Custom Coin Makers - From Humble Beginnings
Coins have been used as a function of currency for centuries. These instruments were the primary offering of payment for goods and services, predating paper money by hundreds of years. Since coinage was the only form of money being used, coin makers developed minting techniques which were quickly refined by governments and selected mints to produce this form of legal tender.
The ancient techniques for producing coins relied upon two important components, the creation of metal blanks that were mandated to meet varied requirements for weight and composition and the tools and mechanical processes implemented in the production of each coin. From their earliest inception, minting techniques have largely remained the same, with innovations and advancements that were commensurate with the technological capacities of each era throughout history. This includes today's industrialized capabilities for minting coins.
The basics are simple, a custom coin maker starts the process by using a metallic blank. It is placed between to dies which are then struck with a hammer to engrave an image on either side. This casting procedure was among the very first minting techniques that were created for making coins and most subsequent versions were derived from this primitive apparatus, dating back all the way to the Middle Ages.
The Roman Era
Some of the earliest coins ever made can be traced back to 7th century B.C. in Asia Minor. They were made from an alloy called electrum. But the Romans were creating their own form of coinage around the late 4th century B.C. in Italy. They first relied on a system of weights and measures for the purposes of trading, but later adopted the use of coins in the form we know now, creating them out of bronze at first. As the Roman Empire expanded and its resources grew more plentiful, silver and even gold were used to mint coins that were considered valid for use in completing transactions of a financial nature.
Tools of the Trade
Vast civilizations throughout history were minting some form of coinage by first using techniques that involved a hammer, which would repeatedly strike a blank in order to reach a specific thickness that was designated for the particular type of coin being struck. As the years went on, the screw press became the more fashionable method as heavy screws were pressed into one another to reach the required thickness. By the time the Industrial Age was upon us in the late 1800's the coin press had been invented, allowing for more coins to be made at a faster rate.
Coinage in Early America
It wasn't until 1792 that the United States had begun to use coins as a method of payment. Prior to that time, new Americans were using the coins of their birth country and a new currency was needed for this burgeoning nation. Congress passed legislation calling for the creation of coins that could be traded for goods and services. The transition took time as foreign currencies were phased out in favor of the new U.S. based currency. But with a shortage of precious metals such as silver in the 1950's coins were no longer made with silver. New alloys containing copper, nickel, and manganese were substituted for use instead.
More than Currency
The U.S. Mint was the agency tasked with creating these coins and it still produces new versions of the coinage we use in everyday cash transactions. But coins are used for more than currency now. There are coins of all kinds being struck for a variety of uses including military challenge coins, issued to servicemen and women to commemorate their membership in specific regimens. Even major prestigious medallion awards are handed out to recognize greatness, each one struck by way of similar processes that are used to mint coin currency today. The customization techniques are required to meet exacting specification standards in awards such as the Pulitzer Prize, itself a large coin-shaped medal and crafted in much the same manner you would find with any complex coinage.