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Philadelphia’s US Mint Shows You The Money

On a recent road trip to Philadelphia with my family, I attended a behind-the-scenes sneak peek tour of the US Mint, the largest coin manufacturer in the world. The re-designed public tour, which is free, opens July 3, 2012. I was able to also go right down on the factory floor to get an up-close-and-personal look at every stage of the design and manufacturing process at this very historic and important part of our country’s economy. Security is tight, and the public tour does not allow photography, but luckily I had permission to take lots of pictures for you to see here!

911 Memorial Medallion and Dies from the US Mint in Philadelphia PA

Newly Stamped Blanks at US Mint in Philadelphia PA

Philadelphia US Mint Coins Stamped

This US Mint location makes coins, and is the headquarters of the Mint artists who design all of the other items the Mint offers such as commemorative coins, special collector’s edition coins, and medals.

Philadelphia US Mint 911 Commemorative Collectible Medallion with Dies

All of the artists are accomplished sculptors, with strong backgrounds in the fine arts. The technology used to design and refine the concepts for the coins is state-of-the-art, and much of the modeling is done on computer.

Philadelphia Mint Artist Designing New Commemorative Medal

Old-school techniques are still relevant though, as seen in these clay models used to make plaster molds for the high tech CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines that will carve out a master hub with the coin’s design. The plaster model is large, allowing for lots of detail to be worked on in super size form, and the CNC machine then shrinks the design down to the scale that the die will require.

Philadelphia Mint Clay Model for New Coin

Philadelphia Mint Plaster Model for New Coin

Precision and detail are paramount when the hub is being carved. The master hub is used to make the dies that stamp out each coin. Any flaw, no matter how small, is not acceptable, and each stage is carefully checked and re-checked to make sure everything is perfect.

Philadelphia Mint Laser Die Cutter

Philadelphia Mint Master Hub

It’s impressive to see how much of this process is still done by hand, by real humans, even though the high tech machines have a large part as well.

Philadelphia Mint Workers Polish Dies to Perfection

The U.S. Mint uses giant coils of strips of metal about 13 inches wide and 1,500 feet in length to manufacture the nickel, dime, quarter, half-dollar, and dollar. The coils weigh approximately 6,000 pounds each!

Metal Blank Coil for Coin Stamping at US Mint in Philadelphia PA

Philadelphia Mint Blank Metal Coils

Each coil is fed through a blanking press which punches out round discs called blanks.

Philadelphia Mint - Loading Coil on Blank Punch

Philadelphia Mint Blank Machine - Slowly Raising Coil to Load Metal Strip

Philadelphia Mint Metal Blank Coil Upright and Loaded in Blank Punch

The leftovers after the blanks are stamped are recycled, and turned into more giant coils of blank metal to make new coins in a continual cycle. (For pennies, the Mint buys blanks ready made from fabricators they supply with copper and zinc.)

Philadelphia Mint Leftover Scraps from Blank Stamping to be Melted Down and Recycled

After annealing (to soften the metal) and a nice bath to remove the heat scale and discoloration, perfect blanks go through a mill to add a rim to their outside edges. Imperfect ones are recycled, like the scrap from the blanking process.

Philadelphia Mint Huge Bins of Blanks for Quarters

Philadelphia Mint Dollar Coin Blanks

At the coining press coins are stamped with the dies that were created from the master hubs. After inspection, if they have no imperfections, the coins become legal United States tender.

Philadelphia Mint Stamping Machine Finished Coins

Finally, the coins are counted and bagged. Pennies aren’t even counted piece by piece, they are put in the large bags and weighed on a giant scale. After all the bagging, counting and weighing is done, the coins are loaded onto trucks and sent out to various Federal Reserve Banks, and eventually end up in your pocket.

Philadelphia Mint Giant Bag of Pennies Needs a Forklift!

Philadelphia Mint Scale Weighs Pennies

The process for special collector’s coins, such as the 3 inch silver bullion US quarter series, is basically the same. Each coin is carefully inspected for flaws, but since they are 3 inches in diameter, they don’t need that strong of a magnification lens!

Philadelphia Mint Commemorative Coin Section

Philadelphai Mint Giant Commemorative Silver Bullion Quarter has 5 oz. Fine Silver

This design is of Hawaii’s Volcano National Park, and is considered legal United States tender with a face value of 25 cents. Of course, it’s made of 5 ounces of fine silver, so the actual cost if you want to purchase one is currently about $205, so you probably won’t want to use it as change!

Philadelphia Mint National Park Hawaii Bullion Coin


Free in Philadelphia: Tour the US Mint

The new public tour would be a fun thing to do with kids in Philly, from preschoolers to teens. While you are not allowed on the factory floor, the gallery level looks down on it from 40 feet in the air, with big clear windows that have a view of everything. There are interactive touchscreens that give in-depth descriptions of what you are looking at, and there are also interesting historical artifacts and interactive exhibits that you can both look at and touch to explore further.

Some Coin Making Errors at US Mint in Philadelphia Public Tour

Philadelphia Mint Blank Coin Metal Strip in 3 Ton Coil!

On the Mezzanine level of the public tour there are interesting historical items and more interactive touchscreens. Check out the David Rittenhouse Theater for a short video about the history of the Mint and the establishment of the national coinage system in the fledgling United States of America.

Early Coin Making Equipment at the US Mint in Philadelphia Public Tour

Wooden Chests for Gold at US Mint Public Exhibit

The gift shop has a great selection of neat items that everyone, from serious collectors to kids with a modest allowance, would like. If you can’t get to the shop, or want to get some of those giant silver bullion quarters, you can buy them online directly from the mint.

US Mint in Philadelphia Quick Facts:

  • The Mint in Philadelphia is the largest mint in the world and makes 25-30 million coins per day.
  • The other three US Mints are in West Point NY, Denver CO and San Francisco CA.
  • The US Mint has its own police force, under the jurisdiction of the US Treasury Department.
  • All coin and medal designs are authorized by Congress, and must pass several committees before being approved.
  • Employees have access to in-house apprentice training in all areas of coin manufacture to gain more skills and career advancement.
  • The public tour and exhibit area has been totally redesigned and updated, a process that began over two years ago!
  • Public tours are self-guided, and admission is free. No photography is allowed, but you get a great view of the factory floor and interactive exhibits give lots of interesting background and information about coins and coining.
  • The website for the US Mint has interesting educational activities and teaching tools.

Go see it!

United States Mint
5th and Arch Streets
151 North Independence Mall East
Philadelphia, PA 19106-1886

Philadelphia Things To Do on raveable

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