US Coins

Part 3 of Finkelstein's 'Workflow of the first United States Mint'

The following article is republished from the June 21 edition of the JR Newsletter, a weekly electronic publication of the John Reich Collectors Society:

The Workflow Of The First United States Mint – Part 3

In Part 1, I identified the 5 major workflow phases for converting bullion into money:

1. Bullion Deposit

2. Melting & Refining

3. Coining & Recycling of Clippings

4. Coin Delivery

5. Coin Return

Coining & Recycling of Clippings

Determining the steps of the Coining & Recycling of Clippings workflow phase was relatively complicated. It was based on sections from contemporary publications and Mint documents, 18th century Mint payroll ledgers, articles published in the John Reich Journal, John Reich Newsletter and Coinage of the Americas Conference, and the numismatic community’s knowledge that was attained from the examination of 18th century United States coins. Once the steps were put in order, the workflow phase seemed relatively simple and straightforward.

The 8 steps of the Coining & Recycling of Clippings workflow phase were as follows:

1. The melted and refined silver or gold ingots were rolled into sheets of the desired thickness(es) of the denomination(s) to be struck. We know that the Mint rolled copper, silver and gold ingots into sheets. Per page 25 of “Orders and directions for conducting the Mint of the United States, established by Elias Boudinot, director of said mint. November 2, 1795”:

It shall be the duty of the chief coiner to receive from the Treasurer on warrants to be issued for that purpose, all bullion refined fit for coinage, and cause the same to be rolled and coined into the coins of the United States…

Per [Henry Voigt’s] Personnel Record for April through September, 1793, that is stored at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), copper ingots were rolled into sheets. Also, on May 23, 1794, a payment warrant was issued by David Rittenhouse to John Harper for a pair of rollers.

Per my John Reich Newsletter article titled “David Ott’s Account of Gold – Part 2”, I was able to determine that melted and refined gold ingots weighed 34 +/- 5 Troy ounces. Although David Ott increased the average weight to 55 +/- 5 Troy ounces beginning September, 1795, the average weight of a gold ingot was reduced back to approximately 34 +/- 5 Troy ounces in June, 1796.

Bullion deposits were most likely melted and refined into ingots of similar lengths, widths and thicknesses. This way, the Melter & Refiner did not need to know which denominations were going to be struck. Only the Director of the Mint, Engraver, and Chief Coiner needed to know this. The Chief Coiner struck specific quantities, by denomination, as ordered on warrants issued by the Director of the Mint. The Engraver prepared the dies to support the denomination production requirements.

Silver and gold coins varied in thickness from slightly less than 1 mm to approximately 2 mm. The thinner the ingot, the less it had to be rolled to the desired thickness for the coins to be struck.

2. Planchets were punched out of the rolled sheets.

3. The planchets were weighed. An overweight planchet was adjusted with a metal file to reduce its weight to be within tolerance of the denomination to be struck. Underweight planchets were most likely not struck into coins. We know that planchets were manually adjusted based on the presence of adjustment marks that exist on coins that survive today. Per “Illustrated History of the United States Mint” by George G. Evans, 1893, and Mint payroll records stored at the NARA, we also know that the Mint employed adjusters.

According to George Evans, 6 adjusters were employed in October, 1795; John Cope (Chief Adjuster), Sarah Waldrake, Rachael Summers, Lewis Bitting, Lawrence Ford and Henry Voigt Jr. (son of Chief Coiner Henry Voigt). Their wages ranged from 50 cents to $1.20 for an entire 11 hour workday.

4. If required, the planchets were processed through the Castaing machine to impart the edge design. Refer to “Edges and Die Sequences on Early Half Dollars”, Ivan Leaman and Donald Gunnet, America’s Silver Coinage, 1794-1891, Coinage of the Americas Conference at the American Numismatic Society, New York, November 1-2, 1986. Also refer to Russell Logan’s December, 1990 John Reich Journal article titled “The Crushed Lettered Edge Bust Half Dollars of 1833-36."

5. The planchets were struck into coins.

6. The unused precious metals, consisting of punched out sheets, filings from the adjustment process, underweight planchets, damaged planchets, unused planchets, damaged coins, severely misstruck coins, unused sheets, and sheets that were rolled too thin, were sent back to the Melter & Refiner to be melted and poured into new ingots. These items were referred to as “clippings."

To date, I have not located a single warrant that was issued by the Director of the Mint that ordered the Chief Coiner to transfer custody of the clippings to the custody of the Melter & Refiner so the clippings could be melted and poured into ingots. In addition, no audit trail of this activity was logged in the Waste Book or Bullion Journal. It seems logical to conclude that the Melter & Refiner was considered a member of the Chief Coiner’s staff during this process step, therefore a Director’s warrant was not required.

7. The clippings were melted, poured into ingots, then provided to the Chief Coiner. We know that this process step occurred, based on entries in David Ott’s Account of Gold that is stored at the NARA. Refer to my John Reich Newsletter article titled “David Ott’s Account of Gold – Part 2”.

To date, I have not located a single warrant that was issued by the Director of the Mint that ordered the Melter & Refiner to transfer custody of ingots made from clippings to the custody of the Chief Coiner. In addition, no audit trail of this activity was logged in the Waste Book or Bullion Journal. It seems logical to conclude that the Melter & Refiner was considered a member of the Chief Coiner’s staff during this process step, therefore a Director’s warrant was not required.

8. Steps 1 through 7 above were repeated indefinitely.

To be continued…


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