A Brief History of U.S. Coin Production, Part 1

Hi there, and welcome back to the Gold Standard Auctions blog. Rare collectible coins are treasured and collected by millions of people throughout the world. While ancient coins, such as those dating to the Iron Age, are fascinating because of their materials, the engraver’s designs, and for the simple fact that they are centuries old and hold mysteries far older than the United States, coins produced in the U.S. are some of the most sought-after currency pieces. In modern society, coins are so common that most of us don’t stop to think about how coin currency came to be in the U.S., which is why we will explore a brief history of coin production in the U.S. in today’s blog post. Please read on to learn more.

Currency Before Coins

Early American currency went through a number of phases in its development in Colonial and Postcolonial America. Prior to the establishment of a legitimate monetary system, people living in the colonies relied on four basic types of money: British specie (coins), foreign coins (Spanish coins, for example), paper money, and commodity money. As powerful European countries like Great Britain, Spain, and France laid claim to territories across North America, they brought with them their currency, which is why these were some of the earliest forms of money. Commodity money was much more accessible to the common person living in the colonies, so items such as animal skins, tobacco, weapons, and other goods were used as payment for desired goods, food, and supplies. In Colonial America, paper bills referred to as “bills of credit” were issued and were used to settle debts, as well as for purchasing gold and silver pieces; however, bills of credit led to inflation and became an unfavorable and unsustainable method of payment during this time. The colonies were subject to whatever acts the British government imposed upon them, and because the Parliament didn’t always have the colonies’ interests in mind, currency issues remained prevalent up to (while contributing to) the Revolutionary War.

Coin Production in the U.S.

When the Framers of the Constitution—the 55 individuals who were appointed to be delegates—gathered for the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, they met to address the issues of a weak central government that existed in the first years of the New Republic. During this meeting, the Framers determined that in order for the newly independent nation to gain its footing after the costly Revolutionary War, the government needed to establish a respected monetary system. The U.S. Constitution emerged from this gathering and shortly after its ratification, Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, devised a three-part plan to expand the federal fiscal and monetary power, and he began preparing for a national mint. Hamilton also championed the establishment of a national bank in 1791, which he staunchly believed would stabilize the young nation’s credit while also improving the way the financial business of the U.S. government was handled. Construction of the First Bank building in Philadelphia was completed in 1797. In April 1792, Congress passed the nation’s first Coinage Act, which created the National Mint, regulated the coins and coin production in the U.S., and gave executive power to the president, who at this time was George Washington, to construct federal buildings in Philadelphia. The construction of the country’s first mint in Philadelphia, which was the nation’s capital at the time. The Mint became the first federal building constructed under the U.S. Constitution. The Act also authorized the Mint to create gold coins with specific embellishments called Eagles, Half Eagles, and Quarter Eagles. Additionally, the Mint began producing silver dollars, half dollars, quarter dollars, and half dimes. Copper coins came in the form of cents and half cents. By April 13, David Rittenhouse, inventor, astronomer, mathematician, and member of the Pennsylvania Assembly, had become the first Director of the Mint, appointed by President Washington himself. Some of the first coins minted were half dimes and the first coins to go into circulation were copper cents. By March 1793, the first coins to enter circulation were delivered to the First  Bank of the United States—all 11,178 copper coins to be exact.

The Gold Rush in the West

Once gold was discovered in Colorado along the Platte River in 1858, the wealth of bullion produced led to Colorado becoming a territory in 1861, and as gold continued being produced, the need for another mint became apparent. Independent coin manufacturing firms such as Clark, Gruber & Co., began producing coins out west between 1860 and 1862, making it clear that this needed to be undertaken by a federal entity. By April 1862, the Denver Mint was established by an act of Congress, which focused solely on the production of gold coins. A committee was formed in 1862 under the new Secretary of the Treasury who obtained a property for melting, refining, assaying, and stamping the bullion in 1863. Initially, this was all that could be done on the property purchased from Clark, Gruber & Co. up until 1869 when Congress, again, made changes to what could be conducted at the plant. By 1895, Congress passed an act which approved the establishment of the official Denver Mint for the coinage of both gold and silver. The Denver Mint is located just west of the State Capitol building.

This is just the beginning of coin production in the United States, yet the history of coins and currency would undergo many more changes throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century. Join us next time as we continue looking at the history of coin production in the U.S. If you’re interested in purchasing rare collectible coins, make sure to check out our selection of gold and silver coins available for purchase. Have rare collectible coins you’d like to sell? Learn more about what coins we buy by clicking here. At Gold Standard Auctions, we buy and sell a variety of U.S. coins, including collectible silver coins, valuable gold coins, and rare copper coins. Visit us today to add to your coin collection or sell a collection.

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