Mint celebrates more than state’s 150th anniversary

DAYTON — You won’t find any signs marking the location of the Northwest Territorial Mint.

This is the largest private mint in the United States. It produces coins for several foreign countries, gold and silver bullion coins, bronze stars and most other medals for members of the military, the Boy Scouts and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

With this kind of wealth lying around, one doesn’t make it easy for unsavory characters to discover the mint “at the end of a road to nowhere,” said Rob Vugteveen, special assistant to the company’s CEO and founder, Ross Hansen.

While there are no Northwest Territorial Mint signs outside the building, there are Medallic Art signs. They make it sound like the building houses some kind of art supply or trophy business.

“You don’t want to advertise to people who might think there is a lot of gold and silver here. The fact is there isn’t. It comes in, we do the work and it goes out.”

This fall, the mint will melt down a 1,000-ounce silver bar and create the one-ounce silver blanks that will be made into Nevada’s 150th anniversary medallions. Last spring, the Coeur Rochester mining company out of Lovelock donated the silver bar to the state.

The mint already produces the governor medallions that Brian Sandoval hands out to children and the colorful coins he gave people he met on trade missions to China and Mexico.

EMPLOYEES SCANNED TWICE A DAY

The company has about 150 employees who every morning walk through a scanner that takes their images. When they leave at the end of their work day, the scanner takes second images, and compares the two. Vugteveen says the scanning “protects them from suspicion.”

He won’t even identify the countries whose coins are minted here, but noted there are slightly more than 200 nations in the world and only 54 have national mints.

Although the plant is just a few miles from the fabled Comstock Lode and Nevada is the biggest gold producer in the United States, Northwest Territorial Mint purchases its gold and silver from a refinery in Salt Lake City. Nevada has no refineries so the company cannot purchase gold and silver directly from mines in the state.

Northwest Territorial Mint was founded in Seattle in 1984 by Ross Hansen, who still runs the company.

In 2009, the company purchased the Medallic Art Co. facility in Dayton. The company, long based in New York City, has been producing medallions since 1903.

Hansen moved most of Northwest Territorial Mint’s production operations to this facility.

According to Vugteveen, Hansen had been an investor who was disappointed in the quality of bullion coins. Some of the mint owners from whom he bought coins said if he thought it was so easy, then he should do it himself.

So he did.

“The Denver Mint makes stuff like this,” said Vugteveen, pulling a coin from his pocket. “We make works of art.”

Many of the silver and gold investment coins are individually minted by applying 600 tons of pressure to the blanks.

All coins go through a polishing process to ensure they sparkle when they reach the hands of buyers.

150TH ANNIVERSARY MEDALLIONS

Bob Nylen, curator of history at the Nevada State Museum, said the state exclusively uses the Northwest Territorial Mint for the dies and blanks it uses to mint its own medallions.

The museum, in the building that housed the 19th century U.S. Mint, still mints its coins on a press built in 1868.

The old press was the one actually used in the U.S. Mint to create the famed “CC” mint mark coins that are coveted by coin collectors.

“They do great work,” Nylen said about the private mint. “It is pretty amazing how quickly they can prepare the dies.”

A quick turnaround will be needed this fall, since the state intends to start selling to the public by Oct. 31 the one-ounce silver medallions that commemorate the state’s 150th anniversary.

The Sesquicentennial Committee is expected to pick the design of the coin on Thursday .

In this era of never-ending gun debates, it is not surprising that the mint’s biggest new sellers are one-ounce silver “bullets” and larger silver artillery shells. They look like real cartridges and shells. But unless you need to kill a werewolf, don’t shoot your silver bullets; they are worth the current value of silver, at the least.

On the occasions when Congress requests, the Northwest West Territorial Mint even creates the Medal of Honor for America’s greatest military heroes. Only 3,480 have been awarded in American history.

The mint also manufacturers the Pulitzer Prize, the highest award for journalists.

CHALLENGE COINS TOO

A sizable amount of the mint’s production goes toward “challenge coins,” medallions given to service members that show their squadron’s emblem and number.

According to legend, a challenge coin saved the life of an American pilot shot down in a partially occupied area of France during World War I. The pilot had no identification except a coin given him by his commander.

The commander was an Ivy League graduate who had the coins made as tokens of appreciation for members of his squadron.

But over the years, the demand for challenge coins climbed as fire and police departments, fraternities, service organizations, businesses and even Congress and governments saw them as a nice item to collect or give to friends and constituents.

“I bring you my General Petraeus for two of your General … ,” added Vugteveen, noting the coins can be used for trading like baseball cards.

During a memorial service, President Barack Obama left his commander’s challenge coins next to the portraits of the 13 people killed at the Fort Hood disaster in 2009.

Kris Sanchez, director of international trade for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, came up with the idea for Sandoval to give out coins during his trade missions to China, Korea and Mexico.

Sanchez had worked in Congress and was familiar with challenge coins.

“I haven’t run across other states doing it yet,” said Sanchez of the coin gifts.

About 250 coins are created for Sandoval for each mission. The coins are purchased for the missions by a nonprofit organization.

In one room at the mint, women with tiny brushes apply enamel paint to coins, as they did for the Nevada trade mission coins.

Vugteveen said the painting is a painstaking job, and he has found only women can perform it correctly … with one notable exception. Sandoval showed a lot of skill painting coins during a visit to the mint.

“If he ever needs another job, we’d hire him,” Vugteveen said.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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