With Christmas just a few weeks away a lot of thoughts turn to money. People wonder how on earth they’re going to be able to get through the holidays with all the shopping to do in addition to buying food fit for a feast.
We can’t do much without money that’s for sure. Like it or not, it determines how we live.
My family knows I’m a big coin collector. Next to writing, it’s my favorite activity. I also like spending money and shopping but that’s a story for another time.
The love of money might be the root of all evil, but we want as much of it as we can get. So this blog is about where our money came from originally and where it still comes from.
The Philadelphia Mint was the first national mint. Shortly after the Constitution was ratified, President George Washington recognized the importance of coining the nation’s money. The Mint Act of 1792 became law and the first mint was built in Philadelphia since it was the nation’s capital at the time. It was built to specification with a basement that contained vaults where gold and silver was stored, a first floor that had deposit/weighing rooms and a press room where coins were struck, and a third floor was for offices. To travel from floor to floor, one had to walk up a dark creepy stairway that was dimly lit by a tallow lamp. Must’ve been kinda ghostly, don’t you think? A smelt and mill house was built behind the mint and the first coins were struck in 1793. The Philadelphia mint has moved several times to newer buildings and is still in service today, minting a large portion of our money.
The Charlotte Mint was the first branch mint. It processed ore from nearby North Carolina Gold Rush fields. (I’ve never heard of this gold rush. I’d like to hear from you if you have. Might be a story in here.) The mint struck gold coins continuously from 1838 until the Civil War broke out. Coins from this mint are very rare and sought after. In fact, not many people are aware this mint ever existed. Operation discontinued after North Carolina seceded from the Union and never resumed. During the war, the mint became a hospital and military offices.
The Dahlonega, Georgia Mint is another relatively unknown facility. It also operated from 1838 to 1861 when the Civil War broke out. Dahlonega is a Cherokee word for “yellow money.” Gold was discovered here in the 1820’s and the town became a gold rush boomtown. (Another gold rush I didn’t know much about.) The U.S. government created this branch mint to convert mined gold into coins. The Cherokee Nation owned ancestral land where the gold mines were located. They were ordered away from their homes by the state of Georgia in 1828. The Cherokees fought in court to keep their land and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in their favor. But President Andrew Jackson ignored the ruling and had the Cherokee forcibly removed. In 1838, Georgia troops rounded up the Cherokees and marched them west under military escort. This became known as the “Trail of Tears.” All for the sake of gold. That’s sad. The first coins were struck in Dahlonega in April 1838. When minting operations ended with the Civil War, they had struck approx. $6 million in cold coins. Today these coins are extremely rare. The facility was turned into the North Georgia Agricultural College after the war.
The New Orleans Mint operated from 1838 to 1861 and then again from 1879 to 1909. When the Philadelphia Mint couldn’t keep up demand for coinage needed for western expansion, President Andrew Jackson signed into law and authorized construction of this branch mint. New Orleans was a port of entry and received gold and silver from Mexico through here. It was also a vital link to the western frontier. Some of the gold from the California Gold Strike of 1848 made its way to New Orleans to be minted. The mint’s production increased to more than $10 million in coinage. But the Civil War again caused a cease of operations and the State of Louisiana took control in 1861 after seceding from the Union. The state utilized the facility and began producing Confederate coins. It held the distinction of being the only Southern mint to produce coins bearing the designs of the Confederate States of America. The U.S. Government resumed production in 1879 until closing for good in 1909. It struck both gold and silver coinage.
The San Francisco Mint is known as the Granite Lady because it was large, elaborate, and strong. It functioned as a mint from 1854 to 1955, then from 1968 to the present. A short time after the discovery at Sutter’s Mill that set off the California Gold Rush, the San Francisco Mint began turning out gold and silver coins. In the first year, it produced gold pieces totaling over $4 million. Double eagles, half eagles, quarter eagles and the prized Morgan silver dollars started rolling off the press. A substantial portion of U.S. coins came from this mint. But few know that the Granite Lady also struck coins for several Latin American countries! That’s a surprising fact. The Granite Lady survived the 1906 earthquake and was the only San Francisco financial institution left unscathed. Today the SF Mint only produces proof coins for collectors.
The Carson City Mint was built in response to the discovery of Nevada’s Comstock Lode. It operated from 1870 to 1893. Unlike any other, coins bearing the “CC” mint mark represent Wild West history. Cowboys, gamblers, miners and shady ladies carried and did business with these coins. Wells Fargo Express delivered valuable coinage dies all the way from the Philadelphia and the first coins were struck in Jan. 1870. This mint struck gold eagles, double eagles, half eagles, and plenty of Morgan silver dollars and lesser silver coins. The Carson City Mint evokes Wild West imagery due in part to the number of outlaws who preyed on coin shipments. Possessing rare coins made of gold or silver mined from the Comstock Lode is what collectors dream about today.
The Denver Mint was established after the discovery of Colorado gold in 1858 but it didn’t strike its first coin until 1906. The Civil War broke out in 1862 and prevented its opening. Then it languished through the silver discovery near Leadville in the 1870’s. Slowly law and order took hold of the American West and the city of Denver grew steadily. Finally, construction on the building began in Feb. 1895. It was a massive three story structure with over a 100 rooms. The first coins were struck in Feb. 1906 and that first year the mint produced 167 million gold and silver coins. The Denver Mint quickly became the world’s busiest coining establishment. In 1934, the mint took on the role of becoming a government gold bullion depository. Billions of dollars worth of gold was transferred from the San Francisco Mint to Denver because it was a more secure location. The Denver Mint is still in operation today and in 2006 alone, struck more than 7.72 billion coins.
The West Point Mint is located on the grounds of the West Point Academy and is the most secure of all mints with over 4,000 cadets guarding it. It’s been in operation since 1988 to the present although it produced secret coins in 1983 that bore no mint mark. I sense another story here. It became a full-fledged government mint in 1988. It is the sole establishment for the production of American Eagle proofs, uncirculated silver, gold and platinum bullion coins, and all gold commemoratives. Each coin carries the distinctive “W” mint mark.
So you can see how history shaped these mints and our money. Are you a serious coin collector, a casual one, or someone who just likes to spend it? And are you going to spend less or more this Christmas?
I sure hope Santa brings me a few new coins (hint, hint) to add to my collection.