West Point – this city is usually associated with the US military because the large and renowned United States Military Academy is located in this little town in the state of New York. It was founded in 1802 and is proud of the fact that almost all famous officers of US history graduated from the institution – even some presidents are among the alumni. However, there is another large US institution located in West Point: the West Point Mint.
A Depository with a Second Job in West Point
The mint in West Point was only founded in 1988, however, its history dates back to 1937. Back then, the West Point Bullion Depository was established there, a depot where some of the bullion reserves of the United States were stored. Did they choose this location because of its vicinity to the US Military? That would be quite reasonable, after all, there are probably very few people who would risk breaking into a depository with thousands of soldiers living just around the corner.
A major part of US silver reserves was stored in West Point for several decades. In 1980, the location became a gold depository – and not just any: the second-largest gold depository of the United States after famous Fort Knox. To this day, gold bars worth about 100 billion US dollars are stored there – which is the reason why it is unfortunately impossible to visit the mint.
In the early 1970s, the US suffered from a severe shortage of pennies. The reason: speculation. When the copper price rose, many expected the material value of copper pennies to soon exceed their face value. That’s why people began to hoard them. Appeals to the people did not change anything. Therefore the production was increased drastically – to the point that US mints were overloaded. To remedy the situation they started in 1973 to mint pennies in the Depository in West Point. This was the beginning of a development that led to West Point becoming an official mint in 1988. Unlike the coins produced by the mints in Denver and San Francisco, the issues from West Point did not have their own mint mark at the time and can therefore not be distinguished from coins made in Philadelphia – what a nuisance for collectors.
The ‘W’ for West Point first appeared on a coin in 1983. In that year, commemorative coins for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles were minted. The coins, some of which were produced in West Point, were the first US gold coins since 1933!
In 1986 the US started producing their own bullion coin, the American Gold Eagle. It is only produced in the West Point Mint, which got the status of an official US Mint on the occasion.
The West Point Mint Today
Unlike other US mints, the West Point Mint is located in a functional, simple concrete building without any windows. Since an extension was added in 2002, the mint has had a second floor and covers an area of 8700 m2. Usually, visits are not permitted there; due to the considerable gold reserves that continue to be stored in the mint, very strict security measures are in place.
The production of bullion coins is the main task of the mint. The gold coins are not produced from the bars stored there: blanks are delivered to the mint, which are then used for the minting process. Moreover, the mint has automated packaging machinery, similar to that for sets in San Francisco, for the packaging of bullion coins. Usually, 20 coins are first packed into a plastic tube, then 25 tubes are put into a larger box that is ready for dispatch.
The employees of West Point have their hands full with the production of bullion coins as the US mint is the world’s largest producer of gold and silver bullion coins. Besides, half of the US mint’s proceeds come from the sale of bullion coins; in 2020 that amounted to slightly more than 2 billion dollars. The best seller is still the good old American Gold Eagle, however, by now there are also other bullion products. Silver, platinum and palladium versions of the American Eagle are available, too. In addition, there is the American Buffalo, a bullion coin that was first issued in 2006 and has a higher amount of gold (99.99%) than the American Gold Eagle (91.67%).
Other coins are now minted in West Point, too. In 2019, the mint mark W was first put onto a circulation coin with the America the Beautiful Quarters.
A Short History and Many Firsts among West Point Issues
A brief overview of the coins minted in West Point appears to be a list of US bullion coins.
We already mentioned the American Gold Eagle. It has been produced in West Point since 1986 and is a classic among bullion coins. There are four versions – 1⁄10 ounce, ¼ ounce, ½ ounce and 1 ounce. The Lady Liberty on the obverse was taken from a famous model: the Saint Gaudens Double Eagle, which was produced between 1907 and 1933.
In 1997, the production of the first platinum bullion coins started in West Point. The American Platinum Eagle does not bear a mint mark; only the Proof version for collectors depicts it. Unlike the bullion coins, the collector version also features a motif on the reverse that changes every year. Until 2008, four versions of this bullion coin were produced – 1⁄10 ounce, ¼ ounce, ½ ounce, 1 ounce. The production came to a halt between 2009 and 2013, since 2014 the coin has been issued again but only in the 1 ounce version.
In 2000, this bimetal coin in honour of the Library of Congress was minted in West Point. What is rather common in most countries of the world is something unique in the US: this coin is the first and to this day the only US bimetal coin! Although it is a bit reminiscent of a euro coin, you should not let yourself be fooled: the coin is made of platinum and gold!
In 2006 the US mint reacted on investors being extremely interested in gold coins with a high precious metal content. The 22-carat American Gold Eagle was not such a coin. In order to meet the demand, the American Buffalo was created, a 24-carat coin. The motifs on the obverse and the reverse – the head of a native American and the buffalo – were inspired by a true classic: the Buffalo nickel designed by James Earle which was first issued in 1913.
In 2017 the first US bullion coin made of palladium, the American Palladium Eagle, was released. In the first year it was minted in Philadelphia, all later issues were created in West Point. Once again, the motif on the obverse was taken from another issue of the history of American coinage: the popular Mercury Dime, which was minted between 1916 and 1945.