What Is a Mint?

A mint is a primary producer of a country's coin currency, and it has the consent of the government to manufacture coins to be used as legal tender. Along with production, the mint is also responsible for the distribution of the currency, protection of the mint's assets, and overseeing its various production facilities. The U.S. Mint was created in 1792 and is a self-funded agency. A country's mint is not always located or even owned by the home country, such as when the San Francisco Mint produced 50-centavo silver coins for Mexico in 1906.

Key Takeaways

  • Mints are facilities that produce coins for use as currency or as collector's items. 
  • National mints produce coins that are legally recognized as legal tender.
  • The U.S. Mint produces tens of billions of coins each year.

Understanding Mints

Mints are facilities that produce coins, either for circulation or for sale to collectors. Mints earn a profit from seigniorage, the difference between the face value and the cost of making a coin for circulating currency, or from the premium that collectors will pay for coins over raw bullion and metal for collector coins. Early mints made coins by hand, striking blank pieces of metal with a hammer on an anvil. Modern mints use large automated machines to strike or mill coins. 

Among mints, the U.S. Mint has six main facilities that help produce coins for the United States. The headquarters building is in Washington, D.C., and staffers there perform administrative functions. Fort Knox, in Kentucky, serves as a storage facility for gold bullion. The mint operates a major facility in Philadelphia that produces coins for circulation, creates engravings used for coins, and makes the dies that stamp images onto metal. The mint in Denver also produces coins for circulation, except these coins typically have a "D" stamped near the date to indicate "Denver." The San Francisco facility focuses on creating special, high-quality proof sets of coins. The small facility at West Point, New York, creates special coins from silver, gold, and platinum. Some coins are commemorative, which means they do not go into general circulation as normal currency.

Statistics

Because the United States has a lot of people and a large economy, the U.S. Mint produces billions of coins every year. In 2019 alone, the U.S. Mint produced more than 11 billion coins for circulation at facilities in Philadelphia and Denver. More than 7 billion of these coins were cents, which totals $70 million in pennies. By comparison, more than 1.5 billion quarters were struck for a value of $375 million.

Fun Facts

The most popular commemorative coin, based on the number of coins sold from 1982 to 2019, was the Statue of Liberty coin set from 1986 that celebrated the monument's centennial. Consumers bought nearly 15.5 million coins out of those sets. The next most popular coin over that span was the 1982 half dollar commemorating the 250th anniversary of George Washington's birth. All commemorative coins are legal tender for the face value, although the precious metals and collectible value of these coins usually keep prices well above face value.

David Rittenhouse, appointed by Washington, was the nation's first director of the U.S. Mint. Throughout its history, mints also existed in Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, and Louisiana. Until 1873, the U.S. Mint reported directly to the President of the United States. Today, the mint operates under the auspices of the Department of the Treasury.