1861 Harper’s Article on coin making

This article describes a trip through the Philadelphia Mint in 1861.  Written by a journalist for a popular magazine, one would not expect impeccable research and hard-core accuracy.  Rather, it is a wonderful period piece that conveys a feel for the Philly Mint back then.  You’ll be surprised how little the basic processes have changed, at least through the Ike era.  (And it’s possible that the FEV’s were struck on 6 or 7 of these pre-Civil War, still-working presses that more recently were housed in the basement of the Denver Mint and used in 1970 and ‘71 for gold medal striking, up-graded mostly by changing to electrical motor power.

Numismatist-Historian, Roger Burdette, wrote in a recent PCGS Forum:

“FWIW: QDB and others have been using the Harpers article for decades. The illustrations have been copied endlessly. The descriptions are the basis for many modern assumptions and conjectures – some of which have been accepted as “fact” when they are entirely speculative.

It is a good popular article and a fun read, but do not mistake it for anything authoritative or comprehensive.”

In response, I asked Roger if he thought we should hang the article on our Web Site:


I think it would be a great addition to the web site. Its overall accessibility and approach outweigh the minor mistakes and other defects. (The problems are omission and simplification, plus later assumptions.) My only reservation is that collectors should read it for the 1861 time of publication, and its purpose as a piece of popular interest, not intended to be complete or authoritative.

There you have it, the most accurate critique of an interesting popular account of a trip through the Philadelphia Mint in 1861.  Enjoy the read!


See Article:  http://www.ikegroup.org/Harper_s_magazine-sm.pdf