At no other time in American history was the one cent coin so important as it was in the closing years of the 18th century. Although cumbersome, the large copper coins were useful for very small transactions, unlike the wide variety of foreign coins then in circulation. Yet the Mint’s ability to create dies and procure quality copper for these vital coins was hampered by inadequate machinery, inexperienced employees and lack of funds, not to mention frequent epidemics of yellow fever. It often cost more to produce a coin than its face value. Though these failings could be explained as the growing pains of a new enterprise, Congress on several occasions almost gave up on the business of making coins and considered turning the matter over to private companies.
The young Mint was frequently attacked as inefficient. Actually, if one were to characterize the early years of the Philadelphia facility.... (Expand Text)