The Evolution of the Modern Day Custom Mint
The complex and beautiful artwork that is the modern-day mint has been a long time in the making. The existence of contemporary minted medallions is all thanks to the rich and extensive history that is tied to them. Custom made coins for example, had rather humble beginnings, but over time, minters have been able to perfect the process from crude into the custom minting processes we see today.
The history of the minting process can be dated back over several millenniums. The word “mint” originated from the manufacturing of silver coins in Rome, 269 BC. Even earlier than this, a region called Lydia of western Asia had minted coins dating back to 609 BC.
Ancient coins were made by casting molten metal into molds or striking them onto engraved dies. Stricken coins were cast into bullet shaped molds, marked on one side by a die, and then struck by a hammer until flattened. The blank, unmarked side of the coin was placed onto a tiny anvil with a die held in place by a pair of tongs. The coin was stricken again, creating the finished product.
Romans mass produced minted copper coins using clay molds. This was not because they did not know about the striking method, but because it was not efficient when using large amounts of metal. In modern times, casting is an obsolete form of minting and is generally used by counterfeiters.
The Screw Press
The ancient art of striking metal coins with hammers was intervened by the screw press in 1553. The screw press was minting by means of a falling weight. These machines needed three or more men to operate and created cleaner looking coins at an exponentially faster rate.
Steam powered industrial minting techniques were introduced into the coin manufacturing business by Matthew Boulton in Birmingham in 1788. In 1786, it was estimated that two-thirds of British coins were counterfeit. In response to this crisis, the Royal Mint shut down its production, deeply worsening the problem.
Boulton, at the time, was already in production of many other types of metal products and added a coin press as a small extension of his factory. By 1788, the mint was an established part of his industrial plant. That same year, he invented the steam-driven screw press.
Boulton's Screw Press
This revolutionary piece of equipment worked by using atmospheric pressure applied to a piston. The piston communicated with a vacuum vessel with which air is pumped by steam power.
Matthew Boulton installed eight of these machines into his facility. Each screw press had the ability to punch out between 70 and 84 coins per minute, a rate unheard of in those days. Despite this, Boulton had a difficult time being licensed to produce British coinage. Instead, he found himself producing blanked coins for the British East India Company, Sierra Leon, and Russia. These blank coins were to be minted elsewhere by a variety of producers. Boulton was finally granted a contract with the Royal Mint when the financial crisis had reached its peak in 1797.
The modern day mint is much more than just monetary coinage. There is virtually no limit to the artwork that contemporary minters can produce. Coins, medallions, keepsakes, trophies, and more can be created by highly skilled artisans in their sophisticated facilities. Nowadays, consumers can have custom made minted products created to suit various needs and occasions. The custom minting process has been refined into a flawless process creating what used to be a simple coin, into a masterpiece.
Highly skilled artists create detailed pictures and hand designed plaster sculpts. The sculpt is reduced into a steel die. These custom dies can create images in 2 or 3D, creating a range of beautiful options. Ancient furnaces are a thing of the past. Now, silver can be perfectly melted and cleansed of impurities via electromagnetic induction. Highly precise machines measure thickness down to an exact number and perfectly sized blanks are punched out of the metal. The blanks are polished, stricken, finished, and ready for the public eye.
Much time and innovation have gone into creating modern minting technology. A product first created out of financial necessity has now been turned into a unique art form that many take for granted. Now minting can fulfill the potential it always had, art memorialized in metal.