Mint marking 75th year on Hermann Street 

click to enlarge Silver legacy: A worker at the San Francisco Mint sorts coins. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Silver legacy: A worker at the San Francisco Mint sorts coins.

Just 12 days before San Francisco is set to commemorate the 75th anniversary of one of the most iconic structures in The City, the Golden Gate Bridge, another landmark reached the same milestone Tuesday.

The U.S. Mint celebrated its 75th anniversary at its current location on Hermann Street, on the hill between the Castro and Lower Haight. The Mint itself has been producing coins in The City since 1854.

Officials with the U.S. Treasury Department opened up the fortresslike building to explain what happens inside, and printed for the first time in its history a reverse commemorative coin of the century-old American Eagle coin.

“This is an investment coin that is 99.9 percent silver,” said Paul Lewis, coining division manager.

The San Francisco Mint makes regular and silver proof coins, but hasn’t made general circulation coins since the 1970s. Some general coins still in circulation bear a small “S” to distinguish the printing location from the three others in West Point, N.Y.; Philadelphia; and Denver.

For its birthday, the Mint is offering the eagle two-coin silver proof set, available for four weeks in June. The set will include two proofs with Lady Liberty and an American eagle on either side.

“Each coin depicts detailed, customary artwork that tells a story and will continue telling that story for 100 years to come,” plant manager Larry Eckerman said.

The work that goes on inside the building to create these coins is largely unknown to the public. Some of the world’s most advanced technology creates the commemorative pieces. Using furnaces to soften the metal, lasers to finish and polish the dies, and presses to strike the artwork, the Mint provides millions of coins for collectors.

For Mint die-polish supervisor Monica Barnes, working on the 75th anniversary coin is especially memorable because the eagle is the first piece she ever worked with.

“I did it all by hand just so I could know how long it would take,” she said. “Polishing them closely makes the letters pop.”

By hand it takes an hour to polish and finish one die, which can be used for up to 30,000 coin strikes a day.

Barnes and all 300 San Francisco Mint employees take their work very seriously.

“Defects are worth more than our perfect products,” Lewis said. “Defects are worth more than our perfect products.”

Creating coins in S.F.

  • n 1854: U.S. Mint established in California in response to boom due to Gold Rush
  • n 1937: Operations move to larger, more modern Hermann Street facility
  • n 1968: San Francisco takes over proof coinage from Philadelphia
  • n 1975: San Francisco becomes proof-only facility
  • n 1986: First American eagle silver coin is made in San Francisco

Source: U.S. Treasury Department

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