West Point Mint marks its 75th anniversary

Celebrates decades of storing bullion, minting coins
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Published : 06/17/13
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The facility now called the West Point Mint opened June 13, 1938, as a silver bullion depository. During its 75 years of existence, its responsibilities have increased. It now holds 25 percent of the nation’s gold bullion reserves, and since 1975, it has struck coins.

The West Point facility has struck Lincoln cents and Washington quarter dollars for circulation; it has produced foreign coins; and it has struck commemorative coins, and numismatic and gold, silver and platinum bullion coins. In addition, it has struck gold medals. The West Point facility was elevated to full Mint status under legislation signed into law March 31, 1988, by President Ronald Reagan.

In recognition of the facility’s 75th anniversary, Coin World visited the West Point Mint in early June.

Currently, the West Point Mint employs 155 production workers and support staff, but that total does not include the number of officers that comprise the facility’s police force. The number of the security personnel is undisclosed for security reasons.

The facility is maintaining a three-shift schedule running seven days a week to handle the production of all of its bullion and numismatic products to meet demand, according to Ellen McCullom, the West Point Mint’s plant manager. The output of the American Eagle silver bullion coin dominates the current production schedule, she said.

As of June 7, the U.S. Mint had recorded sales to its authorized purchasers of 22,550,500 of the 2013 American Eagle 1-ounce silver bullion coins. Of the 2013 production, more than 80 percent is executed at the West Point Mint, with the remaining production at the San Francisco Mint.

The West Point Mint is also striking increased numbers of American Eagle tenth-ounce gold bullion coins. As of June 7, the U.S. Mint had recorded sales of 380,000 of the tenth-ounce gold American Eagles. The U.S. Mint sold 315,000 tenth-ounce gold bullion coins for all of calendar year 2012.

The U.S. Mint suspended sales of the tenth-ounce gold American Eagles on April 22, 2013, to allow for the West Point Mint’s inventory of blanks and struck coins to be replenished. McCullom said June 4 during Coin World’s visit to the West Point Mint that sales of the tenth-ounce gold bullion coins had resumed the previous week.

The American Eagle tenth-ounce gold bullion coin is the second most popular gold bullion coin among the four sizes, exceeded only by the 1-ounce size, according to U.S. Mint officials.

McCullom, who has been with the Treasury Department for 38 years, has been plant manager of the West Point Mint since Dec. 5, 1999.

Making history

The West Point Mint is set on four acres of land behind a golf course and ski slope near the United States Military Academy’s old North Gate.

The facility has always been a part of the West Point academy, and it played a pivotal role in World War II while a bullion depository. It loaned silver to the War Department, private industry and U.S. allies under the Lend-Lease Program.

Its role as a bullion storehouse was expanded in 1982, when more than 57 million fine troy ounces of gold bullion were transferred to the West Point facility for storage. Today, it stores, secures and protects one-quarter of U.S. gold reserves and all of the silver bullion owned by the United States.

From 1975 through 1986, the West Point plant struck Lincoln cents sans W Mint mark to augment circulation production at the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco Mints.

Bicentennial quarter dollars without Mint mark were produced in 1976.

The West Point facility first began striking gold pieces in 1980 with the American Arts Gold Medallion Program; it produced the half-ounce and 1-ounce gold medals from 1980 through 1984.

The first legal tender gold coin struck in the United States in more than 50 years, and the first coin of any kind struck at the West Point facility to bear the W mint mark, is the 1983-W $10 eagle marking the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

With the passage of the Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1985, the West Point plant was designated as the primary facility for the production of gold bullion coins issued beginning in 1986. The American Eagle silver coin was also added to the facility’s output in 1986 as an amendment to the 1985 legislation authorizing the Statue of Liberty commemorative coin program.

In 1997, the West Point Mint added bullion and Proof American Eagle platinum coins to its production.
The American Buffalo .9999 fine gold coins were added in 2006 and First Spouse half-ounce Proof and Uncirculated $10 coins in 2007.

Various special coins

The West Point Mint is also known for producing a number of special numismatic coins. In 1990, the West Point Mint struck the 1990-W Eisenhower Birth Centennial silver dollar, the first commemorative U.S. silver dollar to bear the W Mint mark.

In 1996, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Roosevelt dime, the 1996 Uncirculated Mint set included a 1996-W Roosevelt dime that was produced only for inclusion in the set.

In 2009, the West Point Mint struck the Saint-Gaudens, Roman Numerals, Ultra High Relief gold $20 double eagles, a variant of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ design. The coins were produced without the W Mint mark.

Expansion at the Mint

Originally built in 1937 as a single-story vault facility spanning 44,000 square feet, the West Point facility has undergone a number of renovations.

Between 1999 and 2002, renovations expanded the facility to 94,000 square feet. The expansion included a second floor addition. Addition of the second floor allows for the first floor to accommodate all production.
The facility was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, although the facility’s address is withheld by the National Park Service and no public tours are offered.

Coin World visit

During the morning of Coin World’s June 4 visit, the West Point Mint started striking the Reverse Proof 2013-W American Buffalo gold $50 coin. We also witnessed production of the Enhanced Uncirculated and Reverse Proof 2013-W American Eagle silver coins.

The standard American Eagle silver bullion coins are struck twice on Gräbener GMP 360 presses with dies oriented to strike with vertical motion at a tonnage of 210 tons per strike. Forty coins are produced per minute by means of an automated feed system. However, both the Enhanced Uncirculated and the Reverse Proof silver American Eagles were struck three times on the Gräbener presses at the rate of 20 coins per minute.

The facility had not yet begun striking the Proof 2013-W American Eagle 1-ounce platinum coin. Nor had it started striking the 2013 First Spouse half-ounce .9999 fine gold $10 coins.

Vault tour

The tour also included a look at the vault containing working stock of 400-ounce .9999 fine gold bars and 1,000-ounce .999 fine silver bars.

The total market value for the vault’s 4,273 gold bars, with gold at $1,402.50 per ounce June 2, was $2,394,330,938.58. A single gold bar was valued at $561,000.

With silver valued at $22.43 per ounce June 3, each 1,000-ounce silver bar was worth $22,430. Total weight of silver on hand was 1,353,000 ounces, having a total market value of $30,347,790. The metal is shipped to fabricators to produce blanks.

The working stock of gold on view contained bars from Metalor, Ohio Precious Metals, Johnson Matthey and the Royal Canadian Mint, although other suppliers provide gold for coinage, including Engelhard and Homestake Mining. ASARCO is one of the silver bar providers for working stock. The nation’s gold and silver reserves are stored elsewhere, in separate vaults from the Mint’s working supplies.

Minting processes

A number of minting processes were on exhibit during the visit:

➤ Verification and processing of precious metal blanks to ensure they meet contract specifications for dimensions, weight and fineness.

➤ Burnishing of blanks. Blanks intended for numismatic products are burnished by being tumbled with steel shot in a proprietary surfactant solution before being rinsed, and then they are further ultrasonically cleaned and dried. Blanks used for bullion coin production go directly to the coinage presses without being burnished.

➤ Die finishing processes for numismatic products that include automatic polishing and automatic lasering to achieve the desired finish on each die. Each die is given a chrome nitrite layer on its face using a physical vapor deposition (PVD) that will double the die life, according to Mint officials.

➤ Quality control. Struck coins are examined at several different stages to identify any defects or deficiencies.

➤ Bullion coin packaging operations. Can be either manual or automated. The automated robotic packaging can package up to 120 coins per minute in tubes. Production manager Jennifer Butkus said a sensitive scale weighs each packaged tube of 20 silver bullion coins before the tube in placed into what is called a “monster box” (each box contains 500 coins). That weight information is retained by the West Point Mint in case an authorized purchaser raises questions about any of the tubes being shorted, Butkus said.

➤ Automated coin encapsulating. Numismatic coins are encapsulated in a clear plastic capsule either automatically using robotic equipment or manually before transfer to the automated packaging process. The automated packaging equipment carefully places the encapsulated coin in a velvet presentation case along with the certificate of authenticity. The equipment can auto encapsulate and auto package at the rate of 15 coins per minute.

Tight security

Getting inside the West Point Mint is no easy task. The facility holds no public tours. Passage into the inner sanctum requires an invitation.

Although a small metal sign indicates the entrance to the parking lot for the West Point Mint, you have to know it’s there or you’ll drive right by. The facility is not visible from the main thoroughfare that passes nearby.

A roadway extends off the back of the parking lot, along which trucks bring in raw material and remove finished product through a gate that is part of a high fence topped with coils of barbed and razor wire.
A foot bridge for pedestrian traffic, including Mint employees and visitors, spans a small creek.

U.S. Mint police electronically open the door to a security building, where all foot traffic must enter through a full-body turnstyle.

Inside the security building, at the next stage of security, you must present personal identification, and any photographic equipment and other items being brought in must be scanned.

Once released from the security building, there’s another 150- to 200-foot walk across asphalt grounds to the entrance of the main building for further security clearance that is significantly tighter than going through airport security.

Any visions of picking up one of those 400-ounce gold bars or 1,000-ounce silver bars and traipsing out a back door are quickly erased after winding through the maze of hallways. It isn’t happening on West Point

Mint Police Chief Rich Sancho’s watch.

Before physically walking through ultra-sensitive security equipment, you have to remove from your person all coins and metallic objects — glasses, belts, wrist watches, even paper money. The equipment is so sensitive it detects even the security strip in U.S. currency denominated $5 through $100. You also need to disclose if you have any medical implants containing metal; you won’t be able to hide the fact during the screening.

Coins are forbidden to be carried anywhere beyond the security screening area.

Each visitor is issued a numbered card, and the screening information is stored for retrieval during the visitor’s exit screening.

You turn in the special numbered card upon your exit screening, which is conducted one person at a time.

The exit screening information must duplicate the entry screening data, or there’s a problem that the police force will have to deal with.

I was able to leave the West Point Mint without a hitch. ■

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