Minting A Coin...the Process

One of the frequent emails I receive is what is involved in minting a coin.  If you've thought about it you know that nobody gives you full details.  You might ask yourself why.  The answer is easy:  there are so many considerations it is impossible to say specifically.  It's like saying you want food.  The next question is what do you have in mind and that leads to many, many more questions until you finally arrive at your destination and that 'destination' is customized for you.

In lieu of the endless possibilities I would rather take you through each step of my process:

THE PLACE - you must have a place the coin represents.  For me this is a time consuming process that might take a lengthy marathon stretch of time on the computer or many months, depending on how things develop. I might complete things and decide something isn't right and start all over again.  My test is imagining the place in my mind.  If I can make it seem plausible in my mind and it at least jives with human activity at some point in time, it will work.

For example, I wanted a small community on an isolated island that might be off the shore of Canada.  I really liked Sable Island as far as distance from shore.  I went to Wikipedia and researched every Atlantic island.  Yes, every one.  After Wikipedia, I did a basic search.  Did a mariner visit?   Does the place have a home page?  As I weaved through the hundreds, as I read a 'fact' I liked, it was pasted to a word document.  Once I was done, I went back to my favorites from the list.  For example, I really liked Picton Island.  Picton became my influence for this 'place' that would be fully fictional. 

HISTORY - I must have my places be places that could be so I check history of the region to see if I can draw some historical references for my place to 'seem' to exist.

NAME - Gotta name the place!  This island meant turning to you.  I asked you to name the place.  I got an email from Chris in Cornwall who suggested the Cornish name New Cornwall (Noweth Kernow).  Why did I select this?  The answer is it was unique.  Chris said his Dad was Cornish and his Mom from Jersey.  I still needed a connection, so I looked through that list of Nova Scotia islands to find one where a man from Jersey was a major merchant in the region in the earlier days.  I now had a logical, factual reason for Noweth Kernow.

STORY - My niche is a story to go with the coin.  I create a story from all the information I gathered in my research, check it against REAL history, check it against REAL culture and then I write.  

LANGUAGE - Noweth Kernow was easy.  English would work.  Frequently it is language I don't know.  I use Google Translate to help me find a word or words.  Another favorite is the constructed languages made by language enthusiasts that create their own language.  I have had a great level of cooperation from these folks in doing translations for me.  Talstyla and Anan Munan Ylha are a couple of examples.  Naturally, a Polynesian influenced language won't play in the Baltic or North Atlantic so the constructed language must 'fit' the culture.  

DENOMINATION - This was easy.  A logical currency was a British unit:  a Shilling coin.  We looked at what a Shilling would be and converted to .999 silver to try to create a coin that might be as accurate to the actual silver value as possible.

At this point, I have a fictional island community far from the coast, English speaking and first settled by the Cornish people who had leased fishing rights from a Jersey merchant that is real as far as history goes.  I had a name for the island and knew what the coin would be.

DECISIONS:  It is best to enter this phase ready to listen, react, modify and embrace ideas outside your original thinking.  I know I want a Shilling, so I went to the mint.  I was asked what I wanted for the design.  I asked the mint for suggestions and ways to save money on production.  I took that information and modified it to match my plans so far.  I'm now ready to proceed.

THE DIE - The die contains the image that is on your coin.  You need one for the front and the back of the coin, so two dies.  This will knock your socks off in costs.  Easily the dies cost more than everything else.  I've paid for up to 200 hour jobs where the image was hand etched to the steel die.  You can spend easily $1,000 per side on the dies.  Where there are options to save money, DO IT!  I had the opportunity to use a hub on this coin.  This was a HUGE savings.  If I had not had this option (or chose not to take advice from the mint) this coin would easily be double the price it currently is. Plus, the idea of it being a Shilling was the Mint's idea.  The Mint was familiar with the size and weight, finding it relatively easy to make.  Indeed, it would have cost more for a bigger or smaller coin, so making the decision on the Shilling was based on what the Mint told me. The decision was easy:  Would my customer prefer pay $25 for a 4 gram .999 silver coin or $20 for a 5.5 gram .999 silver coin.  And that 4 gram coin would have been over $25 because the hub would only work on a larger coin so if I had chosen the hub on a 4 gram coin, I'd need a reduced size die made adding a few hundred to the final cost!  Thus a 4 gram might have been $27 instead of a 5.5 gram for $20.  

If you insist on the exact design you want and coin size, be ready to pay big time.  You can get die charges down to about $20 a millimeter if you listen, revise and give the Mint some leeway, otherwise budget about $50 a millimeter. 

As for monies needed, a 25 millimeter coin means $500 a side to $1,250 a side, so we're talking $1,000 to $2,500 per coin release.  If you are doing other sizes of the same design with minor changes expect about $10 a millimeter.  

METAL - It is a rare find when the mint lets you provide the metal or buy what they want and let you send it to them.  Some mints will charge a huge premium for silver and insist the silver come from them.  Again, be flexible.  What are the blanks they normally do.  Changing the size to a custom punch can cost a bundle.  Think of it this way, if you're a donut shop that makes 3 inch donuts and you insist on them making  3 1/2 inch donuts, you will pay dearly for that extra half inch because they have to stop and do your custom size, maybe even buying equipment to make the new size.

BUSY WORK - Metal has to be tumbled and annealed and it must be cut into the size and thickness you want.  So you have to roll the metal through a press to get it to the right thickness.  When you punch the blank coin you had better listen to the mint.  If you want a 1.75 inch coin but the metal is only 3 inches wide, there is tons of waste.  Guess what?  You WILL pay for that waste and to make use of the waste, you need to melt it down, tumble, anneal, roll it out and punch it again...double the work.  All of this happens before striking.  Most mints recover this by adding this work to the strike charge.

STRIKING - Depending on how hard your metal is it may need to be struck several times.  Silver is pretty soft, though.  Striking is simply putting the reverse design die in the machine and then placing the blank metal coin on the top, then at 180 degrees from the reverse, line up the front of the coin die and slam tons of pressure on the metal.  If it is a good strike, you're done but if not, you might need to strike it again, possibly several times so it has to be aligned perfectly (try feeding a printed page through your printer to double print one side and see how that works for you).

FINISHING - Since the coin will not look like a finished coin after it is struck, you must clean it up by getting any excess metal rubbed off and get the surface smooth and shiny.  Once this is done, you have a finished coin.


Based on a 25 millimeter coin...

DIES - Budget about $1,000  (hubs are generic designs that be used over and over so you only pay a fraction of the cost for the design)

METAL - say if you use silver and choose 5.5 grams for the size in .999 silver.  You must buy the silver at spot rate plus about a 10% premium plus shipping and insurance  (say 5%).  Let's say you will make 175 coins...that's 962.5 grams plus you'll have some waste (round coins from rectangular shapes means waste) so let's say you need about 33-34 ounces of silver (example:  if silver is $1 a gram, add in premium and shipping with insurance and you might be at close to $1,200 on the silver).  You are now at $2,200 for 175 coins.

STRIKING:  I've seen mints charge $5, $7.50 all the way to $12 per coin.  I refuse to pay such a huge price.  I think $2 is about right if I can make it easy for the Mint to use the metal (ie: can I buy the correct thickness in sheets versus bread loaf bars that must be melted, rolled out, etc?).  So, add about $400 if you can find a cooperative mint (which is why you listen and take advice from them....maybe saving you $5 to $10 a coin in strike charges!).  Now you're at $2,600! 

You're at just under $14.86 a coin right now.  Add a coin flip, COA and my printed story and I'm easily at $15 a coin.  


If you will seriously be able to revise your plan and really listen and respond to the mint you can save hundreds of dollars.  If you insist on that very intricate design and your fully customized coin, you'll pay dearly.  Consider this like cooking.  A fine dish is made of common ingredients to create a wonderful combination.  The same can be said of coins, so original can be unique with the right common ingredients and those ingredients aren't that costly.


If you are looking at doing a coin I'll share with you what I know and try to help you find the right people to make this happen.  Just email me.

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