The U.S. Mint is the world’s largest mint, producing billions of coins for circulation each year. Though it is far from the oldest government mint, the U.S. Mint is renowned as one of the best, issuing coins prized by collectors around the globe.
The U.S. Mint was founded after Congress passed The Coinage Act of 1792. Upon the passage of the act, Congress designated Philadelphia – then the capital of the United States – as the site of the first mint facility. Less than one year after its founding, the U.S. Mint began circulating the first coins ever minted in the U.S. – copper cents.
In the early 19th century, gold rushes excited the nation, prompting the government to establish a trio of new branch mints in North Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana to keep up with increasing demand. These mints were tasked with refining the gold and silver brought in from the mines, processing them into coins. (To this day, the U.S. Mint continues to use domestically-mined gold and silver when possible to mint coins.)
In response to the California Gold Rush, the U.S. Mint expanded once again, opening up the San Francisco Mint in 1854. The Civil War and secession of the southern states resulted in the permanent closure of the mint facilities in Dahlonega, GA, and Charlotte, NC, and the temporary closure of the New Orleans Mint.
The gold rush then made its way west, attracting speculators to the new city of Denver and with it, the Denver Mint in 1862. In 1938, the U.S. Mint opened the West Point Bullion Depository (limited initially to storage), which later gained official status as the West Point Mint in 1988. Carson City, Nevada, and Manila, Philippines, were home to U.S. Mint branches for less than 25 years, with the latter representing the only branch mint outside the continental United States.
The U.S. Mint makes many different products, from circulating pocket change to collectibles and bullion coins. Some of the most popular and well-known products from the U.S. Mint include:
The U.S. Mint also has a Commemorative Coin Program, which honors significant American citizens and institutions, events, or places. These coins have a face value of $5 and feature varying designs (two or more each year) depicting Mark Twain, the U.S. Army, Negro Leagues Baseball, Breast Cancer Awareness, and many more.
Today, the U.S. Mint operates under its parent agency, the Department of the Treasury. The U.S. Mint is responsible for producing all circulating coinage in the U.S., from common coinage like pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters, to the rarer and more valuable bullion, proof, and commemorative coin products. Though the amount of coinage the U.S. Mint makes each year can vary, it usually falls in the range of 15 billion coins. This figure accounts for all coin types and includes 37.5 million ounces of bullion.
You’ve probably heard of Fort Knox, either in reference to the actual site or the common idiom. Fort Knox, which is a government bullion depository, is home to the U.S. Treasury’s largest store of gold (nearly 150 million ounces). Fort Knox – like the other United States Mint facilities – is protected by an agency you probably didn’t know even existed: the U.S. Mint Police. In addition, the Fort Knox bullion depository is situated beside a U.S. Army base at Fort Knox. In other words, there’s a reason Fort Knox symbolizes the highest possible security.
American eagle coins are considered by many to be the best bullion coins in the world. The American eagles were first produced after the passage of The Gold Bullion Act of 1985. At that time, South African Krugerrands were in high demand worldwide but brought with them the controversy of supporting the nation’s racist, apartheid government. The world wanted gold coins, and they wanted ethically produced gold coins. So the U.S. Mint took up the challenge.
The American Eagle Coin Program pays homage to some of the United States’ earliest coins – known simply as eagles. Originally, American eagles were produced only in gold but soon began minting them in silver, too – opening American eagle ownership up to virtually every citizen. It was over 30 years (in 1997) before the Mint expanded the American eagles to include platinum and another 20 before palladium was added to the lineup in 2017.
American eagle purity levels vary by the precious metal. As a soft metal, gold eagles are 22-karat, or 91.67% gold, with a silver-copper alloy mixed in to improve durability. Silver American eagles, on the other hand, are 99.99% pure. U.S. Mint platinum and U.S. Mint palladium eagles share the same purity levels at 99.95%.
The front of the gold American eagles depicts Lady Liberty holding a torch and an olive branch, inspired by a legendary design from famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The reverse of the eagle designs varies based on the metal but always includes a bald eagle.
From 1986 through the first half of 2021, the gold and silver eagles had unchanging designs from Miley Busiek and John Mercanti, respectively. During the second half of 2022, however, the Mint rolled out new designs for both the silver and gold eagles – referred to as Type 2 eagles – which include completely redesigned reverses and updated, “remastered” obverses which brought modern technological tools to bring out even finer details from the original artists’ designs.
The redesigned Type 2 gold American eagle includes an obverse featuring an updated design of Saint-Gaudens’ Lady Liberty. On the reverse, a completely novel design from Jennie Norris – a member of the Mint’s Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) – offers a highly-detailed image of a bald eagle’s profile.
The most recent addition to the American Eagle Coin Program is the 1 oz palladium American eagle coin. On the obverse, another design by Adolph Weinman is pictured, this time of Winged Liberty. The Winged Liberty design shows the profile of Lady Liberty wearing a winged hat. The reverse of the palladium eagle also showcases the work of Adolph Weinman, using his design from a 1907 medal made for the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Gold Medal. This striking design portrays a standing eagle with wings raised, using its beak to pull a laurel branch from a rock.
American eagle purity levels vary by the precious metal. Because gold is a soft metal, gold eagles are 22-karat, or 91.67% gold, with a silver-copper alloy (altogether known as “crown gold”) mixed in to improve durability. Silver American eagles, on the other hand, are 0.999 pure. U.S. Mint platinum and U.S. Mint palladium eagles share 0.9995 purity.
The American Buffalo Coin Program started in 2006 to give investors access to a 24-karat, 99.99% purity gold bullion coin. It was probably intended as a competitor for the Canadian gold maple leaf coin, another Krugerrand competitor minted in pure gold. The design of the American buffalo coin comes from sculptor James Earle Fraser, who studied under Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
Fraser’s design for the buffalo nickel is widely recognized as one of the greatest works of numismatic art of all time but was only minted for 25 years between 1913 and 1938. The reverse of the American buffalo coins pictures the coin’s namesake – the American bison, again, from the original Fraser design.
Authorized under the America’s Beautiful National Parks Quarter Dollar Coin Act in 2008, the America the Beautiful Coin Program released its first five coins in 2010. The mint issued new ATB coins every year throughout the course of the planned 12-year rollout, which concluded in 2021. Since the conclusion of the program, production of the ATB coins has ceased and total mintages are known for each coin in the series.
ATB bullion coins are limited-production, giant 5 oz coins featuring designs highlighting U.S. national parks and historically significant sites. (Oddly, despite their hand-filling size, these hefty coins retain the face value of the circulation quarters – just ¢25.) The ATB program has a total of 56 different designs, with one for each of the U.S. states and territories.
The 5 oz ATB coins shouldn’t be confused with circulating ATB quarters, which bear the same name but have different designs. The silver bullion coins come in both uncirculated and bullion versions.
Among the 56 different designs, some popular examples of ATB coins include the Tuskegee Airmen, Gettysburg, San Antonio Missions, the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, and New Jersey’s Ellis Island.