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How Change is Made… At the U.S. Mint

The usefulness of change — that of pennies, in particular – has been debated for years. Pennies and nickels cost more to produce than their face value — but the U.S. Mint keeps hammering them out nonetheless, along with dimes and quarters, totalling billions of coins each year at a cost of millions of dollars.

On July 25, a new 25-cent piece will enter in circulation: the 2010 Yosemite National Park quarter. This is the third quarter in the “America the Beautiful” series, which honors 56 national parks and other national sites in each state, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, United States Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands). The U.S. Mint will release five new quarters each year, through 2021.

Why are we telling you all this? Aside from the fact that we like the sound of clinging quarters as we put them in the vending machine, we also recently came across two fascinating videos from WalletPop.com that offer an exclusive behind-the-scenes peek at how coins are produced at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. (The U.S. Mint is, of course, not to be confused with Mint.com, the personal finance management website that publishes this blog.)

Above, you can watch five-ton coils of copper and nickel being put into blanket presses that, as one U.S. Mint employee says on camera, are “like giant cookie cutters.” Little disks known as “blanks” are then punched out and, finally, getting stamped to become the coins that you’re used to throwing in the vending machine.

Even more interesting is how coins are actually designed: a process you can learn more about in the video below.  Believe it or not, coin designers actually use the same sculpting software used by the big Hollywood studios. In fact, WalletPop found, that came to a few years ago, after one U.S. Mint employee saw a Shrek DVD with his grandchildren.  To find out more, watch the video below, or at WalletPop.com.