States Mint. The first United States Mint was established in 1792 in Philadelphia, then the nation’s capital. The building operated as a Mint from 1792 until 1832. This collection was rescued from the site of the first Mint when it was razed in the early 1900s. The collection includes the original lock and key from the first Mint, courtesy of Independence National Historical Park and the Philadelphia History Museum. Also included is a section of the roofing rafters from the original building which was damaged in a fire in the early 1800s.
Automatic Weighing Machine. For many years, the value of a United States coin was based on the amount of precious metal in the coin. Every blank was carefully weighed by hand on small scales before being struck. However, by placing blanks into the metal tubes of this automated machine, hundreds of blanks could be weighed in minutes. Light blanks were recycled; heavy blanks were “adjusted” or filed and struck into coins.
Collection of artifacts from the second United States Mint facility in Philadelphia. Coins were produced at the second United States Mint facility in Philadelphia from 1833 until 1900. Included in this interesting collection of artifacts are adjusting balances which were used to weigh coinage blanks. Also included is the original Troy Pound weight which was procured by the Mint from England in the early 1800s. The weights and values of all US goods and coinage were established by this small Troy Pound for nearly 100 years.
The Mint’s Historic Tiffany Glass Mosaics. Shown here are five of the seven glass mosaics, executed under the personal direction of Louis C. Tiffany. They were removed from the Third Philadelphia Mint location and re-mounted in the present one. The designs are unique to the coinage operation and were commissioned at a cost of $40,000. In 1971, they were appraised at a value of $420,000. The figures of children illustrate the ancient Roman coining process.
Janvier Transfer Engraving Machine. Dies were once engraved by hand by the United States Mint’s artists. In the 19th century, lathes were invented which allowed artists to create larger models which could be reduced to coin size. While trying to perfect his Standing Liberty design, Augustus Saint-Gaudens recommended that the Mint purchase a Janvier transfer engraving machine. This is the original Janvier machine purchased by the Mint in 1907. It was used to reduce artists’ models, including Saint-Gaudens’ Standing Liberty, while cutting the design into steel.
Bullion Transport Boxes. From the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, these boxes were used to transport gold between the U.S. Mints and the Assay Office in the West. They were also used in the 1930s to ship gold bullion to Fort Knox. When filled, each box weighed nearly 400 pounds.
In addition to coins, the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia also produces medals, including Congressional Gold Medals. This is the gold medal presented to General Anthony Wayne for recapturing Stony Point during the Revolutionary War. The handwritten letter to the left is from George Washington. It accompanied the medal.
Original Hand-cut Medal Dies. These are the original, hand-cut medal dies which were used to strike the large Jefferson Indian Peace Medals which were taken by Lewis and Clark on their 1804 expedition from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Before lathes and engraving machines, all dies were hand cut by engravers. These original Mint dies were secured in the Mint’s vault for over 200 years.
Force to Strike a Nickel. The Gallery portion of the tour takes the complicated aspects of coining and simplifies it for visitors. This descriptive panel is an example.
Display in Gallery about Hubs, Dies and Coins
This display in the third-floor Gallery shows a planchet and a coin. The surrounding panels describe how a blank becomes a planchet and then a coin.
What Photos are Missing?
Noticeably absent from the photos above are shots from the Gallery looking down to the factory floor. For security reasons, we were not allowed to take photos from these views. They are a highlight of the tour, showing the immensity of the factory and what happens there every day. Though we could not take photos from above, we did take them directly on the factory floor during our private tour. Stay tuned to CoinNews.net for these photos and more articles about the Mint.
If you’re looking to buy some coins or medals produced from the Philadelphia Mint or from the other U.S. Mint facilities, stop at the gift shop.
The gift shop, run by Aramark, is located on the main floor. It’s to the right as you enter the Mint and below the second-floor mezzanine where most of the museum-style exhibits are located.
Located on the main floor in the lobby, exiting the tour takes your right through the gift shop. It’s one of the few places where you can buy a U.S. Mint product and immediately walk out with it in hand.
Tips in Planning Your Philadelphia Mint Tour
More than 4 billion coins have already come out of the Philadelphia Mint this year. The pace is the quickest since before the Great Recession, yet well under the Mint’s capacity. That means the factory floor will be humming with activity on some days but not on others.
We went on two different days and the experience was different for each. As an example, one day we saw how blanks were cut from massively large sheets of metal. It was a highlight. The other day these machines were silent.
Here are a few tips to plan your visit:
Visit the Mint’s tour page for updated tour hours and information. This Mint webpage also has a handy Tour Guide you can download. It’s the same brochure you’ll find at the beginning of the tour.
Remember, all visitors must go through a metal detector so plan accordingly.
Try getting there in the morning. You’ll likely get the chance to see more activity on the factory floor.
There are days that the tour is open on holidays, notably Memorial Day and Labor Day, but the factory floor is shut down. It’s also closed on many Fridays and all Saturdays. The tour is very good without anything happening on the floor, but your kids will enjoy it much more when the Mint is striking coins or medals.
Once inside, there is no photography, no smoking and no eating or drinking.
Finally, within a short distance from the Mint are other sites worth seeing, like:
the Liberty Bell,
Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were debated and signed, and
Benjamin Franklin’s grave.
The Liberty Bell is one of many other attractions near the Mint.
There’s also the Money in Motion Exhibit at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. We had high hopes for this one but were, frankly, disappointed in the experience.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia is just blocks away from the Mint. Its Money in Motion Exhibit, in our opinion, was significantly less impressive than the Philadelphia Mint Tour. This photo shows the inside of a handout describing the Money in Motion Exhibit.
Next Article in Series About the Philadelphia Mint
Stay tuned to CoinNews.net for an in-depth series of photos and articles about the Philadelphia Mint. The first one is scheduled for Friday, September 6. It will discuss coin designs and sculpting. Others will include die making, producing coins and striking bullion and collectible America the Beautiful Five Ounce Silver Coins.