Imagine if a coin collector had visited the Philadelphia Mint in the 1790s and had seen engraver Robert Scot working on dies, had watched copper, silver, and gold coins being struck on presses, had seen newly minted “pennies” packed in wooden casks and shipped by horse wagon, and had taken notes and asked questions. How much more we would know now!
A new Whitman Publishing book, American Gold and Silver, reflects the work of a modern-day equivalent of that fictitious visitor. Author Dennis Tucker, through the office of Mint Director of Corporate Communications Tom Jurkowsky and his staff, has had the opportunity in recent years to visit and go behind the scenes at all four operating mints: Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, and West Point. I had the honor of accompanying him, Tom, and on occasion some other researchers. At the Philadelphia Mint Dennis visited with the artist-sculptors in the Engraving Department, viewed sketches and models, and learned many details of their work. At West Point he saw gold bullion-related coins being struck. Examining coinage dies under microscopes, witnessing a huge Gräbener press stamping out five-ounce silver discs, watching limited-edition collector coins being carefully packaged, observing circulation coins being put in huge sacks and handled by forklifts—Dennis experienced it all.
The result is a numismatic study, a tour de force, and for you the reader an “I was there” experience. Deputy Mint Director Dick Peterson shared information, as did the superintendents (today called plant managers) of Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, and West Point, and mint employees involved in all aspects from planchet preparation to coinage to shipping. This level of first-person experience is at once exciting, informative, and in the annals of numismatic research unique.
While we know much about how copper, silver, and gold coins were made at the Philadelphia Mint in the 1790s, much more about that era is still conjecture. There was no Dennis Tucker present. So far as I have been able to determine, no dedicated researcher or journalist ever visited to take detailed notes.
Absent that type of first-hand experience, traditional research still is fascinating. The standard methodology in research (which I know well from having written quite a few books) is to visit libraries, consult works already in print, write letters, explore old newspapers, and in modern times look on the Internet. Numismatic information has been gathered in similar ways since the first money-related book was published in America in 1839: the impressive 248-page An Historical Account of Massachusetts Currency. Author Joseph Felt dealt with Massachusetts coins and other money dating back to 1652—money made and spent by generations who had long since passed.
Today the U.S. Mint—the Treasury agency headquartered in Washington, DC—is the center for supervising the nation’s four mint facilities plus the Fort Knox bullion depository, keeping records, implementing coin programs (with themes mandated by Congress), releasing news to keep the public informed, and many other activities. The Mint often has displays at leading coin conventions, where officials and employees are on hand to meet and greet visitors. It is a new era of information and communication.
The above said, American Gold and Silver is the first book in numismatics to have been produced with the collaboration of those actively involved, day to day, in American coinage—artists, assayers, historians, factory workers, technicians, managers, and other Mint staff and workers.
In my own world of research, writing, buying, and selling, I concentrate mainly on older coins (although I do have a collection of modern dollars). As I read the advance proofs of this book I learned many things that for me were new and even amazing. I was quite surprised to learn that one of the First Spouse gold coins, a series honoring presidential wives, depicts and names a lady who, for all I know, was never in the White House! In fact, her cause was anathema to President Woodrow Wilson, who might have had her tossed in jail (as he did with others of her persuasion). Her name is Alice Paul. (If you can’t wait, fast-forward to chapter 6.)
Much other information—some familiar, some new—awaits you, compiled, distilled, and analyzed in American Gold and Silver. Beyond the interesting text the book will serve permanently as the source for facts on the U.S. Mint’s modern gold and silver coins and medals.
Enjoy the experience!
Wolfeboro, New Hampshire
More excerpts from American Gold and Silver:
About the author of American Gold and Silver: Dennis Tucker is an award-winning numismatic researcher who has written and lectured nationwide on coins, medals, and other antiques and collectibles. A collector since the age of seven, he is a Life Member of the American Numismatic Association and a past governor of the Token and Medal Society. His writing has appeared in The Numismatist; Coin World; Numismatic News; COINage; Coins Magazine; Postcard World; the journals of the Token and Medal Society, the Civil War Token Society, the Barber Coin Collectors Society, and the Numismatic Bibliomania Society; and other hobby periodicals. He has earned the Extraordinary Merit Award from the Numismatic Literary Guild; the Forrest Daniel Award for Literary Excellence from the Society of Paper Money Collectors; the silver medal of the Original Hobo Nickel Society; and the Gloria Peters Literary Award from Women in Numismatics.
As publisher at Whitman Publishing he specializes in books on numismatics (the study of money), banking and financial history, the American presidency, U.S. political and military history, and other nonfiction topics.
Tucker grew up in Phoenix, New York, earned a degree in political science from the University of Rochester, and started his career in corporate and nonprofit communications and publishing in that city. He moved south in 2002 and now lives with his family in Atlanta. He was honored in January 2015 by the governor of Georgia for his career in book publishing and his promotion of the state’s history.