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Third Philadelphia Mint

Within two decades the early United States went from English pounds to relatively worthless Continental dollars to currencies made by each individual state. In 1792 the first United States Mint was established on the east side of 7th Street just north of Market Street to make Federal government coinage. The third mint of Philadelphia building is still in the Baldwin Park neighborhood. It is on both the National and Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. Here is its story, which includes the tiny refurbished museum within the third Mint and how a coin made in the third Mint saved a huge Philadelphia museum.

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Plaque on brick wall on the east side of 7th Street just above Market Street.

The first mint was demolished in 1911. The second mint was demolished in 1902. From 1901 through 1902 there were three mint buildings still standing.

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Postcard from 1924 showing the former first Mint site on 7th Street (foreground). Photo of the postcard is from the Library Company of Philadelphia.

From right to left:

Three story office building containing the assay office and bullion vaults;

Two story coinage building;

One story smelting house;

(see here for text and a sketch based on this painting).

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First mint building in 1903. The structure is intact in 1903 but the purpose has changed.

Photo from 1903 book here

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From King’s Views of Philadelphia. It did not become a public library as the caption states; it was demolished in 1902 and replaced with the Mint Arcade Building. A decade later, the Widener Building was constructed on the site and is still there. The six 24-foot-tall columns were salvaged and today stand at the entrance to Einstein Medical Center on Old York Road in Philadelphia.

The story of the Philadelphia Mint is the story of progressively bigger buildings and better coinage machinery. The first mint was replaced by the second mint at Juniper and Chestnut Streets in 1833. This neoclassical building was too small by the end of the century, and a new home was sought. Broad and Cherry was the preferred site, but the owners of the land refused to sell and threatened prolonged legal action if eminent domain was used. The Federal government turned to our neighborhood.

The ownership history of the third Mint site is similar to the history of the neighborhood in general. The Lenni-Lenape had occupied the area between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers and called it Coaquannock, or “grove of tall pines.” William Penn purchased 500,000 acres of land from the Lenape in and around Philadelphia. He sold off these acres in 100 shares to his “first purchasers” in the early 1680s. Each share entitled the purchaser to two acres in the City of Philadelphia proper (Vine Street to South Street, river to river), one hundred acres in the immediate surroundings, called the liberty lands; and 5,000 acres further west. One share could be purchased by a group of investors and split up. Penn kept for himself the plot of land north of Vine Street from 12th Street west to what is now Lemon Hill. After his death, Andrew Hamilton, his estate lawyer was given the plot of land from Vine Street to Fairmount Street and from 12th to 19th Street. Hamilton called his estate Bush Hill. When Andrew Hamilton died in 1741, the land passed through his son Andrew II, then his other son James, then grandson William, then William's niece Ann, then Ann's daughter Ellen Lyle who married Hartman Kuhn. Kuhn (1784-1860) and his descendants owned much of the land that made up the former Bush Hill manor when the estate was eventually settled after William's death in 1813. The Bush Hill estate was subdivided and sold off starting in 1813. The plot of land that became the third Mint site had its first structures when the Bush Hill Iron Works located there in 1819. The Iron Works was named after the Bush Hill estate, as discussed here, and the Andrew Hamilton mansion itself at Bush Hill would have been one block west of the current Mint building site.

The Bush Hill Iron Works had been set up in our neighborhood by the sons-in-law of Oliver Evans in 1819, after the death of Oliver Evans. It passed from Evan’s sons-in-law to other owners and then reorganized in 1895 as the Philadelphia Roll & Machine Works, leading to a move to 23rd and Washington Streets in Philadelphia. In 1895, the two-acre parcel vacated by the Bush Hill Iron Works, facing Spring Garden Street, between 16th and 17th Street, thus became available.

This lot would provide the Mint with a street even wider than Broad Street; ready access to machine makers like William Sellers and William Bement; the North American Smelting Works at 1510 Spring Garden Street and the Lebanon Smelting Works at 1605 Spring Garden Street; nearby railroads; and land that cost half as much as that at Broad and Cherry Streets. There was initial opposition to this move of a stately mint to an industrial neighborhood, but it was reasoned that the mint was basically a metal shop that made coins. Because these coins were made of gold and silver, the building was to be a fortress as well. Marble was planned for the upper façade, but the building’s location, surrounded by the soot-emitting factories of the Baldwin Locomotive Works and the Sellers machine shop, altered this choice to more durable granite.

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Portion of 1895 map from here. North is at the top.

The future Mint (completed 1901) is between Spring Garden Street to the north and Buttonwood to the south, and between 16th and 17th Streets. On this map a few buildings from the Bush Hill Iron Works still remain at the southeast corner of 16th and Spring Garden Streets.

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Photo of construction site in 1898, looking north. Girls High School is across Spring Garden Street to the left. It was built in 1876 as the Girls’ High School and Normal School and replaced with what is now Masterman School in 1933. The white building with the mansard roof was part of the school complex.

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Another view in 1898 looking southwest from the corner of 16th and Spring Garden Street. The William Sellers machine shops with the clerestory windows are on the left. The tall building in top center is a factory building for the Baldwin Locomotive Works (BLW). The lighter-colored short building just to the north of the BLW factory house the stables for the brewery on Buttonwood Street. The residence at far right, 1700 Spring Garden Street, belonged at this time to millionaire real estate mogul George A. Twibill.

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Architect of the Treasury William Martin Aiken designed the structure for the Third Philadelphia Mint and his successor, James Knox Taylor, supervised construction of the building. The architects of the Treasury were responsible for the design of many Federal buildings, including mints, post offices, and government administration buildings throughout the country. It opened in 1901 with a cost of $2 million for the building and $1 million for equipment.

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Lion head gargoyles on the cornice. Photo credit here.

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The Mint Building is not quite symmetric. In 1937 an addition was put on the west façade to expand the coining area. It had one floor above a basement. That addition is now the Saxby Coffee Shop.

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Extravagant light fixtures at main entrance. In 2009, due to deterioration and safety concerns, these front entrance lighting fixtures were removed, boxed, and squirreled away on the campus while awaiting funding to repair them. They are still squirreled away. Rumors have attributed these fixtures to master blacksmith Samuel Yellin of Philadelphia. This is unlikely as Yellin was only 16 years old in 1901 and these fixtures are original to the building. Also, Yellin did not immigrate from Ukraine to Philadelphia until 1905. More likely these fixtures were made by the Flour City Ornamental Iron Works Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota, which made the bronze lamps along the interior central staircase.

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Scene in the 1983 movie Trading Places with the Mint building standing in for a police station. Dan Akroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis are seen here leaving the police station. An entry sconce is visible in the upper right corner.

This is not the only neighborhood building to be a movie stand-in for a police station. The Wood Street entrance to Hallahan High School served as a New York City police station in the 2011 film Limitless with Bradley Cooper.

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This view of the south façade of the Mint, from 1971, will never be seen again. The parking lot was replaced by the Bonnell building in 1983. The stone on the far left is part of the 1937 addition and has a slightly different hue.

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Mint first floor plan.

The twenty vaults containing bullion and minted coins were in the basement with a delivery ramp on 16th Street. The vaults themselves had two-and-a-half-foot-thick brick walls lined with two-inch-thick steel plates, all within the granite and concrete basement.

The modern mechanized processes of rolling, cutting blanks, annealing, washing, and coining are discussed in the outside link here.

The fourth Philadelphia Mint generally buys the blanks already made. The third Mint was responsible for the earlier steps like melting and rolling the metals used for coinage.

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Postcard from 1902 showing off the shiny new coin presses on the two-story factory floor. Notice the scales in the background. In the days when coins were made of gold and silver, the weights had to be precise.

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Same view today. This is the library for the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP). CCP was given the Mint building as “excess federal property” in 1971 and held classes there starting in 1973. 

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Low-angle Google Earth view looking north today.

The 1983 addition of the West and Bonnell Buildings covered the west and south faces of the historic mint building. The original mint building would not be added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Buildings until 1984. Such additions would not have been allowed if the building were already on the Philadelphia register in 1983. Vincent Kling, who had designed the fourth mint building at 5th and Arch Streets in 1968, also designed this third mint addition.

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The west formerly-exterior wall is today an interior wall within the Kling addition.

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Formerly south exterior façade on the left now joined here with the 1983 Bonnell building.

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Central staircase from the lobby to the rotunda today with bronze lamps.

The dark gray rectangles at the base of the stairwell lamps were the location of brackets and eagle statues. Those eagle statues are now in front of the fourth mint.

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The fourth mint building at 5th and Arch Streets acquired these eagles plus the Tiffany stained-glass murals from the third mint.

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Marble walls and ceiling mosaic tiles on one wing off the main entrance today in the third Mint building

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The rotunda in 1903. Rare coins from around the world were on display to the public.

Visitors could tour the building and this room, and observe the manufacture of coinage from a mezzanine above the factory floor. Photo credit here

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The red marble rotunda today. It formerly held a collection of rare United States and foreign coins and has murals from the 1930s painted by the Works Progress Administration. These murals depict scenes of gold mining in the United States.

Notable Coins from the Third Mint

President Theodore Roosevelt took office the year the Third Mint opened in 1901. He wanted the United States coin to be more artistic in their design. Renowned sculptors like Augustus Saint-Gaudens were enrolled to lend their talents (see below). The Lincoln penny has been minted since 1909, with wheat sheaves on the reverse side until 1959 when the Lincoln Memorial was placed there. The buffalo-head nickel was minted from 1913 to 1938, when it was replaced by the Jefferson nickel in time for the bicentennial of Jefferson’s birth in 1943. The mercury dime was minted from 1916 to 1945 and replaced by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) dime after his death in 1945. FDR had been instrumental in founding the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (later renamed the March of Dimes), so the dime was chosen as the commemorative coinage. In 1932 the Washington quarter replaced the Standing Liberty quarter in time for the bicentennial of Washington’s birth.

 

The composition of the coins has changed over time depending on the commodity prices of the base metals, government policies on ownership of gold, and wartime demand for the constituent metals.

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Nickels in circulation in the twentieth century. The three on the right were minted at the Philadelphia Mint. As of 2022 it costs 10.41 cents to make one nickel, and 2.72 cents to make one penny, so perhaps these coins are destined for the dustbin of history.

As discussed in our article on the Community College of Philadelphia, the third mint was too small, with antiquated machinery, by the 1950s. The fourth Philadelphia Mint, with its 490,000 square feet of space on five stories, was finished at 5th and Arch Streets in 1969. In 1973 the third Mint Building, classified as “excess Federal property,” became the second home of the community college after two years of remodeling. The West and Bonnell buildings were added to the CCP campus in 1983 and fused with the Mint building as best as possible. This envelopment of the west and south faces of the historic building was only possible because the Mint building was not added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places until 1984. It was not until 2021, however, that it was added to the National Register of Historic Places (see nomination application here). The Mint building sits on land that had only two previous businesses, the Bush Hill Iron Works to the east from 1819 to 1895 and the shorter-lived Norris locomotive works to the west, as discussed here.

Gilroy Roberts Gallery

Gilroy Roberts (1905-1992) was the ninth Chief Engraver of the US Mint, serving from 1946 to 1964. He is most famous for designing the obverse (heads) side of the Kennedy half dollar. President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in 1963 and plans were instantly put in place to put the profile of Kennedy on a coin. This would replace the Ben Franklin half-dollar with Franklin on the obverse and the Liberty Bell on the reverse. The Kennedy half-dollars had a minting of close to half a billion coins, but are rarely seen in circulation for two reasons. First, only the dead can be memorialized on coinage, and Kennedy’s image was fast-tracked to appear shortly after his death. His popularity caused hoarding for reasons of nostalgia. In addition, 1964 was the last year that 0.9 fine silver was used in coins. In 1964 silver was trading at $1.30 per ounce, whereas today it is worth about $22 an ounce. The 1964 Kennedy half-dollars are worth 50 cents face value but have a melt value of about $8.

Roberts had donated $1 million and some of his personal effects to establish a gallery within the Mint building.

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Kennedy half dollar from 1964. Gilroy Roberts’ initials are placed on the neck of the president on the obverse (heads) side, just above the word WE.

Native Philadelphian Frank Gasparro became the tenth Chief Engraver in 1964 and designed the reverse face of the coin. His initials are just below the eagle’s left leg. The Kennedy half-dollars were hoarded by collectors for nostalgia and investment reasons and are rarely seen in circulation.

The P mint mark is on only one coin from the third Mint, that coin being the 1942 nickel. 

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Postcard from 1902 showing off the shiny new coin presses on the two-story factory floor. Notice the scales in the background. In the days when coins were made of gold and silver, the weights had to be precise.

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The Lincoln Memorial pennies were coined starting in 1959. This 1960 penny is one of the last of many billions (with a b) stamped at the third Mint. Notice the initials “FG” on the right of the memorial. Frank Gasparro, who would succeed Gilroy Roberts as Chief Engraver in 1964 at the fourth Mint building, had designed this side of the penny. No pennies bear the P mint mark except those made in the fourth mint in 2017.

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State historical marker at 727 Carpenter Street in Philadelphia. His former home at this address was demolished in 2017.

The $19 Million Dollar Coin that Saved a Museum

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In 1905 sculptor Auguste Saint-Gaudens was contracted by the Philadelphia Mint to design a new $20 gold coin, called the double-eagle because the $10 coin was then called the eagle. Twenty of the high-relief versions were minted in 1907, but the eleven stampings required to make them necessitated modifications to a lower-relief version needing only three stampings. Thousands of double eagle gold coins were made each year, up to and including 1933. In 1933 almost a half million of these coins were minted here in Philadelphia at the 3rd United States Mint building. Before they were released, President Franklin Roosevelt decided to take all gold coins out of circulation and have all but two coins of the 1933 coinage of double-eagles melted down and converted back to gold bullion. One of these is on display at the Smithsonian. Another one was legally acquired by King Farouk of Egypt as a gift from the United States. In 1944, however, Isaac Switt, a jeweler with a shop at 130 South 8th Street near Jewelers' Row in Philadelphia, admitted to selling a total of ten double-eagles starting in 1937. In 2002, after what was believed to be the Farouk double-eagle was auctioned off for $7.6 million to an undisclosed buyer, his daughter Joan Switt Langbord suddenly found ten double-eagles in a family safe deposit box and brought them to the Mint to verify their authenticity. Langbord, then in her 70's, had worked at her father's jewelry store, and in fact, still runs it. The coins were verified authentic and then kept by the government as contraband stolen from the Mint. Litigation was settled against her in 2017, when the US Supreme Court declined to take her appeal case. Books have been written about the case, but for a four-page summary up until 2002 see outside link here.

In June 2021 Philadelphian Stuart Weitzman disclosed that he was the buyer of the King Farouk coin and put it up for auction, along with a very valuable pair of stamps. The King Farouk double-eagle was sold at a Sotheby's auction to an undisclosed buyer for close to $19 million, and combined with the stamps gave Weitzman a $32 million payday. He donated the proceeds to the National Museum of American Jewish History at 5th and Market Streets to pull it out of bankruptcy, buy its building and establish an endowment. The museum is now called the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History.

The Weitzman 1933 double-eagle is the only 1933 double eagle known to exist outside of the federal government's possession. It is the most famous coin in the world. You can see Sotheby's long catalog write-up and provenance for the auction here.

The Philadelphia jury verdict from 2011 is here.

The Fourth Mint

The fourth Philadelphia Mint is one of the six parts of today’s United States Mint system: administrative headquarters in Washington, DC; production facilities in Philadelphia, San Francisco (opened 1854), Denver (opened 1906), and West Point, New York (opened 1937); and the US Bullion Depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

The fourth Mint building is open for self-guided tours. It is an amazing coin factory, with a capacity of putting out a million coins in an hour, an amount that took the early third Mint a year to produce.

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The third Mint at 1600 Spring Garden Street was given to the City of Philadelphia in 1971 for use as the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP). This banner on City Hall notes the expansion to 1700 Spring Garden Street in 1983. This address is the official address of CCP. CCP will be discussed in another two articles beginning here.

Unpublished draft article

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