GENERAL ARTICLES

They Make Money

Is your piggy bank packed? Don’t let on to the Mint. People who hoard coins keep it working overtime

BILL STEPHENSON January 15 1946
GENERAL ARTICLES

They Make Money

Is your piggy bank packed? Don’t let on to the Mint. People who hoard coins keep it working overtime

BILL STEPHENSON January 15 1946

They Make Money

Is your piggy bank packed? Don’t let on to the Mint. People who hoard coins keep it working overtime

BILL STEPHENSON

MONEY doesn’t usually cause headaches, unless you haven’t any. So it is a slight shock to learn that because Canadian coins are jingling today in many pockets where they never jingled before, there are people in Canada who for five years have had to work harder than ever before. You’ve probably guessed it—they’re the people who run the Royal Canadian Mint.

Not that they object to people having more money —far from it. They love to make money and enjoy seeing people spend it. In fact, if everybody would spend money as fast as he made it, they’d be happy. But everybody doesn’t.

One of the biggest bugbears is the people who refuse to tote “chicken feed’’around with them. Allthenickels and pennies they get during the day are tossed into a box in the dresser drawer and quietly forgotten. Piggy banks, Milk-for-Britain and other war charity bottles do their bit. And then, of course, there are the taxes—the extra cent or two on candy bars, soft drinks, gum, tobacco, cigarette papers and so on call for more change on both sides of the counter. Chain and department stores, drugstores, five-and-dimes, and other places where people are dashing in and out all day often keep large reserves of coins on hand for emergencies.

There are other factors involved—the juke boxes, for example. Often, owing to the shortage of labor, a nickelodeon may be crammed full of nickels for weeks on end until someone gets around to cleaning it out. During that time those particular nickels are completely out of circulation.

It all adds up to an awful lot of cents, nickels, dimes and quarters stashed away where they aren’t doing anybody any good—and particularly the Mint.

Huge Increase

HAVE a look at the figures. In five years of war the Mint put out more than 550 million coins, more than Canada used in the previous 80 years. In 1943 alone it issued more than 150 million pieces of money, compared with a mere 12 millions in 1935. Of the total 550 million pieces, at least 350 millions were one-cent pieces. Laid end to end the pennies alone would reach from Halifax, N.S., to Dawson City, Yukon.

Demands are so heavy that occasionally coins are punched, stamped, issued to banks and spent all in a day.

How long this trend will continue Mint officials decline to predict, but until things do ease off' they will continue to issue coins to meet fully all demands.

Many in Canada have, at one time or another, laid eyes on this institution from which their small change comes. Standing drably on Sussex Street, near the Ottawa River, possibly it reminded them of a jail with its high iron fence, strongly lit grounds at night, and patrolling Mounties.

The Mint first was started in 1908, as a branch of the Royal Mint in London, and up until 1936 all coins issued had the crowned effigy of His Majesty the King on one side, and the words, “one cent,” “five cents,” or “25 cents,” on the other, depending on the coin. But since the accession to the throne of King George VI, Canadian coins have had the UNCROWNED head of the King on one side and some typically Canadian subject on the other. Before that only British coins had carried the uncrowned head of the King. Today only crown colonies such as Newfoundland and India have the crowned effigy of the King on their coins.

In 1936 there was a complete change-over in the designs for Canadian coins. A maple leaf adorned the new cent, a beaver the nickel, a fishing schooner the dime and a caribou the quarter. The 50-cent piece is stamped wdth a modified Canadian coat of arms, while the dollar depicts a canoe manned by an Indian and a Voyageur with an islet in the background.

Rudyard Kipling, when shown one of the silver dollars, immediately noticed that the guide in the bow of the canoe was not

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paddling but was poised as if for a change of direction. With the aid of magnifying lenses other people have discovered that the canoe bears a mark which looks remarkably like a swastika. On closer examination, however, it is found that the prongs of the supposed swastika point in the opposite direction (that is, counterclockwise) to the hated German emblem. This insignia was formerly a trademark of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

The new quarter, too, has its little secret. On its surface is not one animal but three—a caribou, a beaver, and a squirrel. You have to be pretty sharp to see the last two.

In August, 1942, the supply of nickel for coinage purposes was suddenly cut off. Mint technicians went into a huddle to see what they could do with copper and zinc—the only two metals left to them. The result of their findings was the “copper” nickel, a 12-sided piece worth five cents, but often mistaken for a cent because of its color. The twelve sides were an effort to point up the difference. At best the copper nickel (or “tombac” nickel, as Mint men call it, because of its relation to an alloy of that name used in the Malay States) was only a stopgap, and it never proved popular.

The following December it was decided to switch over to a metal which actually looked like nickel. For the purpose they obtained a supply of steel which they planned to coat with chromium. As in the case of the tombac nickel, they used the 12-sided die, but this time it was to enable them to distinguish the nickel from the quarter. The Victory nickel, combining V for five and Victory, with the Torch of Sacrifice, looked like the real thing, felt like it, and was even magnetic like the regular n>' kel. It was an instant success.

One interesting thing to note about the new coins is the beadwork around the inside edge. Up until 1943 this beading was made up of equal-sized dots separated by equal spaces. But that year a spirit of puckishness invaded the Mint, and in keeping with the V for Victory signs cropping r y all over the place, the beadwork on the Victory nickel somehow or other '■jame rearranged to spell out in e c°de the words, “We win when vork willingly.” Have a look at •Wé'the next time you see it. It’s quite iea.

We Call the Shot

Spending habits of Canadians ultimately decide how many coins of each denomination will be issued. When a bank manager notices that his reserve of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters is beginning to dwindle, he puts in a requisition to the Bank of Canada for more coins. The Bank of Canada then totals up the requisitions and puts in its own request to the Mint. If the supplies of metal required for making these coins are immediately available,

the Mint will concentrate immediately on the issue required. As a rule the demand for nickels, dimes, quarters and halves is a fluctuating one, but nobody ever seems to have enough pennies.

As this is written the Mint’s approximately 150 employees are working two shifts a day to keep up with publicdemand for their product. In 1943 and 1944 they worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, not even shutting down for lunch. Equipped with some of the latest type machinery, and with a hard-working staff, the Mint is an efficient place. In that work they can’t afford to waste or lose anything.

The copper, zinc, silver and other metals which go into the finished coins arrive at the Mint in the form of partially refined ingots. After treatment at the refinery, where most of the impurities are removed, the ingots are sent to the operating department for alloying. Here, by means of highfrequency electric-induction furnaces so well-built that you could sit on one while metal was being melted four inches away, the alloys are mixed and poured into slabs about two feet long and half an inch thick. These are taken almost immediately from their casts and plunged into cold water.

Squeeze Play

Then the bars go to a room where rolling mills, at pressures of 15 tons to the square inch, squeeze the cold metal out to a width of three cents—a cent is % of an inch wide—and a length of 18 ft. After from 13 to 17 rollings, the bar reaches the desired coin thickness.

The long strips, or “fillets,” as they are called, go from the rolling room to the cutting room, where three cutting presses each punch out 450 one-cent, blanks or 300 five-cent blanks a minute. After sorting, edging, and reheating to 1350 deg. F. (to soften the metal for stamping) the coin blanks are taken to the stamping room, where seven presses, stamping both sides at once, each put out 110 finished coins a minute.

Did I say “finished”? Pardon me, I should have said “Almost finished.” For the Mint people would blush beet red if they thought you might catch them up on a coin that wasn’t perfect.

In a room where temperature, sunshine and humidity are carefully regulated, the coins get their final tests. First, eagle-eyed craftsmen pick them over for nicks, discolorations, high spots, dents. Then they are weighed, the silver coins individually at the rate of 20 per minute on automatic balances sensitive to within 1/100 of a grain, and the coppers by hulk weight. Then, as a final test-to-end-all-tests, young men with ears for discordant notes “ring” the coins, dropping them one by one onto a steel block to hear them “ping.” The ones which go “pung” are called “dumb” coins and are immediately sent back to the furnaces for remelting.

By this process about two million coins are issued every week, each one as nearly perfect as man can make it.

People are funnier than anybody when it comes to money, say the Mint

officials, who really ought to know. They claim that when they want to find out how the public is taking a new coin they don’t have to take a survey or send out a complicated questionnaire. They merely put their ears to the ground and listen.

Here is one of the things they heard:

“If you’re as short of metal as you say you are,” chirped an idea man, “why don’t you use plastics? I hear they’re good for darn near everything.” To which Mint men replied that if plastics were good enough for the Mint they’d also be good enough for other people—particularly those fastidious characters who prefer coins they make personally to those issued by the Government. What price a nice big wave of counterfeit coins? Plastic would be far easier to get or manufacture than coin metal.

Even plagued by long hours and people with bright ideas like that one about plastics, the people who make our money are happy. As long as we continue to salt away coins as fast as they are made, the people at the Mint will continue to grind them out.

They have only one request to make—one plea born of long suffering: “If you ever come to see us, please don’t ask for a sample!”