lydia lion coinThe History of Coins & Minting


From the rise and fall of ancient civilizations to our modern 'information age,' coins and medallions have served as symbols of power and prestige, tokens of wealth and influence, tools of communication and trade, and emblems of honor and achievement. Rich in value and steeped in heritage, they continue to offer a sense of permanence in a world marked by constant change.

Forged from the earth's most basic elements and designed to serve so many purposes throughout history, coins and medallions are perhaps the most enduring link to our collective heritage, connecting all of us who hold and use them every day to kings, emperors, scholars, warriors, and champions of sport from the near and distant past.

Many scholars of ancient coins point to the state of Lydia, in roughly 610 BC, as the origin of coinage. As a center of commerce between Asia and Greece, and blessed with wealth of abundant electrum (a naturally occuring alloy of gold and silver, and found in the river Pactolus), Lydia King Alyattes' stamped his emblem of a roaring lion on disks of electrum to first become a state-issued currency.

Soon after Alexander the Great became King of Macedonia in 336 BC at the tender age of twenty, he began building an empire that would one day cover most of the known world. Throughout his reign and for decades following his death, magnificent silver and gold coins were created to commemorate Alexander's stunning victories on the battlefield. These extraordinary pieces, passed down through the centuries, tell tales of unimaginable adventure and unprecedented triumph.

Northwest Territorial Mint: 1st Century Roman CoinHeir to King Alexander's boldness, Julius Caesar decreed in 44 B.C. that his own image and likeness be depicted on coins circulated throughout the Roman Republic, a gesture that symbolized the scope of his power and the depth of his influence on the everyday lives of Roman citizens.

Pointing to their powerful symbolism, coins and medallions have been used by virtually every civilization since the days of classical antiquity to convey a sense of shared identity and common purpose, simultaneously influencing and reflecting the ideas, values, and priorities of the cultures from which they originate.

From the Dark Ages to the Renaissance to the dawn of the twenty-first century, coins and medallions continue to provide a window of discovery through which we can watch the story of human progress unfold.

Used to glorify religious figures and institutions throughout the Middle Ages, to honor the grand political and military victories of legendary figures like Napoleon, and to celebrate the triumph of world-class athletes, they have served to memorialize human achievement in every age.

At the first Olympiad in Athens in 1896, victorious athletes were awarded medals struck in silver accompanied by a crown of olive branches. Since that time, Olympic medals have been the coveted currency of all those who strive for excellence in sport and have become an unmistakable symbol of the world's elite athletes.

early coin pressSince 1901, competitors of a different sort have also been given medals to crown their outstanding achievements. Every year since the turn of the twentieth century, those scholars, inventors, artists, and peacemakers who have dared to challenge the status quo to somehow change the world for the better, have been awarded the gold Nobel Medal.

In the United States, a special Inaugural Medal is commissioned every four years to celebrate the expression of the people's will in electing a President. Beginning in 1901 with the second inauguration of William McKinley, the practice of creating a distinctive medallion to usher in each new administration is now a time honored tradition and one of the hallmarks of history's most successful democracy.

Throughout the ages, coins and medallions have offered a window to the past, providing a lens through which we can peer into ancient Greece or Rome, rediscover the Renaissance, and even learn about our own modern culture. Created and used by virtually every civilization since man first mastered the art of working with bronze more than two thousand years ago, coins and medallions have stood the test of time and their legacy will continue well into the future.

More history of coin making here.

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Northwest Territorial Mint: In The News


Northwest Territorial Mint: Did You Know?The U.S. Mint designed the state quarters series, not as a potentially valuable collectible, but as a way of spurring interest in U.S. coinage - which had seen relatively few changes in design in the past 50 years - and in U.S. history.

The 1999 silver proof coinage set is valuable, being the first year of the series and with a relatively small mintage. (The set in base metal is worth only a fraction as much).

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