This first column about our visit to the Denver Mint offers an overview about what’s inside and hints at what to expect in later articles.
It’s fairly rare to get a private look within any of the United States Mint production facilities. CoinNews.net visited all four of them this year, wrapping up 2013 with a special trip to the U.S. Mint facility in Denver, Colorado.
Today, the United States Mint in Denver shares the responsibility of manufacturing U.S. coins for circulation with the facility located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the beginning, however, the Denver Mint served a different purpose. It started out in 1863 as an assay office for Colorado’s booming gold mining enterprises. It wasn’t until 1906, and inside a new building, that the facility flourished as a producer of gold and silver coins.
That kind of history allows visitors of the Mint’s public tour to enjoy exhibits and artifacts from the early days, and see how coin manufacturing has since modernized. Some of that public tour will be covered next week on CoinNews.net. In deeper reporting, Mike and Darrin Unser will share their experiences, photos and videos of their private tour in a series of articles over the next several weeks.
To get the ball rolling, I asked the two brothers a few questions. Their responses offer some insights into topics they’ll talk about in later articles.
What was the most interesting part of the Denver Mint?
Darrin: I’m drawn to memories of the die production process. Many aspects of it are naturally similar to the Philadelphia Mint, but to me, the unique robotics in Denver added an intriguing flair to the procedures.
These devices are impressive in both ability and efficiency. What was more remarkable, however, was the pride those on the die production floor took in the improvements allowed by the devices and their acceptance of the new technology. They have even gone so far as to nickname the machines.
Mike: I’m also fascinated by the robotics, and die production and packaging of numismatic coins are always interesting because of the variety of robots and tooling machines. After tours in the military followed by college, I spent about a dozen years in the software industry. Out of habit, I always look at the software driving the robots, presses and other equipment used by the Mint. I’m usually horrified by the user interface but dazzled by the output.
Having visited all the Mint’s production facilities, what I’ve found most interesting is how each is unique yet they share an incredible culture full of employee pride, competitiveness, talented leadership and business sense.
They’re also obviously very tuned to improving quality and efficiency. In a business case turned to real-world use, the Denver Mint has implemented a state-of-the art lathe cell for shaping steel coin dies. One machine in the new system has replaced three, cutting waste and errors while improving productivity.
What did you enjoy most about the Denver Mint?
Darrin: There are several parts of our visit that come to mind when thinking of favorites. One was walking through the public tour area, actually.
It offers both a history and a great glimpse of the operations. The highlight of that experience was seeing the three 27+ pounds of .999 fine gold bars that were worth more than $500,000 apiece.
Mike: Silly as it sounds considering how much they’re worth even in today’s depressed gold market, I was less impressed with the gold bars because I saw the nearly 4,300 bars at the West Point Mint. Still, I enjoyed the public tour as there was a lot more to see than gold and it reminded me of our family visit there some 35 years ago.
In learning how coins are made from A to Z, the public tour at the Philadelphia Mint has advantages in my opinion. It occupies more square footage and you can see the entire production floor at a glance. Also, it’s self-guided — there are no reservation requirements, and you can take your time in areas that you find more interesting. On the flip side, the tour at the Denver Mint is personalized with a guide, offers a much closer view into areas of the production and numismatic floors and the building is older so it has the feel of history — the Grand Hallway, murals, marble and chandeliers are very impressive and the machine gun nest and its story are cool.
Next CoinNews Article in Series about the Denver Mint
The next article in our in-depth series about the Denver Mint was published on Dec. 30, 2013. It offers many more photos and information about the public tour. Other articles in the series discuss die production, circulating coin production and numismatics. Links to these articles are found at the top, right column.