Precious Metals

Did you ever almost wish something would go wrong?

Mint Director Donna Pope, Secretary James A. Baker III, and Treasurer Katherine D. Ortega show the American Eagle $50 coins they struck Sept. 8, 1986, at the first-strike ceremony at the West Point Bullion Depository.

Coin World photo by Beth Deisher; coin image courtesy of

Where were you Monday, Sept. 8, 1986?

Carrying my camera bag stuffed with my SLR film camera, lens, flash equipment, ID and a few personal items, I boarded the 7:10 a.m. flight that day from Columbus, Ohio, to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. By 8:30 a.m. I was hailing a cab to David Ganz’s Manhattan law office, where I met David and Harvey Stack. David drove us to West Point, N.Y., to attend the ceremonial first-strike of the United States’ first 1-ounce gold bullion coin, the $50 American Eagle. 

We arrived shortly before 11 a.m. at the West Point Bullion Depository on the grounds of the West Point Military Academy. 

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Since I had attended the Oct. 18, 1985, first-strike ceremony for the Statue of Liberty gold $5 commemorative coin at West Point, I knew I had to register and pick up my press credentials. The U.S. Mint staff greeted me and provided a press kit. Just as I was about to step away, one of the staff members beckoned me to the side. 

“I have something else for you.” She began attaching a dime-sized gold apple lapel pin on the left lapel of my suit jacket. “The apple,” she explained, “is to let the Secretary and the Secret Service know that you are the designated pool photographer.”

She said that one press had been moved to the room where the ceremonial striking would take place. Should it fail, the Associated Press reporter and I would be summoned to go with Secretary of Treasury James A. Baker the III to the main floor of the coining room to strike several gold bullion coins. I would be responsible for sharing my photos with all other media representatives and the AP reporter would write and share his story.

She looked me straight in the eye and added: “Do not tell anyone who gave you this or what it represents.”

I made my way to the roped-off designated press area and staked a claim on what I perceived to be the best camera angle and waited nearly an hour for the ceremony to begin. 

After about an hour’s worth of speeches by various dignitaries, Secretary Baker walked over to the HME press. A West Point staff member placed a gold planchet on the press and Baker pushed the button. It worked perfectly. Again. And again. A total of 28 ceremonial strikes were made by various invited guests without a hitch!

On the return flight home to Ohio that night, I kept thinking about what it would have been like had that press failed on the first strike!

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