US Coins

From the mint, about the mint

In addition to being the grease of minor commerce, coins have always been teachers. From them we learn about people, animals, places, things and events. Some coins and coin-like pieces educate us about themselves, such as the coins, medals and tokens that are both “from” the mint and “about” the mint.

Many government mints sell souvenir medals to visitors, such as the pieces that have been available from France’s Monnaie de Paris since the 18th century. One undated example that was probably struck around the year 1900 shows the famously long façade of the Paris Mint built in 1770 on the left bank of the River Seine. The Latin phrase above it translates to “Authorized to strike and cast bronze, silver and gold coins.”

Mints love to put iconic coin designs on their self-commemorating medals, and a 1968 Royal Canadian Mint medal is a classic example. Six beloved dollar coin types — including the centennial goose in flight design — dominate one side, while the other depicts the Ottawa Mint building. This medal was issued to celebrate 60 years of domestically produced coins.

In a nation with a nationalized religion such as Israel, it is not unusual to see a quote on a medal derived from a holy book. A 1995 medal bears the name and logo of the Israel Coins & Medals Corp., the nation’s mint, and a quote from the book of Psalms: “As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people from now on even for ever.” Not surprisingly, the medal is round.

Some world aficionados enjoy collecting the mint tokens that are sometimes included with Mint and Proof sets. These tokens are typically uniface, come in different shapes and sizes, and may have very limited mintage. One elegantly simple example is an extract from India’s 1974 Proof set. The aluminum square has a rendition of the Indian Government Mint building in Mumbai (formerly Bombay).

Far from simple, the next example of a mint issue straddles three nations and as many collecting areas while proudly proclaiming the name of the entity that created it. This two-nation mule is listed as a Sierra Leone trial strike and as a Uruguay pattern, but it was not minted by either nation. The British Royal Mint made this unusual, undated steel item as a practice coin. The obverse is similar to a Sierra Leone 1964 20-cent coin but modified with the addition of a handlebar moustache on the profile. The reverse is identical to a Uruguay 1960 aluminum 5-centesimo pattern. The prominent obverse legend, ROYAL MINT TRIAL, gives this the feel of a mint souvenir or advertising token.

In 1993, Chile issued a silver 2,000-peso coin to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the founding of the Casa de Moneda de Chile. The obverse and reverse of the coin include the mint building and a fascinating glimpse into history, showing two mint workers striking coins by hand. The Chilean mint building has an amazing history. It became the presidential residence in 1845 and was bombed by the Chilean Air Force as part of a military coup d’état in 1973. After it was restored, an underground bunker was added to help future presidents feel more secure.

The Mexican Mint is the oldest in the Americas, established in 1535. In 1949, Mexico issued a 1-ounce .925 fine silver coin that is an example of medallic coinage, one of the world’s first silver bullion coins, and a mint commemorative. The Onza has balance scales on one side and, on the other, an early coin press used at the Mint. The legend reads CASA DE MONEDA DE MEXICO, or literally the “Mexican House of Coin.” The Onza bullion coin was issued for three years and was then replaced with a new bullion series — the Libertad.

The front façade of the Shanghai Mint building was made to look exactly like the second Philadelphia Mint as a show of thanks for a 1923 gift of American coin-making know-how. In 1933, the Shanghai Mint began producing circulation coins. To celebrate the 70th anniversary of that beginning, a 3-inch diameter bronze medal was struck that has two distinct parts. The bronze medal depicts “two sets engraving machine” (sic) and the original design for the famous Junk dollar or what the certificate of authenticity calls “Boat on the Sea.” The 30-millimeter reeded edge replica Junk dollar that fits snugly inside the bronze medal is made of silver-plated brass and is 8 millimeters smaller than the original. It is not often that a government mint creates a medallic replica of a past coin. ¦

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