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Coin making can be traced back thousands of years - all the way to the ancient kingdom of Lydia. Over time, the process has been modernized and is now largely automated. However, for all its advances, the coin manufacturing process is still a complex one that involves numerous steps.
Coins have been in the headlines for the past year due to the coin shortage that has swept the country - owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and lowered production by the United States Mint which typically produces over a billion coins each year. Below is a step by step look at the various processes that create the coins that jingle in your wallet.
The notion of money and trading an object in exchange for goods or services has been around for as longmany years - as far back as 5000 years ago. Citizens of ancient China traded shells while those living in Mesopotamia had an early banking system that allowed people to deposit valuable items such as livestock and grain in order to trade or preserve them. The introduction of coins as we know them today helped to create a monetary structure in ancient societies that were becoming increasingly complex while also helping to expand trade networks in the process.
How were ancient coins made: have you ever wondered about that? The minting process used by ancient societies was far less elaborate than the process that exists today. Lydians were the first to mint coins around 600 century BC. This ancient civilization was located in what is present-day Turkey. Their coins featured the head of a lion and were made of electrum - a combination of gold and silver. These metals would be placed on a coin die - a metallic piece used to stamp one side of the coin with the desired design. Early coin dies were implanted into a sturdy surface like a rock. A second coin die would be placed on top of the combined metals in the first die and be hit with a large hammer. This process has evolved over the centuries and has culminated in minting coins by using computer-controlled hydraulic coining presses that can automatically load blank coins into the machine. Once these machines are running at optimal speed they can produce 600 coins per minute.
Before the advent of checks, credit cards and mobile banking, money was exchanged mainly in the form of cash, including coins. Although fewer transactions take place today with coins, they are still extremely popular for everyday use, as well as for collectors. What are coins made of, and who makes coins? Not many people know exactly what the manufacturing process of coins entails: here is a detailed look.
The first stage of coin production is creating an artist’s sketch and deciding on an image that will look good on circulating coins. Coin design is an intricate and laborious process and it can take up to a year to complete the design of a new coin. After it is approved, a 3D model is created using computer software or it is turned into a physical model. A synthetic model of about 20 centimeters in diameter is then created using a milling machine.
The unprocessed metals used to create coins are treated to eliminate any inconsistencies in the metals. Certain coins are created by combining multiple metals known as alloys. After the metal is refined, it is later melted down and the extra metals are added if necessary. Alloys feature in American currency such as the five-cent coin which is created by using 75% copper and 25% nickel. Great care is taken to ensure that the correct composition has been obtained. Once this has been accomplished, the metal is placed into a large bar-shaped mold known as an ingot. Although the metals have been refined, they are constantly inspected to ensure that the correct purity has been achieved.
Rolling refers to the time-consuming process of rolling the ingot to the required thickness for the coin that is being created. This process involves placing two hardened steel rollers that are constantly turning on either side of the ingot. It culminates in the ingot turning into a metal strip that is the correct thickness. This process also helps to ensure the metal is more pliable, creating better quality coins and ensuring that the metal will be easier to strike.
The rolls of metal used by the United States Mint are 13 inches across and weigh several thousand pounds. The metal becomes curved once it is wound during the manufacturing process. The blanking process unwinds this curvature and then flattens the metal. It then makes its way through a machine that cuts out circles of metal that resemble the metal coins we are familiar with. The specialized machine for this purpose punches out coins that are the correct thickness and diameter according to the specifications given. These are known as coin blanks.
The production processes leading up to this step are dirty and make it possible for bits of discarded metal to become included among the coin blanks. The riddling machine differentiates between foreign matter and the correct blanks - ensuring that the following steps are free of any parts not conducive to the coin creation process.
Coin blanks are passed through an annealing furnace to soften the metal even further. Next, the blanks are soaked in a chemical bath to remove any impurities that may exist on the surface of the coins. In the upcoming stamping process, unfamiliar materials may get stuck to the coins, requiring the tainted ones to be thrown out.
The upsetting process helps to safeguard the design that will be stamped onto the blank during the next step. This is achieved by passing the blank coin through rollers that gradually get smaller and press an elevated metal rim onto either edge of the coin. The upsetting process also double-checks that the blank is the correct size and will not have any problems during the stamping process in the coining press. Once the coin has undergone this process, it is no longer called a blank and is now a planchet.
The above steps have seen the metal transformed from blanks to planchets. They are now in an optimal state to be stamped with the necessary design. Coins for circulation among the American population are known as “business struck coins”. They are automatically placed into the coining press - reaching stamping speeds of several hundred coins per minute. Coins made for collectors are known as proof coins and are fed into the coining press manually.
The coins are counted by an automatic counting machine, which then drops finished coins into large canvas bags. The bags are then sewn shut and taken to be stored in vaults for future use. New coins are transported by trucks to Federal Reserve Banks across the country, and after that are taken to a bank near you. Automatic coin counters help to speed up the process of counting, sorting, and handling large amounts of coins. They utilize the latest technology and come in a variety of sizes - helping to streamline the operations of all businesses that handle coins on a daily basis.
Coins undergo quite the journey through the Mint to your pocket. Coin making is a multi-step process that requires precision, dedication, and the input of multiple experts. Coins have a rich and interesting history that goes back centuries. Over time, the details on coins and the processes required to produce them have changed drastically. It will be interesting to see how much further the coin manufacturing process will evolve in the future.