Earlier in 2016, I wrote an essay for the ANA's YN Literary Awards for 13 to 17 year old YNs. I got third place in the contest and thought it would be fun to turn my essay into a Power Point presentation for my local coin club, the Wilmington Coin Club. Enjoy!
US Minted Coins – Not Just For Americans
The United States has produced and exported thousands of products, medicine, technology, music, and uniquely American foods and drinks to countries around the world. These have not only benefitted their economy, but our own as well. There is one important United States product, that without it, the economy of some countries would quickly collapse. One’s first guess would be medicine, energy, or food to take care of the population’s needs, but in the case of this essay, one would be incorrect. The answer is clearly, MONEY. The United States minted coins for other nations. Without a tangible and convenient means to purchase any product or pay for a service, any country or society would not flourish.
Coins have been in use for thousands of years. Every country, city, and village large and small has used some type of coinage for commerce and a stable monetary system. For more than 250 years, the United States has minted its own coinage. Except for the most difficult of times, the average American took for granted that our government would continually mint all the coins we would need. For some countries, that has not always been the case. A number of countries simply did not have the needed equipment to mint coins or have access to the metal necessary to make the planchets.
No other industry other than the Mint had the ability to strike certain metals. The first “foreign coin” struck by a US mint was the Liberian one cent coin in 1833. The American Colonization Society requested this coin be produced as a token to make Americans aware of the plight of enslaved Africans in the United States, so to gain support and funds for the purpose of transporting these slaves back to their homeland in Liberia. Even though these were meant as a token, they were used as money in Liberia.
Congress passed the Enabling Act of January 29, 1874, that gave the United States mints the legal authorization to produce foreign coins as long as the production of such coins did not interfere with the production of coins for the United States. Our Mints had the additional capacity to make coins for foreign countries and was both profitable and prestigious to the United States to engage in this industry. The United States began minting coins for other countries in 1875 and stopped in 1984, as the extra capacity was now being used for an increasing amount of coins and commemoratives for our own use.
In 1904, the United States controlled the Panama Canal project and during that year, the United States Mint made the 2 ½ Centesimo piece nicknamed “Panama Pill” due to its size - only 10 mm in diameter, the smallest coin the United States ever minted. No US mint mark appears on the Panama coins. The last foreign coin struck by the US Mint was the 1984 ½ Balboa, which was struck on a Kennedy Half Dollar planchet.
In 1943, the Belgian Congo, located on the western coast of Africa, was in need of coinage. America supplied the country with special Hexagonal-shaped 2 Franc pieces. It was made of brass and is one of the few coins the United States minted that is not round. I am fortunate to know George Mavrelos, owner of Pennies, Pounds, and Pesos coin shop in Media, Pennsylvania, who is an expert in foreign coins minted in the United States. He shared a number of interesting stories and facts including that many of the 2 Franc pieces are very worn because the indigenous people rubbed the coins into the sand with their feet to keep them “perpetually shiny”. Mr. Mavrelos is always a wealth of information regarding the history of coins.