The United States Mint
primarily produces circulating coinage for the United States to conduct its trade and commerce. The Mint was created by Congress with the Coinage Act of 1792, and originally placed within the Department of State. Per the terms of the Coinage Act, the first Mint building was in Philadelphia, then the capital of the United States; it was the first building of the Republic raised under the Constitution. Today, the Mint's headquarters are in Philadelphia. It operates mint facilities in Denver, San Francisco, and West Point, New York and a bullion depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Mints were once located also in Carson City, Nevada and Washington, D.C.
The Mint was made an independent agency in 1799. It converted precious metals into standard coin for anyone's account with no seigniorage charge beyond the refining costs. Under the Coinage Act of 1873, the Mint became part of the Department of the Treasury. It was placed under the auspices of the Treasurer of the United States in 1981. Legal tender coins of today are minted solely for the Treasury's account.
The first Director of the United States Mint was renowned scientist David Rittenhouse. The position was held most recently by Edmund C. Moy until his resignation effective January 9, 2011. Henry Voigt was the first Superintendent and Chief Coiner, and is credited with some of the first U.S. coin designs. Another important position at the Mint is that of Chief Engraver, which has been held by such men as Frank Gasparro, William Barber, Charles E. Barber, James B. Longacre, and Christian Gobrecht.
The Mint has operated several branch facilities throughout the United States since the Philadelphia Mint opened in 1792, in a building known as "Ye Olde Mint". With the opening of branch mints came the need for mint marks, an identifying feature on the coin to show its facility of origin. The first of these branch mints were the Charlotte, North Carolina (1838–1861), Dahlonega, Georgia (1838–1861), and New Orleans, Louisiana (1838–1909) branches. Both the Charlotte (C mint mark) and Dahlonega (D mint mark) Mints were opened to facilitate the conversion of local gold deposits into coinage, and minted only gold coins. The Civil War closed both these facilities permanently. The New Orleans Mint (O mint mark) closed at the beginning of the Civil War (1861) and did not re-open until the end of Reconstruction in 1879. During its two stints as a minting facility, it produced both gold and silver coinage in eleven different denominations, though only ten denominations were ever minted there at one time (in 1851 silver three-cent pieces, half dimes, dimes, quarters, half dollars, and gold dollars, Quarter Eagles, half eagles, eagles, and double eagles).
A new branch facility was opened in Carson City, Nevada, in 1870; it operated until 1893, with a three-year hiatus from 1886 to 1888. Like the Charlotte and Dahlonega branches, the Carson City Mint (CC mint mark) was opened to take advantage of local precious metal deposits, in this case, a large vein of silver. Though gold coins were also produced there, no base metal coins were.
In 1911 the Mint had a female acting director, Margaret Kelly, at that point the highest paid woman on the government's payroll. She stated that women were paid equally within the bureau.
A branch of the U.S. mint (Manila Mint) was established in 1920 in Manila in the Philippines, which was then a U.S. colony. To date, the Manila Mint is the only U.S. mint established outside the continental U.S. and was responsible for producing coins for the colony (one, five, ten, twenty and fifty centavo denominations). This branch was in production from 1920 to 1922, and then again from 1925 through 1941. Coins struck by this mint bear either the M mintmark (for Manila) or none at all, similar to the Philadelphia mint at the time.
A branch mint in The Dalles, Oregon, was commissioned in 1864. Construction was halted in 1870, and the facility never produced any coins, although the building still stands.
The Mint's largest facility is the Philadelphia Mint, one of four active coin-producing mints. The current facility at Philadelphia, which opened in 1969, is the fourth Philadelphia Mint. The first was built in 1792, when Philadelphia was still the U.S. capital, and began operation in 1793. Until 1980, coins minted at Philadelphia bore no mint mark, with the exceptions of the Susan B. Anthony dollar and the wartime Jefferson nickel. In 1980, the P mint mark was added to all U.S. coinage except the cent. Until 1968, the Philadelphia Mint was responsible for nearly all official proof coinage. Philadelphia is also the site of master die production for U.S. coinage, and the engraving and design departments of the Mint are also located there.
The Denver branch began life in 1863 as the local assay office, just five years after gold was discovered in the area. By the turn of the century, the office was bringing in over $5 million in annual gold and silver deposits, and in 1906, the Mint opened its new Denver branch. Denver uses a D mint mark and strikes coinage only for circulation, although it did strike, along with three other mints, the $10 gold 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Commemorative. It also produces its own working dies, as well as working dies for the other mints. Although the Denver and Dahlonega mints used the same mint mark D, they were never in operation at the same time, so this is not a source of ambiguity.
The San Francisco branch, opened in 1854 to serve the goldfields of the California Gold Rush, uses an S mint mark. It quickly outgrew its first building and moved into a new facility in 1874. This building, one of the few that survived the great earthquake of 1906, served until 1937, when the present facility was opened. It was closed in 1955, then reopened a decade later during the coin shortage of the mid-60s. In 1968, it took over most proof-coinage production from Philadelphia, and since 1975, it has been used solely for proof coinage, with the exception of the Anthony dollar and a portion of the mintage of cents in the early 1980s. (These cents are indistinguishable from those minted at Philadelphia.)
The West Point branch is the newest mint facility, gaining official status as a branch mint in 1988. Its predecessor, the West Point Bullion Depository, was opened in 1937, and cents were produced there from 1973 to 1986. Along with these, which were identical to those produced at Philadelphia, West Point has struck a great deal of commemorative and proof coinage bearing the W mint mark. In 1996, West Point produced clad dimes, but for collectors, not for circulation. The West Point facility is still used for storage of part of the United States' gold bullion reserves, and West Point is now the United States' only production facility for gold, silver and platinum American Eagle coins.
While not a coin production facility, the U.S. Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky, is another facility of the Mint. Its primary purpose is for storage of the United States and other countries' gold and silver bullion reserves.
The Mint manages extensive commercial marketing programs. The product line includes special coin sets for collectors, national medals, American Eagle gold, silver and platinum bullion coins, and commemorative coins marking national events such as the Bicentennial of the Constitution. The Mint's functions include:
Note that the Mint is not responsible for the production of paper money; that is the responsibility of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
In 2000, the Mint was responsible for the production of 28 billion coins. See United States Mint coin production for annual production values of each coin.
The United States Mint Police, a federal law enforcement agency, is responsible for protection of Mint facilities, employees and reserves.
With the exception of a brief period in 1838 and 1839, all coins minted at U.S. branch mints prior to 1909 displayed that branch's mintmark on their reverse. Larger denominations of gold and silver coins were labeled with the Dahlonega, Charlotte, and New Orleans mintmarks (D, C, and O, respectively) on the obverse (just above the dates) in those two years. Carson City, which served as a U.S. branch mint from 1870 to 1893, produced coins with a CC mintmark. The Manila Mint (the only overseas U.S. mint, which produced U.S. Territorial and U.S. Commonwealth coinage) used the M mintmark from 1920-1941.
Between 1965 and 1967, as the Mint labored to replace the silver coinage with base metal coins, mintmarks were temporarily dispensed with (including on the penny and nickel) in order to discourage the hoarding of coins by numismatists. Mintmarks were moved to the obverse of the nickel, dime, quarter, and half dollar in 1968, and have appeared on the obverse of the dollar coin since its re-introduction in 1971.
Due to a shortage of nickel during World War II, the composition of the five-cent coin was changed to include silver. To mark this change, nickels minted in Philadelphia (which had featured no mintmarks until then) displayed a P in the field above the dome of Monticello. Nickels from San Francisco were minted in the same fashion, and Denver nickels reflected the change in 1943. This new mintmark location continued until 1946, when the nickel returned to its pre-war composition.
The P mintmark, discontinued after the war, reappeared in 1979 on the Anthony dollar. By 1982, it had appeared on every other regular-issue coin except the cent, which still bears no P mintmark. The circulating cents struck in the 1980s at San Francisco (except proofs) and West Point also bear no mintmark, as their facilities were used to supplement Philadelphia's production. Given the limited numbers produced at each facility, they might have been hoarded as collectibles.
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Proof coinage means special early samples of a coin issue, historically made for checking the dies and for archival purposes, but nowadays often struck in greater numbers specially for coin collectors (numismatists). Many countries now issue them.
Preparation of a proof striking usually involved polishing of the dies. They can usually be distinguished from normal circulation coins by their sharper rims and design, as well as much smoother "fields" – the blank areas not part of the coin's design.
The dies for making modern proof coins are often treated with chemicals to make certain parts of the design take on a frosted appearance, with the polished fields taking on a mirror finish. Several other methods have been used in the past to achieve this effect, including sand blasting the dies, and matte proofs. Proof coins of the early 19th century even appear to be scratched, but it was part of the production process. The term "proof" refers to the process by which the coins are made and not the condition of the coin certification agencies can grade and assign numerical ratings for proof coins. A PR70 coin is the highest grade possible for a proof coin and indicates a perfect example, with PR69 and lower grades reflecting some deficiency in the strike, centering, details, or other aspect of the coin.
Most proof coins are double struck. This does not normally result in doubling that is readily observable, but does result in the devices being struck fully.
The U.S. had largely stopped striking proof coins in 1816, although a few later specimens exist. Beginning in 1836, the U.S. Mint began producing proof coins. Proof coins through 1842 could be ordered individually from the mint. Because of this the lowest mintage for any denomination (cent through half dollar) determines the total number of complete sets that can exist. Consequently, this number is used to indicate the mintages of proof sets for the years 1836 through 1842. Beginning in 1850 customers could order proofs coins only as complete sets, although coins were packaged as sets rather than individual coins beginning only in 1855, when the U.S. Mint sold both individually packaged coins in boxes and sealed "flat pack" sets of coins.
Sets struck from 1936-1942 (1942 offered a five-coin and a six-coin version, the latter included the silver wartime nickel) and, when resumed, from 1950–72 include the cent, nickel, dime, quarter, and half dollar. From 1973 through 1981 the dollar was also included, and also from 2000 on. From 1950 to 1955, proof sets were packaged in a box and each of the five coins was sealed in a cellophane bag. 1955 saw both the original "box" packaging and introduced the flat-pack, where the coins were sealed in cellophane and presented in an envelope. The flat-pack packaging continued through 1964, after which the coins were sealed in various styles of hard plasticized cases. (From 1965 to 1967 the production of proof sets was suspended and Special Mint Sets were made in their place. They were made at the San Francisco Assay Office but bore no "S" mintmark.)
The 1999-2008 proof sets also contain five different Statehood quarters. The 2002–03 series also contain the two Lewis and Clark nickels. Beginning in 2007, full proof sets include the four Presidential dollars for that year; proof sets of only Statehood quarters and Presidential dollars are also available. Proof sets issued in 2009 contain 18 coins – the most ever included – as that year marked the Lincoln Birth Bicentennial and featured four different reverses for the Lincoln Cent. These were struck in the original metal composition of Lincoln Cents: 95% Copper and 5% Tin & Zinc, which differs from the copper-plated zinc composition of circulating Lincoln Cents used since 1982. Also included are six quarters (instead of five) issued under the District of Columbia and United States Territories quarters program, the four presidential and one native American dollar struck that year, and the five cent, dime, and half dollar coins. 2009 saw the introduction of the Lincoln Cent with the new Union Shield reverse which replaced the familiar Lincoln Memorial reverse used from 1954 to 2009. Also introduced for 2010 were the first five of the new America the Beautiful quarters program, depicting different National Parks and Monuments, one from each state, Washington D.C. and the five U.S. Territories.
The U.S. Mint has also released special proof sets, such as in 1976, when a proof set of three 40% silver-clad coins: the quarter, half-dollar and dollar coins depicting special reverses to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial was issued. From 1971 to 1974, proof silver-clad Eisenhower dollars were issued in a plastic case contained in a brown wood-grain finish slipcase box, and are referred to as 'Brown Ikes'. Proof Susan B. Anthony dollars were struck in 1999. Although these proof dollars were sold separately and not included in the proof sets for that year, some third parties used the cases from other years to create 1999 proof sets that include the dollar, prompting the U.S. Mint to advise the public that these sets were not government-issued sets. A proof "Coin & Chronicles" set was issued for 2009, which included one each of the 4 different Lincoln Cent designs and a commemorative Lincoln Silver Dollar, presented in special packaging. Other sets, called "Prestige Proof" sets, also contain selected commemorative coins. These sets were sold from 1983 to 1997 (except 1985) at an additional premium. As Legacy Proof sets, the practice was resumed from 2005 to 2008.
Occasionally, there are errors which escape the Mint's inspection process, resulting in some very rare and expensive proof sets. This has happened at least seven times: 1968-S, 1970-S and 1975-S and in the 1983-S Prestige set, each with a dime that has no mint mark; a small number of 1971-S sets included a nickel without a mint mark; 1990-S saw both regular and Prestige sets which included a penny with no mint mark.
Not as rare (or as expensive) are proof sets issued with coin varieties that are less common than those found in other sets issued in the same year. These include the 1960 and 1970-S sets, both of which are found in either a "small date" or "large date" variety, which refers to the size and position of the date on the Lincoln cent. The 1979-S and 1981-S sets each come in either a "Type I" or a "Type II" version, where on all coins the "S" mint mark is either "filled" (also known as the "blob" mint mark) or "clear". 1964 has a design variation where the President's portrait on the Kennedy half-dollar has "accented hair". The design was modified early in the production (at the request of Jacqueline Kennedy) to give the hair a smoother appearance. This resulted in the "accented hair" variety being somewhat rarer and commanding a premium over the "regular" variety.
Since 1992 the mint has struck proof sets in both silver and base metal. Also, "Silver Premier" sets, featuring deluxe packaging, were offered from 1992 to 1998. U.S. commemorative and bullion platinum, gold, and silver coins are also often issued in both uncirculated and proof types, sometimes with different mint marks.
In most years since 1948 the U.S. mint has also produced "mint sets", and because of the terms used there is some confusion over the difference between these and proof sets. These are uncirculated coins that have been specially packaged, and are generally neither as expensive nor as valuable as proofs. There are some exceptions, however. Because mint sets contain specimens from each mint the precious metal value of the coins in a mint set could exceed the value of a proof set for common dates. Another exception is the 1996 mint set, which, in addition to specimens from the Philadelphia and Denver mints, contained a Roosevelt dime from the West Point mint (commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Roosevelt dime) and that was available only in the 1996 mint set. From 1965-67 the mint did not sell proof or uncirculated coins, but only a hybrid product, "special mint sets", none of which are particularly valuable. From 2000 through 2010 the U.S. Mint used a special "satin finish" on the coins in its uncirculated sets, but in 2011 changed to a "brilliant finish" so that contact marks incurred during the normal production process would be less noticeable. Some U.S. mints also sell annual "souvenir sets" from their production runs. These are generally not of high collectable value, although the 1982 and 1983 sets are in demand, since no "official" mint sets were issued during those years. Finally, individual dealers have made unofficial "year sets". The latter have no value beyond their individual coins. Members of the public should be careful to understand what products they are being offered, and that, until supplies are exhausted, current and previous coin sets are available directly from the mint.
The Royal Mint in the United Kingdom also strike proof coins and Annual Sets and have done for many years.
Commemorative coins are coins that were issued to commemorate some particular event or issue. Most world commemorative coins were issued from the 1960s onward, although there are numerous examples of commemorative coins of earlier date. Such coins have a distinct design with reference to the occasion on which they were issued. Many coins of this category serve as collectors items only, although some countries are also issuing commemorative coins for regular circulation. Vast numbers of thematic coins are continuously being issued, highlighting ancient monuments or sites, historical personalities, endangered species etc. While such thematic coins may or may not commemorate any particular event or jubilee, the distinction between commemorative coins and thematic coins is often blurred or ignored.
Coins can be seen as being of one of three types:
Regular issue coinage are the normal coins intended to be used in commerce every day and are typically issued with the same design for several years, e.g. euro coins.
Circulating commemoratives are intended to be used for commerce, but the design will only be issued for a limited time, is intended to draw some attention to a specific event or person. Examples include the €2 commemorative coins, or U.S. 50 State Quarters.
Non circulating legal tender (NCLT) are coins which are legal tender, and thus can in theory be used to purchase goods or services, but are not intended to be used in such a manner. Rather, they are intended to be used only as souvenirs, and are often produced in gold or silver with a proof finish.
Historically, the coins issued by any state have always reflected the current political or economic situation. Many ancient and pre-modern coins certainly commemorate events in contemporary times. For instance, Roman coins often have references to military campaigns and the defeat of foreign powers. These reverse types often symbolically represent the subordination of recently conquered territories to Roman authority. Such coins are examples of ancient political propaganda. The Roman Empire may be represented by a proud warrior 'raising' an undersized figure, representing the defeated enemy.
Throughout history, coins have commonly been issued on special occasions, without necessarily citing that occasion explicitly. In some cases, emergency money have been issued under unfavourable conditions, such as a city under siege. Such emergency coins were issued in Vienna in 1529, while the city was besieged by the troops of the Ottoman Empire. Due to the conditions at the time, such coins are frequently minted on square flans, rather than round ones (it was easier and quicker to produce a square flan than a round one). European square coins of this era are known by their German name 'klippe'. Coins might also be issued with the specific purpose of financing a military campaign, or for the payment of tribute or war indemnity by a feudal lord to his sovereign.
During recent centuries, specially prepared coins have been issued to proclaim the coronation of a new monarch. Such coins are known as 'largesse' coins. This type of coins were issued in India during the Mughal era (the 'nisar' coinage), and in Europe in the age of absolutism. In Europe, such coins were scattered from the royal chariot, to achieve attention and applause from the public. In Sweden, coins of this type were issued as late as 1873 (known as 'kastpenning').
During the era of the formation of the European nation states, the issuance of special coins explicitly commemorating various events became increasingly common. These coins were frequently devised to establish a public notion of nationhood, and also to honor the ruling monarch and his dynasty. During the economically exhaustive Napoleonic wars, a 1/6 rigsdaler was issued in Denmark from voluntary contributions from the public, intended to finance the creation of a new fleet. Another notable coin is the Prussian thaler of 1871, commemorating the victory of the Franco-Prussian war, opening the gates for the Prussian king to be crowned as Emperor of the unified German nation. After the (political and monetary) unification of Germany, some German states continued issuing separate coins on special occasions, such as the jubilee of a ruling monarch. The issuance of these royal jubilee coins became common throughout Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century. In some cases, these became collector items already at the time of their minting.
Before World War II, commemorative coins were always made of precious metals. The base metal coins were probably not considered appropriate for, or worthy of, honoring the nation or the ruling dynasty. However, during the 20th century, the use of precious metals for circulating currency became increasingly scarce. World War I and the world economic crisis of the 1930s brought about temporary or permanent abolition of the convertibility of bank notes to silver and gold coins. Gradually, the issuance of precious metal coins became increasingly restricted, and definitively abandoned about 1970. While the commemoratives of these decades continued to be issued predominantly in precious metals, their use as circulating currency became scarce or ceased entirely. Thus, the commemoratives developed into a separate class of coins with no immediately recognisable link to the coins and notes used in everyday transactions. This class of coins were collectors items, or in some cases objects for economic investment. With the ascendance of coin collecting as a hobby for larger numbers of people in the decades after World War II, commemorative coins came to be seen as treasured items, their beauty and impressive appearance readily appealing to many.
From this point in time, we can distinguish quite clearly between two classes of commemorative coins. Apart from the non-circulating medal-like coins referred to above, increasing numbers of circulating base metal commemorative coins have been issued in recent decades. When West Germany replaced the silver 5 mark coin with a copper-nickel one in 1975, the silver 5 mark commemoratives also reverted to copper-nickel (in 1979). Already in 1965, the Soviet Union issued a copper-nickel-zinc rouble commemorating the victory in World War II. This, and the next four commemorative roubles, were issued in several millions of copies, and circulated as regular currency.
In the United Kingdom, before decimalisation of the money system in 1971, the usual commemorative coin was a crown, or five shilling piece. These were issued to mark coronations of monarchs; one was also issued on the occasion of the death of Winston Churchill. Some decimal crowns (worth 25 pence) were issued, but since 1990 the £5 has been the usual non circulating commemorative coin. Other denominations such as the 50 pence and £2 are issued as circulating commemoratives.
The circulating and non-circulating commemoratives may be issued jointly, but have quite different purposes. Denmark, for instance, has since 1990 developed a pattern of issuing aluminium bronze 20 kroner commemaratives and accompanying silver 200 krone commemoratives. The aluminium bronze coins are circulating along with the non-commemorative 20 krone coins, while the silver coins are never circulated. The circulating commemoratives brings variation into the circulating coin mass, while the silver coins are collectors items and a source of revenue for the state. Likewise, in East Germany, some commemorative coins were issued with a primary purpose of earning foreign currency, while others actually circulated, albeit in smaller quantity than the bank notes of the corresponding denominations.
The number of independent nations has grown rapidly since World War II, and so has the number of coin issuing authorities. Countries of the third world generally have a very small domestic demand for collector coins, hence the non-circulating commemoratives issued are oriented towards the international market for collector items. Circulating commemoratives are found in the third World as well as in western nations. India has been issuing circulating commemoratives frequently since the 1960s. Almost every nation in the world have issued commemorative coins.
Not only has there been a rapid increase in the number of commemorative coins issued. Also the ingeniousness and imagination involved is amazing. Non-circulation commemorative coins are now issued in any thinkable shape, size and colour. They are issued with enamel finish, with holograms, with stone inlay, coins made of glass, in the form of jig-saw puzzles, with a countdown ticker built in, and numerous other unusual features.
Coin collectors are often divided on the relative merits of non circulating legal tender. Many countries issue large quantities of non circulating legal tender purely as a profit making exercise. The events that these coins commemorate are often chosen based on a perceived market, rather than events of significance to the country. Detractors comment that circulating coins are intended to showcase the culture of the country which issues them, and therefore have historical interest. Proponents will point out that non circulating coins are often used to showcase the art form and technology of minting. Technology developed for non circulating coins has moved to circulation issues - coloured coins were first issued as non circulating legal tender, but Canada has recently issued coloured commemorative coins into (albeit limited) circulation.
Commemorative coins by area:
The New Orleans Mint
operated in New Orleans, Louisiana, as a branch mint of the United States Mint from 1838 to 1861 and from 1879 to 1909. During its years of operation, it produced over 427 million gold and silver coins of nearly every American denomination, with a total face value of over US$307 million. It was closed during most of the American Civil War and Reconstruction.
After its decommissioning as a mint, the building served a variety of purposes, including as an assay office, a United States Coast Guard storage facility and a fallout shelter. Since 1981 it has served as a branch of the Louisiana State Museum. Damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, after over two years of closure for repair and renovation, the museum reopened in October 2007.
The New Orleans Mint has been designated a National Historic Landmark, and is currently the oldest surviving structure to have served as a U.S. Mint. Along with the Charlotte Mint, it is one of two former mint facilities in the United States to house an art gallery.
The city of New Orleans, Louisiana has been an important commercial center since it was founded in 1718 along the banks of the Mississippi River, near the Gulf of Mexico. This fact was reinforced when the U.S. Federal Government established a branch mint there on March 3, 1835, along with two other Southern branch mints at Charlotte, North Carolina and Dahlonega, Georgia. Such action was deemed necessary for many reasons. For one, in 1832 President Andrew Jackson had vetoed a rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States, an institution which he felt extended credit to northeastern commercial tycoons at the expense of the ordinary frontiersmen of the Old Southwest, a region with which Jackson, a Tennessean, strongly identified. Second, in 1836 Jackson had issued an executive order called the Specie Circular which demanded that all land transactions in the United States be conducted in cash. Both of these actions, combined with the economic depression following the Panic of 1837 (caused partly by Jackson's fiscal policies) increased the domestic need for minted money.
New Orleans' strategic location along the Mississippi River made it a magnet for commercial activity. Large quantities of gold from Mexico also passed through its port annually. In the early 19th century, New Orleans, which was the fifth-largest city in the United States until the Civil War, conducted more foreign trade than any other city in the nation. It was also located relatively near to gold deposits recently discovered in Alabama. While the Philadelphia Mint produced a substantial quantity of coinage, in the early 19th century it could not disperse the money swiftly to the far regions of the new nation, particularly the South and West. In contrast to the other two Southern branch mints, which only minted gold coinage, the New Orleans Mint produced both gold and silver coins, which arguably marked it as the most important branch mint in the country.
The Mint's location occupies a prominent place in civic history. It sits at the northeastern edge of the French Quarter, which used to be the entire city, or Vieux Carré
, of New Orleans. Under French and Spanish rule the area was home to the defenses of the city. In 1792, the Spanish governor François Louis Hector, Baron de Carondelet, erected Fort San Carlos (later Fort St. Charles) there. The fort was demolished in 1821 and the nearby area named Jackson Square in honor of Andrew Jackson. As a general in the United States Army, Jackson had saved the city from invading British forces on January 8, 1815, in the famous Battle of New Orleans, the last battle of the War of 1812.
The Mint building, which was constructed in red brick, was designed by architect William Strickland in the Greek Revival style, like most 19th-century public buildings in the United States. Strickland was a student of the architect Benjamin Latrobe, a disciple of Neoclassicism who had helped design the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Strickland himself, based in Philadelphia, had already designed the Philadelphia Mint building and the Second Bank of the United States, and would go on to design the Charlotte and Dahlonega facilities, making him the architect of the first four U.S. mint buildings. Martin Gordon supervised the building's construction, which was undertaken by Benjamin F. Fox, the master carpenter and joiner, and John Mitchell, the master stonemason and builder.
On the north façade the mint building features a central projecting Ionic portico supported by four monumental columns that are flanked at the ends by square pillars. The top of the portico contains a simple entablature, crowned by a flat roof in front of a simple, unadorned pediment. This entrance, which sits on top of a basement story, fronts the rectangular central core of the facility and is flanked by two large wings of multiple bays of rectangular windows. These wings wrap around the central rectangular core to form a "W"-shaped structure with two square courtyards at the rear. Balconies framed by iron railings and posts adorn the sections of the building's south façade that adjoin the courtyards. Architectural historian Talbot Hamlin described it thus: "it has those graceful, original proportions so characteristic of Strickland's work. Even today , condemned to a use so different from that for which it was designed, it remains one of the most distinguished of the earlier buildings of New Orleans."
On the interior, Strickland placed the grand staircase that connects the three levels immediately behind the portico in the central core of the structure. The floor system is composed of fired-clay jack arches supported on steel I-beams, a common feature of warehouses and other long-span structures. On the second floor, many of the larger rooms, which were used for coining and melting, contain ceilings with beautiful high arches supported by the walls and freestanding piers. The smaller rectangular rooms on the second level (and the basement), such as the former superintendent's office, also contain these arched ceilings with a single groin vault. The basement formerly contained the boilers inside a brick cage, but now contain museum exhibits devoted to the minting processes as well as the Coin Vault at the Mint, a coin shop.
Strickland did not take into account the swampy lowland and high water table that characterizes the terrain around New Orleans, and so during its career the New Orleans Mint building has encountered numerous structural problems from the shifting soil beneath its foundation. In the 1840s the building was reinforced with iron rods inserted between the floors. In 1854, the federal government hired West Point engineering graduate (and Louisiana native) Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard to fireproof the building, rebuild the arches supporting the basement ceiling and install masonry flooring. Beauregard completed the work in conjunction with Captain Johnson K. Duncan by 1859. During this period, the Mint's heavy machinery was converted to steam power so a smokestack (since demolished) was built at the rear of the structure to carry away the fumes.
Less than two years later, Beauregard would rise to national fame as the Confederate general who ordered the April 1861 assault on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, South Carolina, thus beginning the American Civil War. It was during the war that Beauregard would secure his place in American history as one of the Confederacy's most capable generals.
Like any other mint the New Orleans Mint was a factory to make coins. Operations at the New Orleans Mint began on March 8, 1838, with the deposit of the first Mexican gold bullion. The first coins, 30 dimes, were struck on May 7. It produced many different denominations of coins in its first tour of duty, all of which were either silver or gold: silver three-cent pieces, half dimes, dimes, quarters, half dollars, silver dollars, gold dollars, $2.50 quarter eagles, three-dollar pieces, $5 half-eagles, $10 eagles, and $20 double eagles.
Many interesting characters served at the Mint during the early years of operation. One was John Leonard Riddell, who served as melter and refiner at the Mint from 1839 to 1848, and, outside of his job, pursued interests in botany, medicine, chemistry, geology, and physics. He invented the binocular microscope. He also wrote on numismatics, publishing in 1845 a book entitled Monograph of the Silver Dollar, Good and Bad, Illustrated With Facsimile Figures
, and two years later an article by him appeared in DeBow's Review
called "The Mint At New Orleans—Processes Pursued of Working the Precious Metals—Statistics of Coinage, etc." Riddell was not held in high esteem by everyone, however: his conflicts with other Mint employees were well-documented, and at one point he was accused of being unable to properly conduct a gold melt.
Throughout the 19th century the New Orleans Mint was frequently featured in magazines, newspapers and other print publications. Articles discussing and images picturing the Mint, in addition to the one by Riddell noted above, were featured in Ballou's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion
, published in Boston, and the widely-circulated Harper's Weekly
The New Orleans Mint operated continuously from 1838 until January 26, 1861, when Louisiana seceded from the United States. On January 29, the Secession Convention reconvened at New Orleans (it had earlier met in Baton Rouge) and passed an ordinance that allowed Federal employees to remain in their posts, but as employees of the state of Louisiana. On February 5, 1861 during the proceedings of the Convention of the State of Louisiana in New Orleans, the committee appointed by the Convention to take an inventory on February 1, 1861 of public property in the hands of the officers of the late Federal Government reported the Sub-Treasurer's vault at the mint contained $483,983 in gold and silver coins. The National Archives records in Rockville, Maryland indicate the $483,983 consisted of $308,771 in gold coins and $175,212.08 in silver coins. The only gold coin produced in January, 1861 was the $20 gold double-eagle. This means 15,438 $20 gold coins were minted by the New Orleans Mint during January, 1861. Mint coinage records for the $20 1861-O gold double-eagle indicate only 5,000 $20 gold pieces were minted by the Federal Government in January, 1861. This discrepancy is explained in a Numismatist Journal article. In March, Louisiana accepted the Confederate States Constitution, and the Confederate government retained all the mint officers. They used it briefly as their own coinage facility. The Confederates struck 962,633 of the 2,532,633 New Orleans half dollars dated 1861. Research suggests that 1861-O half dollars bearing a bisected date die crack ("WB-103") and 1861-O half dollars with a "speared olive bud" anomaly ("WB-104") on the reverse had been minted under authority of the Confederacy. The Confederates designed alternate reverse dies which they used to strike their own half dollars in New Orleans (see image). The exact number of half dollars struck by the Confederates with the alternate reverse is unknown; only four of the Confederate coins are known to exist today. One of them, which was recently sold at auction for a large sum, was once owned by Jefferson Davis, the only President of the Confederacy. They continued this process from April 1 until the bullion ran out later that month. The staff remained on duty until May 31. After that, the mint was used for quartering Confederate troops until it was recaptured along with the rest of the city the following year largely by Union naval forces under the command of admiral David G. Farragut.
For many Southern sympathizers, the Mint soon became a symbol of their hatred for the Union occupation. After U.S. Marines under Farragut had raised the U.S. flag on the roof of the Mint in April 1862, a professional steamboat gambler named William B. Mumford ascended the roof and tore the flag down. He ripped the banner into shreds, and defiantly stuffed pieces of it into his shirt to wear as souvenirs. Union General Benjamin Franklin Butler, the military governor of New Orleans (who was soon to be derisively nicknamed "Spoons" for allegedly pocketing the silverware of New Orleans citizens arrested for treason against the United States), ordered Mumford executed in retaliation. And so, Mumford was hanged from a flagstaff projecting horizontally from the building on June 7, 1862. Mumford's hanging made national headlines. Jefferson Davis demanded that Butler immediately be executed if captured. The event stuck in the minds of many New Orleanians: eleven years later, in 1873, a visitor to the city named Edward King mentioned it in his description of the structure.
The mint reopened as an assay office in 1876. Its machinery was evidently damaged during the war, but because of its importance, unlike the mints at Charlotte and Dahlonega, in 1877 U.S. Mint agent James R. Snowden asked the superintendent of the office, Dr. M. F. Bonzano, to report on the condition of the facility for minting. Upon receipt of Bonzano's report, new minting equipment was shipped to New Orleans. The building was refurbished and put back into active minting service in 1879, producing mainly silver coinage, including the famed Morgan silver dollar from 1879 to 1904.
The refurbishment and recommissioning of the New Orleans Mint was due partly to the fact that in 1878 the Federal government in Washington, D.C. had passed the Bland-Allison Act, which mandated the purchase and coining of a large quantity of silver yearly. The Treasury Department needed additional facilities to do so. It reopened the New Orleans facility primarily to coin large quantities of silver dollars, most of which were simply stored in the building instead of circulated. President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed former Mississippi Senator and governor Henry S. Foote the new superintendent of the mint.
During this second period of operation, the Mint also struck dimes, quarters, half dollars, $5 half eagles, $10 eagles and, in 1879 only, 2,325 double eagles. It should also be noted that the New Orleans Mint was used by the Federal authorities in 1907 to coin over five and a half million silver twenty-centavo pieces for the Mexican government as part of the American government's program of producing foreign coinage. The New Orleans Mint, whose coins can be identified by the "O" mint mark found on the reverse of its coinage, earned a reputation for producing coins of a mediocre quality; their luster is usually not as brilliant as those of other mints, and center areas tend to be flattened and not sharply struck. Thus, well-struck New Orleanian coinage is prized in the numismatic world today.
Men made up the majority of the workers at the mint. They worked such jobs as coiners, melters, pressers, cutters, and rollers. The mint was overseen by a superintendent, who was always male. He was a political appointee whose term usually did not last much longer than the party which held the presidency remained in power.
But it was also during the mint's second tour of duty that women began to find work at the New Orleans Mint. Several women workers were sent from the Philadelphia Mint to teach those in New Orleans how to adjust money. About this time, the mint employed forty-four women. Thirty-nine worked as adjusters – employees who weighed the unstamped coin planchets to make sure they were the proper weight before coining. These women would sit at long narrow tables, filing the planchets down to the proper weight, wearing special aprons with pouches attached to the sleeves and the waist to catch the excess dust. Five women served as counters and packers before the coins were shipped to Washington, D.C. Some women were eventually employed at the coining presses.
The women worked from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily – not long hours – but the working conditions were probably unbearable by modern standards. New Orleans has a warm, wet climate. The process of adjusting, however, required the utmost attention to the scales' balance, and the slightest draft could upset it. The draft could also carry off the silver dust from the coin planchets the women would file. For these reasons the windows and doors were almost always kept shut, resulting in a very hot working environment. Workers relied on water coolers to provide relief from the heat and avoid dehydration. The women mint employees were judged to enjoy better working conditions than many other American women workers in the late nineteenth century.
By the early twentieth century, the U.S. Treasury had mints operating in New Orleans, Denver, San Francisco, and the main center in Philadelphia, which more than met the demand for minted money. In 1904, the government ceased the minting of the silver dollar, which accounted for the bulk of the coinage the New Orleans branch had been producing since 1879. Despite the facility's years of faithful service, in 1909 Treasury officials halted minting activity in New Orleans by simply refusing to appropriate funds for its operation. In 1911, the New Orleans Mint was formally decommissioned and the machinery was transferred to the main U. S. Mint facility in Philadelphia, a sad event that stuck in the minds of Louisianans. Twenty years later, in 1930, Governor Huey Long would rail against this loss when he ran for the office of U.S. Senator against incumbent Joseph E. Ransdell. In a circular distributed by his campaign to the citizens of New Orleans, Long listed the loss of the Mint as the very first of many complaints against Ransdell's lengthy service record in the Senate. Long went on to win the election, although he did not take office until his term as governor expired in 1932. At some point, however, the original New Orleans machinery was lost, and, at present, has not been located.
After the mint closed, it performed a variety of functions for the Federal government. It was first downgraded to an assay office for the U.S. Treasury as it had been from 1876–79. Then, in 1932, the assay office closed and the building was converted into a Federal prison, in which capacity it served until 1943. The Coast Guard then took over the building as a nominal storage facility, though in truth the structure was largely abandoned and left to decay until it was transferred to the state of Louisiana in 1965. During the Cold War, when many believed there to be a high risk of nuclear war, the old Mint was considered to be the best fallout shelter in the city. The state agreed to save the structure from demolition on condition that it be renovated and converted to some other purpose within fifteen years.
Between 1978 and 1980, the state did just that. The Mint building has functioned since 1981 as a museum of the minting activity. Additional exhibitions housed in the Mint have been devoted to New Orleans Mardi Gras (since moved to the Presbytere building on Jackson Square), jazz music (a large exhibition and additional research materials previously in the New Orleans Jazz Museum was donated to the Museum by the New Orleans Jazz Club), and Newcomb Pottery, all of which have contributed to New Orleans' international fame. On the third floor, the Mint also houses an archive of maps and documents, including French and Spanish colonial records. Along with the Cabildo, the Presbytere, The 1850 House, and Madame John's Legacy, it is one of five branches of the Louisiana State Museum in the French Quarter. The Mint is located at 400 Esplanade Ave., close to the Mississippi River.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, like all Louisiana State Museum properties, the Mint was open Tuesday through Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except for state holidays. The building suffered significant roof damage from the hurricane. Water entered the building and came into contact with approximately 3% of the New Orleans Jazz collection, portions of which have been removed and are under restoration and care at Louisiana State University, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the Louisiana State Archives. Weatherproofing the building was complete as of August 2006 and contractors continued working on mold remediation. The entire process of structural restoration has been estimated to take about one year (presumably from September 2005). However, the museum remained closed to the public until October 2007. The museum reopened on October 20 of 2007, with a traveling exhibit of gold coins and artifacts from the American Museum of Natural History . The exhibition of mint machinery on the ground floor has reopened as well. The jazz exhibit remains closed. Music at the mint http://pdqmobileapps.com/
For year-by-year mintage statistics for the New Orleans Mint, see the List of coinage produced by the New Orleans Mint.
Media related to New Orleans Mint at Wikimedia Commons
The Eisenhower dollar is a one-dollar coin issued by the United States Mint from 1971 to 1978. Struck for circulation in copper-nickel clad, and for collectors in 40% silver, it was the first dollar coin issued by the Mint since the Peace dollar series ended in 1935. The piece depicts General of the Army and President Dwight D. "Ike" Eisenhower, who appears on the obverse. Both the obverse and the reverse of the coin were designed by Frank Gasparro.
Beginning in 1969, legislators sought to re-introduce a dollar coin into commerce; due to high silver prices, coins of that metal were replaced with copper-nickel clad pieces beginning in 1965, but no dollar coins were initially struck in the new composition. After Eisenhower died in March of that year, there were a number of proposals to honor Eisenhower with the new coin. While these bills generally commanded wide support, enactment was delayed by a dispute over whether the new coin should be in base metal or 40% silver. In 1970, a compromise was reached to strike the Eisenhower dollar in base metal for circulation, and in 40% silver as a collectible. President Richard Nixon signed legislation authorizing the new coin on December 31, 1970.
Although the collector's pieces sold well, the new dollars failed to circulate to any degree, except in and around Nevada casinos, where they took the place of privately issued tokens. There are no dollars dated 1975; coins from that year and from 1976 bear a double date 1776-1976, and a special reverse by Dennis R. Williams in honor of the bicentennial of American independence. Beginning in 1977, the Mint sought to replace the Eisenhower dollar with a smaller-sized piece. Congress authorized the Susan B. Anthony dollar, struck beginning in 1979, but that piece also failed to circulate. Due to their modest cost and the short length of the series, sets of Eisenhower dollars are becoming more popular among collectors.
The silver dollar had never been a popular coin, circulating little except in the West; it served as a means of monetizing metal and generally sat in bank vaults once struck. The Peace dollar, the last circulating dollar made of silver, was not struck after 1935, and in most years in the quarter century after that, the bullion value of a silver dollar did not exceed 70 cents. In the early 1960s, though, silver prices rose, and the huge stocks of silver dollars in the hands of banks and the government were obtained by the public through the redemption of silver certificates. This caused shortages of silver dollars in the western states where the pieces circulated, and interests there sought the issuance of more dollars.
On August 3, 1964, Congress passed legislation providing for the striking of 45,000,000 silver dollars. This legislation was enacted as coins vanished from circulation as the price of silver rose past the $1.29 per ounce at which silver coins were worth more as bullion than as currency. The new pieces were intended to be used at Nevada casinos and elsewhere in the West where "hard money" was popular. Numismatic periodicals complained that striking the dollars was a waste of resources. The law had been passed at the urging of the Senate Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield (Democrat–Montana), who represented a state that heavily used silver dollars. Despite the efforts of Mint Director Eva Adams and her staff to persuade him, Senator Mansfield refused to consider any cancellation or delay and on May 12, 1965, the Denver Mint began striking 1964-D Peace dollars—the Mint had obtained congressional authorization to continue striking 1964-dated coins into 1965.
A public announcement of the new pieces was made on May 15, 1965, to be met with a storm of objections. Both the public and many congressmen saw the issue as a poor use of Mint resources at a time of severe coin shortages, which would only benefit coin dealers. On May 24, one day before a hastily called congressional hearing, Adams announced that the pieces were deemed trial strikes, never intended for circulation. The Mint later stated that 316,076 pieces had been struck; all were reported melted amid heavy security. To ensure that there would be no repetition, Congress inserted a provision in the Coinage Act of 1965 forbidding the coinage of silver dollars for five years. That act also removed silver from the dime and quarter, and reduced the silver content of the half dollar to 40%.
In 1969, Nixon administration Mint Director Mary Brooks sought the reissuance of the dollar coin. By this time, rising bullion prices threatened the continued use of silver in the Kennedy half dollar, but Brooks hoped to maintain the dollar as a silver coin. Brooks' proposal for a new silver dollar was opposed by the chairman of the House Banking Committee, Wright Patman, who had been convinced by Nixon's predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, to support the continued use of silver in the half dollar against his better judgment.
On March 28, 1969, former president Dwight D. Eisenhower (nicknamed "Ike"), a former World War II general, died. Soon after his death, New Jersey Representative Florence Dwyer, like Eisenhower a Republican, suggested that the proposed dollar coin bear his likeness. She spoke to Democratic Missouri Representative Leonor Sullivan, who agreed that the dollar should bear a portrait of Eisenhower as "equal time" to the half dollar, which bore the likeness of Democratic president Kennedy. A bill was filed by Connecticut Congressman Robert N. Giaimo to authorize an Eisenhower dollar, to be struck without silver content. The Joint Commission on the Coinage, drawing members from the administration and from Congress, including Giaimo, recommended the dollar in spring 1969. It also called for the elimination of silver from the half dollar, and for the transfer from the Treasury to the General Services Administration (GSA) of quantities of rare silver dollars, so they could be sold. Giaimo noted that the coin would be useful in casinos, which were striking their own tokens in the absence of circulating dollar coins, and in the vending industry, which was starting to sell higher-priced items.
On October 3, 1969, the House Banking Committee passed legislation for a silverless Eisenhower dollar, with Patman stating that he hoped to have it approved by the full House in time for the late president's birthday on October 14. On October 6, the bill's sponsors lost a procedural vote which would have allowed for no amendments. While some representatives spoke against the manner in which the legislation was to be considered, Iowa Congressman H. R. Gross objected to the base-metal composition of the proposed coin: "You would be doing the memory of President Eisenhower no favor to mint a dollar made perhaps of scrap metal." Both houses voted on October 14, Eisenhower's birthday. Although the House passed the administration-backed bill for a base metal dollar, the Senate passed the bill as amended by Colorado Senator Peter Dominick, calling for the piece to be minted in 40% silver. Instrumental in the passage of the Senate amendment was a letter from Mamie Eisenhower, recalling that her husband had liked to give silver dollars as mementoes, and had gone to some effort to obtain coins struck in the year of his birth, 1890. Stated Idaho Senator James McClure, "It is somehow beneath the dignity of a great president like General Eisenhower to withhold silver from the coin." On October 29, 1969, Texas Representative Robert R. Casey introduced legislation to honor both Eisenhower and the recent Apollo XI Moon landing. These provisions would become part of the enacted bill authorizing the Eisenhower dollar. Casey originally wanted the mission theme of Apollo XI, "We came in peace for all mankind" to appear on the coin; when the Mint informed him there was not room for that inscription, he settled for requiring that the reverse design be emblematic of that theme.
In March 1970, the two houses reached a compromise whereby 150 million dollars would be struck in the 40% silver alloy for collectors and others. The circulating dollar, though, would have no silver and would be struck in larger quantities. The 47.4 million troy ounces of silver needed to strike the collectors' pieces would come from bullion already held by the government. The compromise was worked out by McClure and other congressional Republicans, with the aid of Brooks, an Idahoan. McClure described the deal as "a lot less than the country deserves, but a lot more than it appeared we would get". The reason for having a collector's edition with silver was to avoid the hoarding which had driven the Kennedy half dollar from circulation.
Although the compromise passed the Senate in March 1970, it was blocked in the House by Representative Patman, who was determined to end silver in the coinage. The Senate passed the bill again in September, this time attaching it as a rider to a bank holding company bill sought by Patman. The bill, which also included provisions to eliminate silver from the half dollar and to transfer the rare silver dollars to the GSA, was approved by a conference committee and passed both houses. Nixon had intended to let the bill pass into law without his signature. When aides realized that as Congress had adjourned, not signing the bill would pocket veto it, Nixon hastily signed it just before midnight on December 31, 1970, only minutes before the deadline.
For Mint Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro, the opportunity to put Eisenhower on a coin was the fulfillment of a longtime dream. On June 19, 1945, Gasparro was one of more than 4,000,000 people who gathered in New York to watch a parade in honor of the Allied victory in Europe. Although Gasparro, then an assistant engraver at the Mint, only saw a glimpse of General Eisenhower (as he was then), he stepped back from the crowd and sketched the general's features. That sketch served as the basis of his design for the obverse. Gasparro consulted with the late president's widow, Mamie Eisenhower, as to the designs of both sides of the coin; the former First Lady was presented with a galvano (a metallic model used in the coin design process) by Brooks and Gasparro on January 1, 1971. Gasparro wrote in 1991 that he had six weeks to complete the work beginning in mid-November 1970, that his extensive research into eagles over the years was a great help in creating the reverse, and that his sketches were adopted without change. The chief engraver was not given full freedom of design; he was instructed to have the layout of the obverse be similar to that of the Washington quarter.
Before the legislation passed, Gasparro had prepared two reverses, the one actually used, and a reverse with a more formal heraldic eagle, which numismatic historian and coin dealer Q. David Bowers finds reminiscent of pattern coins prepared in the 1870s. At Congress's insistence, he created a design in commemoration of the Apollo XI lunar landing, based on the mission patch created by astronaut Michael Collins and others. Bowers deems the choice of the lunar landing "a stroke of genius", allowing the dollar, which would be little-used in commerce, to be a commemorative both of Eisenhower and of the Moon mission. The reverse depicts an eagle (representing the lunar lander, Eagle) swooping low over the Moon's surface, holding an olive branch, token of peace, in its claws.
Collins' mission patch had initially been opposed by some government officials because of the fierce expression of the eagle; Gasparro's initial design met similar objections. The Mint Director recalled that Gasparro had gone to the Philadelphia Zoo to look at eagles, and on his return had prepared a design which she felt emphasized the eagle's predatory nature. Brooks informed Gasparro that the eagle was "too fierce, too warlike, a little too aggressive" and asked that the expression be made friendlier. Gasparro, who reportedly was unhappy at having to change the eagle, described the final version as "pleasant looking". The State Department also feared that the eagle's expression might offend, and sought a neutral visage. The distant Earth may be seen above the bird, and there are 13 stars in honor of the original states.
Bowers deems the bust of Eisenhower "well modeled" by Gasparro, and notes that the fact that the eagle on the reverse holds only an olive branch, rather than arrows as well (token of war), "meant that the public would like the design". Nevertheless, he notes that Eisenhower's stern expression was widely criticized as not typical of a man noted for his geniality. Numismatic author David Lange opines that "the Eisenhower dollar is one of the poorest products to emanate from the U.S. Mint". Lange writes that Gasparro had designed only one side of the coin for the Kennedy half dollar and Lincoln Memorial reverse for the cent, "the Eisenhower dollar was his design alone and should have served as a showcase for his talent. Sadly, it is a mediocre design that reveals his typically unnatural treatment of Ike's hair and the eagle's feathers." Some collectors complained after the release that the Earth was not fully shown, not realizing that Gasparro had carefully followed the mission badge. The chief engraver responded by clarifying the design.
Two prototype dollars were struck at the Philadelphia Mint on January 25, 1971; they were subsequently destroyed. Striking such large pieces of tough copper-nickel proved destructive to the Mint's dies, and Gasparro repeatedly used the Janvier reducing lathe to lower the relief to be used on the circulation strikes and the uncirculated silver clad coins. The chief engraver altered the resulting master die directly to restore at least some of the detail which was lost as the relief was lowered. The proof coins struck at San Francisco, nevertheless, remained in high relief. This meant that in 1971 and for much of 1972 (until better-quality steel was used in the dies), the uncirculated strikes had a lower relief, less detailed surface, compared with the proof coins. Proof coins are struck slowly, and generally multiple times, to bring out the full detail. Striking of Eisenhower dollars for circulation began at Denver on February 3, apparently without any ceremony; minting at Philadelphia also began early in the year, although Bowers, in his comprehensive encyclopedia of silver and clad dollar coins, does not record a specific date. The first Eisenhower dollars in 40% silver, with an uncirculated finish, were struck at the San Francisco Assay Office (today the San Francisco Mint) on March 31, 1971; Brooks ceremoniously operated the presses. The first coin struck was for presentation to Mamie Eisenhower; the second to David Eisenhower (grandson of Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower) and the third to David Eisenhower's father-in-law, President Nixon.
On January 29, 1971, the Mint announced the prices for the 40% silver pieces which would be struck at San Francisco: $3 for uncirculated specimens and $10 for mirror-surfaced proof pieces, with orders to be taken by mail beginning on July 1, with a limit of five of each per customer. Order forms for the public were shipped to 44,000 post offices and 33,000 banks, with instructions not to hand them out until June 18. The Mint returned some orders for being sent in too early. Mint sets of the circulating coinage for 1971 did not include the Eisenhower dollar.
The first proof strikes, at San Francisco, took place in July. The proof pieces were sold in a plastic holder inside a brown box with a gold eagle seal; the uncirculated silver pieces were encased in pliofilm inside a blue envelope. These were dubbed "brown Ikes" and "blue Ikes" and are still known by those terms. On July 27, 1971, President Nixon presented the first piece to be struck to Mamie Eisenhower at a White House ceremony. Sales of the 40% silver pieces were ended on October 8; the first proof coins were mailed to collectors on October 14, Eisenhower's birthday.
The circulation version of the Eisenhower dollar, the largest clad coin ever attempted by the Mint, was released through banks on November 1, 1971. Many were obtained by collectors; there was enough public demand that many banks imposed a limit of one coin per customer. The clad pieces were struck from coinage strip purchased by the Mint from contractors. Many were not well-struck, causing collectors to search through rolls in search of better specimens. An oil film was found on a large number of specimens; this was removed by collectors.
From the start, the coin failed to circulate. In 1976, a Treasury study done in conjunction with a private-sector firm found that the Eisenhower dollar had a near-100 percent attrition rate, that is, almost always, a coin was used in only one transaction, and then stopped circulating. (by comparison, the attrition rate of the quarter was close to zero) This was because of the coin's large size, its weight, and the lack of potential uses for it. Even so, it was successful in replacing private-issue tokens in Nevada casinos. According to numismatist Randy Camper, about 70% of them were used in casinos. Lange recalled, "The fact is that these coins never circulated outside of casinos and nearby areas, and I don't recall ever seeing a vending machine that accepted them." Although the vending machine industry lobbied for the Eisenhower dollar, they converted few machines to take the pieces.
The Mint struck over 125 million of the Eisenhower dollars in 1971, more than doubling its largest annual production for a dollar coin. Despite an increased mintage in 1972 to over 170 million, and despite what CoinAge magazine termed "near-heroic measures on the part of the Mint", the piece did not circulate. In a 1974 article for CoinAge, numismatist Clement F. Bailey noted, "the circulation value of the coin has been nil". Many Eisenhower dollars were put aside as souvenirs by non-collectors. Nevertheless, the silver coins sold so well that in October 1971, Mint Director Brooks warned that orders for 1971-S proof dollars would not all be filled until well into 1972. She ascribed the delay to the large public demand and to production difficulties which she indicated had been corrected. More than 11,000,000 of the 1971-S silver pieces were sold, in proof and uncirculated, with nearly seven million in proof. In May 1972, Treasury Secretary John Connally, testifying before a Senate committee, described the profits the Mint had made on the silver version of the Eisenhower dollar as "just unconscionable", with the average profit on a silver coin at $3.89, and expected to increase as production became more efficient. Mint officials felt that reducing the price would anger those who had already purchased the pieces.
The 1972 silver pieces were again struck at San Francisco. Sales dropped considerably, to just under 2.2 million specimens in uncirculated and 1.8 million in proof. The part-silver 1972-S Eisenhower dollars were available for sale by mail order, with the ordering period from May 1 to July 15 for the proof coins and August 1 to October 16 for the uncirculated version.
With ample supplies of Eisenhower dollars, the Federal Reserve had no need to order any in 1973, and none were struck for circulation. The 1973 and 1973-D were the first Eisenhower dollars struck for inclusion in mint sets, and were, in theory, only available that way. Many 1973 and 1973-D are known in circulated condition, leading to speculation that the 230,798 pieces which were reported melted after the Mint failed to sell as many mint sets as anticipated, were in fact released into circulation. John Wexler, Bill Crawford, and Kevin Flynn, in their volume on Eisenhower dollars, deny this, citing a 1974 letter from Assistant Director of the Mint for Public Services Roy C. Cahoon, which stated that all Eisenhower dollars from unsold mint sets were melted. The 1973-S was struck for inclusion in base-metal proof sets, as well as for the regular "blue Ikes" and "brown Ikes". Sales of the part-silver pieces dipped to a total of just under 2.9 million. The coin was struck again for circulation in 1974, was included in mint sets and proof sets, and was available in proof and uncirculated silver clad from San Francisco. Congress ordered that some of the money from the sale of 1974-S silver pieces be used to support Eisenhower College in Seneca Falls, New York. Coin collectors felt that this set a bad precedent, but about $9 million was paid to the college, which, despite the infusion of cash, soon closed its doors.
The United States had issued commemorative coins between 1892 and 1954, as a means for fundraising for organizations deemed worthy of federal support. A sponsoring organization would be designated in the authorizing legislation, and was permitted to buy up the issue at face value, selling it to the public at a premium, and pocketing the difference. Various problems with the issues, including mishandling of distributions and complaints that public coins should not be used for private profit, resulted in firm Treasury Department opposition to such issues, and none were struck after 1954.
The American Revolutionary Bicentennial Commission (ARBC) was established by Congress in 1966 as an oversight body for the 1976 bicentennial of American independence (the "Bicentennial"). In 1970, its coins and medals advisory committee recommended the issuance of a special half dollar for the Bicentennial, and subsequently the committee sought the redesign of circulating American coins for the Bicentennial. Brooks and the Mint initially opposed legislation to effect these proposals, but eventually Brooks supported legislation to redesign the reverses of the quarter, half dollar, and dollar coins, and to issue special collector's sets in silver clad. Legislation to authorize this was signed by President Nixon on October 18, 1973. By the terms of this legislation, coins of these denomination minted for delivery after July 4, 1975 and before December 31, 1976 would bear special reverses, and also be dated 1776–1976. A total of 15,000,000 sets (45,000,000) coins in all) would be struck in silver clad for sale to the public at a premium.
The reverse designs for the three Bicentennial coins were determined by a design competition open to the public. This competition closed in January 1974, and in March, a design submitted by 22-year-old art student Dennis R. Williams was selected for the dollar. Williams, the youngest person to that point to design a U.S. coin, had submitted a design depicting the Liberty Bell superimposed against the Moon. Gasparro slightly modified the design, simplifying the features visible on the lunar surface, and altering the lettering and the bell. Williams and the designers of the other denominations operated the presses to strike the first coins on August 12, 1974; a set of these prototypes was later given to the new president, Gerald Ford. Williams' design was liked by the public but attracted criticism in the numismatic community as the Liberty Bell had been previously used on coinage (for example, on the Franklin half dollar. Fearing that a low-mintage 1975 piece would be hoarded, the Mint obtained legislation in December 1974 allowing it to continue coining 1974-dated pieces until it began coinage of Bicentennial pieces.
The Bicentennial dollars were the first of the three denominations to be struck for distribution to the public; these were coined beginning in February 1975. The silver pieces were struck at San Francisco beginning on April 23, 1975. The Mint found that the copper nickel dollar was striking indistinctly, a problem not seen with the silver pieces. Brooks called a halt in production to allow Gasparro to modify the dies; the most noticeable change is that the revised issue, or Type II as it came to be known, have narrower, sharper lettering on the reverse. All silver pieces (struck only at San Francisco) are Type I; all three mints struck both Type I and Type II copper nickel pieces. All dollars included in 1975 proof sets are Type I; all those included in 1976 proof sets are Type II. The first Bicentennial dollars were released into circulation on October 13, 1975. The Bicentennial design was not used after 1976; sets of silver clad Bicentennial coins were sold by the Mint until sales were finally closed at the end of 1986.
One proof Bicentennial coin in silver clad and lacking a mint mark, similar to the dollar in the prototype set given to President Ford, is known. This piece supposedly came from a cash register drawer at the Woodward & Lothrop department store in Washington, D.C. Thomas K. DeLorey, who was then a reporter for Coin World, spoke to the discoverer and was suspicious of the story, thinking it more likely the coin was surreptitiously obtained from the government. He declined to question the origin then, fearing it might be seized and lost to the numismatic community. The piece brought almost $30,000 by private sale in 1987.
By 1975, the Treasury was concerned about the drain on resources from striking the dollar, which did not circulate. It engaged a private firm to study the six current denominations of U.S. coinage, and make recommendations. The firm concluded in its report that the Eisenhower dollar was too large and heavy to circulate effectively, but if the diameter was reduced by about a third, and the weight by two-thirds, it might circulate. That report found that "the Eisenhower dollar has not been widely accepted by the public because of its large size and weight". In January 1977, just prior to leaving office, Ford's Treasury Secretary, William E. Simon, proposed the elimination of the cent and half dollar, and a reduction in size of the dollar. According to Bowers, the Treasury had come to believe that a coin as large as the Eisenhower dollar simply would not circulate in the United States.
The Mint struck pattern pieces of the smaller size, with various shapes and compositions. A 11-sided coin was considered, which would have differentiated it from the quarter, but the patterns would not work in vending machines. Such exotic metals as titanium were considered before the Mint decided on the standard clad composition. Gasparro prepared, for the circulating pieces, a design showing Liberty with flowing hair, similar to early American coins.
As the Eisenhower dollar awaited its demise, approximately 50,000,000 per year were struck, using the eagle design for the reverse. In both years, the majority coined were at Denver. No silver collector's edition was issued; the blue and brown Ikes ended with 1974.
The new Treasury Secretary, Michael Blumenthal supported Gasparro's design in testimony before Congress; Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire dubbed Blumenthal's position a "cop-out". Proxmire refused to introduce the bill, which would have left the choice of design up to Blumenthal or his successor, instead introducing his own legislation, the Susan B. Anthony Dollar Act of 1978. Many in the new Congress and in the Carter Administration were social progressives, and supported "women's lib". Early women's rights leader Susan B. Anthony emerged as the choice for the new dollar. Ohio Representative Mary Rose Oakar also introduced legislation for a Susan B. Anthony dollar in October 1978; it proceeded rapidly through Congress and was signed by Carter. Gasparro was given a photograph of Anthony and told to reproduce it exactly on the coin. Anthony's stern expression caused some to dub it the "Susan B. Agony" dollar. The Eisenhower dollar's reverse was used for the Anthony dollar. Convinced that the public would hoard the new pieces, the Mint Bureau produced half a billion before its official release to the public on July 2, 1979. It need not have worried, the public quickly rejected the new coin as too close in size and weight to the quarter dollar, and production for circulation ceased after 1980. Mint Director Stella Hackel Sims stated, "people are accustomed to the Eisenhower dollar, but in time, they'll become accustomed to the Susan". Attempts were made to give the new smaller dollars out as change in postal transactions, and to force their use by US military personnel in Europe; both failed.
Collected by date and mint mark, no Eisenhower dollar is rare, and a complete set may be acquired without difficulty. However, many were badly struck, without full detail, especially in 1971 and 1972, and the pieces acquired nicks, or "bag marks" from contact with each other soon after striking. Although lower-grade silver coins can be melted, this is not practical for Eisenhower dollars due to the lack of precious metal content, and dealers often try to get any premium they can on face value. A set of highest-grade specimens may be difficult and expensive, especially for the 1971 and 1972 from Philadelphia or Denver, which were not sold in mint sets, and thus only came to collectors through banks. A 1973-D piece, tied with ten other specimens for the finest known of that date and mint mark in near-pristine MS-67 condition sold in June 2013 for $12,925. According to numismatic writer Steve Reach, "as more people submit modern-era coins like Eisenhower dollars for third-party certification, the true rarity of many issues in top-grades is becoming clear."
Some of the 1971-D pieces exhibit a variety in which (among several differences) the eagle lacks brow lines, these have been dubbed by Eisenhower dollar specialists the "Friendly Eagle Pattern".The 1972 dollar struck at Philadelphia is broken down into three varieties, which were made as Gasparro adjusted the design to take advantage of better steel being used in the Mint's dies. A midyear change in the design was announced by Brooks at the American Numismatic Association's 1972 convention in New Orleans, although she did not state exactly what was being changed. The three varieties may be differentiated by examining the depiction of the Earth on the reverse. Type I dollars show the Earth somewhat flattened, Florida pointing to the southeast, with the islands mostly to the southeast of the tip of the peninsula. The Earth is round and Florida points to the south on the Type II, with a single, large island to the southeast. The Type III is similar to the Type II, except that there are two islands directly to the south of the peninsula. The Type II is from a single reverse die, used in March 1972, and erroneously placed in service at Philadelphia—it is identical to and should have been used for the silver proof strikes at San Francisco. The Type III was placed in service, replacing the Type I, in September 1972. The Type I is most common; the Type III design was used in 1973 and after. The 1972 Type II is expensive in top grade, as is the 1776-1976 Type I from Philadelphia, which was only available in mint sets.
Some 1971-S proof pieces (and a few uncirculated 1971-S) have the serifs at the foot of the "R" in "LIBERTY" missing; this is dubbed the "peg leg" variety. The serifs are missing on all 1972-S, both uncirculated and proof. After the Mint obtained better steel for dies, the serifs returned for all of the remaining non-Bicentennial coinage, from all mints, though the leg of the R was shortened, and also for the Type II Bicentennial (the Type I lacks serifs on the R). Gasparro was often trying to improve the detail of Eisenhower's head during the coin's tenure, and as the R is the letter closest to it, these changes were most likely made in an effort to improve the flow of metal as the coins were struck.
In 1974 and again in 1977, the Denver Mint struck a small number of pieces on silver-clad planchets, or blanks. Both times, these came from planchets which had been shipped from the San Francisco Assay Office to Denver. The first ones in 1974 were found by two different Las Vegas blackjack dealers. The 1974 planchets were initially intended to be used for "Brown Ike" proof strikings; Mint policy then was that rejected silver proof planchets were to be used for uncirculated "Blue Ikes", but these were placed in the bin for rejected copper-nickel proof planchets, intended to be shipped to be coined for circulation at Denver. The 1977 pieces resulted from pieces rejected for Bicentennial silver proof use, which were again placed in the wrong bin (they should have been melted, as the Mint was no longer striking silver Eisenhower dollars). Between 10 and 20 of each date are known. Wexler, Crawford, and Flynn report an even rarer 1776-1976-D dollar in silver, but state that none have been offered at auction or submitted to the major coin grading services.
Bowers notes that the Morgan dollar (struck between 1878 and 1921) was not widely collected at the time, only to become very popular later, and suggests that one day, the turn of the Eisenhower dollar will come. Numismatist Charles Morgan said of the Eisenhower dollar in 2012,
I stand in defense of Eisenhower Dollars because of their endless complexity. It stands today as the greatest achievement in clad coinage in U.S. history. It was the most technically challenging coin ever attempted ... leading to a number of modifications and revisions, some of which are only now being identified by experts – and it is a series like this that calls into question how much experts really know about modern coinage. Researching the Eisenhower Dollar is vital for numismatic historians who want to understand what the post-silver era was like. The Eisenhower Dollar was a noble failure. In this respect, it truly is a perfect collectible coin.