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user_30405's Blog

12 Nov 2021

To Mint or Not To Mint

Young Numismatists Exchange | user_30405

To Mint or Not To Mint

The Founding Fathers wanted to make a national coinage in an attempt to unify the squabbling country and to try to bring the array of coins and currency under manageable control. Congress had to choose between founding the United States Mint or employing a token maker to make America's legal tender coin. The colonials' coinage consisted of a wide array of foreign coins, colonial coins, and circulating tokens. Surprisingly most coins in the 13 colonies were not British. In general, the British traders and the East India Company wanted to trade for the abundant raw resources with their fine goods such as tea, porcelain, furniture, and silver. French, Spanish, and Irish coins came from across the ocean, with the Spanish "Piece of Eight" being most abundant. Many colonies issued their own coins under the charter of Britain, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, New York, and Virginia. Most notable of these were the Massachusetts Willow, Oak, and Pine Tree coinage. Some notable merchants also issued their own tokens and coinage, which were widely used as currency. These included Mott Tokens, Higley Coppers and Tokens, and the legendary Brasher Doubloons. In the midst of such a variety of coinage, Congress decided to unify the country and bring the currency crisis under control by creating a national currency. However, Congress was faced with the daunting task of choosing between these two very real propositions.

Domestically-produced coinage had many advantages, but required a significant investment. Founding a National Mint allowed the government to easily control, change, and regulate the minting process, weight, and design types. Shortly after producing their first coins, they had to make design changes. Specifically, this included three sequential changes on the 1793 large cent: from the chain reverse (which reminded people of slavery) to the Flowing Hair Wreath reverse (in which hair was thought to be too wild), and then to the Liberty Cap (which finally met public approval). Congress could also source their metals, specifically copper, from local mines, thus bolstering the mining industry. The downside was that Congress would have to spend a large amount of money, which was in short supply, to buy the buildings, machinery, and metal even before the first coin was minted. In order to make the coins, technicians and designers would have to be employed in order to strike numismatic masterpieces. With most of its difficulties based on money, this plan seemed attractive if Congress could manage the financing.

Outsourcing national coins seemed like a real prospect during the late 1780's and early 1790's. Near the end of the Revolutionary War and throughout the early days of the new nation, many different token makers sent quantities of pattern coinage to Congress. George Washington effectively vetoed this idea, because he disliked that many of the coinage portrayed him like a king. Outsourcing currency meant that the government couldn't necessarily control the quality and weight of coins, at least until they opened the mint-sealed bags on their side of the Atlantic Ocean. The distance between manufacturing and delivery could encourage edge-clipping and counterfeiting, not to mention the month or two required to modify the designs. An advantage was that the quality would initially be better, because these producers were already large and established and they had the expensive machinery needed to produce high-quality coins. Because of this there wouldn't be a down-payment for machinery, and Congress would pay by the coin, ensuring that they were getting a steady supply of coinage. Essentially, Congress would be exchanging control for convenience.

Although Congress ultimately decided to found the United States Mint, the decision could have easily gone either way. The Mint has made trillions of coins, produces millions of proof and mint sets every year, and has become the most successful online coin retailers in the world. Although outsourcing American coinage may have been better for a few years, over the 230 years of producing beautiful coins, the United States Mint has been the gold standard of quality and perfection. Outsourcing coins is what many countries do, though I for one, sure am glad that Congress didn't over two hundred years ago!

Again, corrections and advice are welcome

Comments

user_30405

Level 4

@Mike, much of the information I got from Red Book, Coin Collecting for Dummies, and a few other websites/books that I don't remember. Sorry, I will try to include a bibliography next time.

Longstrider

Level 6

Wow! You really went for it this time. Try adding a bibliography next time. Thanks.

Mike

Level 7

Bibliography please. I would like to read more. We're did you get the info?

Kepi

Level 6

Interesting blog! Thanks for sharing! ; )

Golfer

Level 5

Very interesting topic. Well done. Thanks

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