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V16 2013 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 16, Number 12, March 24, 2013, Article 4

NEW BOOK: FROM MINE TO MINT

Roger Burdette forwarded this following announcement of his latest book, From Mine to Mint. Congratulations! -Editor

From Mine to Mint Seneca Mill Press LLC proudly announces the publication of the much anticipated book From Mine to Mint, by Roger W. Burdette. The book is 560 pages including and extensive bibliography, and is accompanied by a free CD-ROM containing the complete searchable text AND a version suitable for eReaders and other portable text devices. The CD also includes copies of US Mint laws and annotated summaries up to the twentieth century. (The CD is bundled with the book and not sold separately.) Available from Wizard Coin Supply. The cover price for the 6x9-inch, B&W book with CD is $39.95.

Pre-publication praise:

“…a stunning accomplishment!”

“If you have any interest at all in the Mint's history and operations in the 19th century, this book will knock your socks off.”

From Mine to Mint is an essential compendium of operational and mechanical knowledge that should be a part of every collector’s library.

From Mine to Mint examines the technology, equipment and operations of the United States Mints from opening of the second Philadelphia Mint in 1833 to the institution of operational reforms in 1937. In depth text and illustrations explain press operation, refining, ingot preparation, striking, counting, shipping and a host of other mint operations and the equipment used to perform them. From Mine to Mint also includes previously unknown accounts of gold adjustment as well as the gradual evolution of key pieces of machinery. The first uses of steam powered presses are explained, and the evolution from steam and coal to electricity and natural gas is described along with the impact on coinage.

Also included are descriptions, photos and floor plans of U.S. Mints and assay offices and descriptions of their operations.

From Mine to Mint is intended to bring to coin collectors, numismatists, scholars and historians a view of how the United States Mints operated from the early steam-powered press era to that of mature electric power. The goal is to present, as faithfully as possible, how the mints really worked. In essence, From Mine to Mint is, in effect, a mini-encyclopedia of U.S. Mint technology and operations of the nineteenth century.

Author Roger W. Burdette has compiled descriptions and images to explain operations and equipment in routine use in refining precious metal and the manufacture of coins. This approach is necessarily incomplete. Few contemporary engineers, machinists and others at the U.S. Mints bothered to write about their work. Fewer still left any detailed record of daily operations or of experiments undertaken at mint facilities. Occasional references to new equipment or processes occur in the Director’s Annual Reports, but these are commonly superficial and subject to editorial modification by mint staff to best present the Director’s accomplishments, even if not strictly accurate.

The beginning date, 1833, is the year a new mint opened in Philadelphia. It is simply a convenient starting point that permits a little backward look, but largely points the way forward. As an end date, 1937 would seem an unusual choice; however, it is the year director Ross showed she understood how the mints were operating and the year she exerted her authority for fundamental change in accounting and protection of America’s treasure.

This period delineated the gradual technological transition of our mints from steam power to electricity; from self-contained mechanical factories to commercially dependent producers; from individual-based organization to standards-based operations. Thus, it was in this time that the mints came to maturity in parallel with American expansion, manufacturing and nationalism.

The first three chapters present an orientation to the basics of refining gold and silver and the coinage process. Responsibilities of Mint Bureau officers are described from official sources and from internal documents that address practical duties in addition to statutory duties. The third chapter describes mint and assay office buildings including floor plans and room uses. All the mints used similar equipment and processes, but there were many local variations required by seemingly small differences in equipment or local conditions. The goal of all the mints was to strike coins that were indistinguishable from one mint to another so that all would be accepted in commerce. While focused on gold bullion and gold coinage, the handling of silver and base metal for minor coinage is also treated in detail. Together, they give collectors a comprehensive view of how American coins and bullion bars were made at the mints and assay offices.

The emphasis is on actual practices of the mints rather than on regulations. This was done because the mint laws and regulations are statements of what was expected, and not necessarily how these expectations were to be accomplished. Interactions between various departments are only a superficial part of the official regulations, and the relationships between the mints and the public – both general and commercial – are largely ignored.

The next chapters describe minting operations in greater detail including variations in use at different mints and at different dates. Once branch mints were opened in the late 1830s, uniformity began to decline. It was not until nearly seventy years later, with opening of new mints in Philadelphia and Denver, that equipment and business processes began to re-converge. Final chapters describe equipment operation, inventions and technological changes made at the mints. These are the few opportunities given for historical recognition of the contributions made to minting technology by employees. While their inventions and innovations have long since been superseded, in their time they were the products of creative engineers and machinists endeavoring to solve real world problems.

The Mints operated in a more or less one-way knowledge environment. As a new country, European nations viewed America as a rude cousin not ready for international leadership. The Royal Mint and its continental counterparts seldom visited American mints, and when they did so their conclusions were likely commonly: “We’ve been doing that for many years. There’s nothing to learn from them.” There was much truth to such sentiments, but there was also much the continentals overlooked.

The United States Mint was a mere infant compared to the Royal Mint with its lengthy archive of processes, data and materials. The Philadelphia Mint was also a late adopter of steam engines as the power source for metal forming and minting equipment. But what American engineers did was to use their late start as a means for separating out technology that was unstable, overly complex or proprietary. In mid-1835 we find Philadelphia engineer/machinist Benjamin Franklin Peale discarding most of the complexity and tradition attendant to press design work of Thonnelier in Paris, Uhlhorn in Karlsruhe, and Boulton in London. Peale went to basic principles of equipment used at these great mints, and adapted it to the American model of efficiency. Equipment had to be robust and easy to repair. The vast distances of North America made it impossible to have mechanical experts at each mint, sitting, waiting for something to break.

Coinage processes were, in like manner, influenced by both national psyche and expanse of territorial estate. Mint employees Peale and DuBois used the transition to steam power to rework basic processes of metal handling. With the goal of a uniform national currency before Congress, and four national mints in service, the Mint Bureau of 1839 had to insist on similar ways of processing gold and silver, even if these processes were not the most efficient or inexpensive. As with equipment, we can again see Franklin Peale borrowing from the Royal Mint and Paris Mint such production methods that worked well, and discarding those of questionable utility in the American mints.

The United States Mint and later the Mint Bureau under the Treasury Department were (and are) highly insular government organizations. The mint viewed details of its work as secret, scientific and immune to external inquiry. Following its official movement to the Treasury Department, mint directors repeatedly reminded Congress and the Secretary of Treasury that the mint’s accounting and operations were unique. Thus, the mint claimed it must retain people trained in its work, and could not permit employees to transfer in or out of the mint service without unusual reasons. This particularly applied to bookkeepers and clerks, but also to certain skilled workmen. Ordinary workmen were not considered important and their services could be dispensed with at will.

The advent of Civil Service examinations did little to alter the mint’s attitude, and extant files record the difficulties faced by any clerk who dared apply for a mint job. Naturally, those already employed at Philadelphia, Washington or some other mint location, and who were well liked by supervisors, found exceptions to qualifying exam scores, and re-tests easily obtainable. Letters to the director or to the Civil Service Commission attest to the indispensable nature of certain low-scoring clerks.

A critical factor in examining mint operations, and one which is the origin of great confusion, is the lack of any official, semi-official or casual history of the mint as experienced by insiders. Key employees spent their entire lives at the mint, yet left no written record of their jobs or how the operations were devised, modified and replaced with others. We find this on the official level also, where large expanses of administrative instructions, orders and rules are completely missing for the archives. Expediency seems to have often led to a failure to record the content of vaults, reconcile assays and weights, or follow modifications to known laws or regulations. We are missing so much information, that we cannot say if an action was authorized or unauthorized, and whether it was ordered in writing or verbally. Official regulations, such as they were, spoke of what was to be done, and not how it was to be accomplished or who had to approve an action.

This situation creates much confusion and misunderstanding for modern investigators. Some, especially those with preconceived biases, assume that anything not written in a regulation or rule was not done. They ignore the reality that the mints operated as much by practicality and “common sense” as by high-level rules. Nothing official explained how to cast bars of metal, or count coins, or attend to customers at the cashier’s office. On rare occasions we find a knowledgeable mint officer opening the black-out curtains to explain why something occurred. Thus, in 1910 we find engraver Charles Barber disclosing that many of the experimental and pattern pieces made in the 1870s and 1880s were prepared on verbal orders: no records were kept and the persons giving the orders were never mentioned.

For more information, or to order, see: www.wizardcoinsupply.com

Wayne Homren, Editor

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