On a bright and crisp Wednesday, before the start of the American Numismatic Association convention in Denver, Coin World senior staff writer Paul Gilkes and I were treated to an extensive floor tour of the Denver Mint. What struck me was that — beyond the challenges of producing millions of coins daily — each person we talked to seemed to share the common goal of continuous improvement and refinement in coinage production.
In talking with Randy Johnson — chief of the Denver Mint’s die manufacturing division — he shared how the Denver Mint is working to transform its die manufacturing process by utilizing new technology, including robotics, to increase efficiency. A result of this is that the manufacturing lead time to produce a die will move from 2.86 days to just 0.61 day. Another benefit is that refinement of the die manufacturing process leads to increased coin striking efficiency as metal fatigue is minimized and dies can last longer.
Safety is also a key factor in the Denver Mint’s quest for perfection, and banners on the Mint floor proclaim, “No Safety — Know Pain” and “Know Safety — No Pain” along with “Better two on the job than one in the hospital.” One can sometimes forget that it is real people who make the coins that we spend and collect and that delivering a perfect product — every day — is their job.
Some coins are tougher to make than others. For example, Randy said that the Acadia National Park quarter dollar for Maine posed a particular striking challenge and that as a result, its die has a substantially shorter die life than other America the Beautiful quarter dollars. For eagle-eyed collectors, this means perhaps that the Acadia quarter dollar may have greater potential to exhibit die varieties since a larger number of dies will be utilized to make the production.
Yet, the skills that the Denver Mint learned in striking the State quarters program since 1999 and the 2009 Washington, D.C., and U.S. Territories quarters has given its staff the ability to be increasingly flexible in tackling the unique challenges that each new design presents.
When asked what his biggest challenge was, Randy talked about running a manufacturing operation in a government environment and said that success takes patience and persistence. Each member of the Denver Mint’s staff that we talked to shared a common goal: efficient production that would lead to better coins. The pride that they took in their work was evident.