San Francisco Mint tours ended in the early 1970s, but you can still enjoy the beauty of the building's exterior and learn about coin production with a fun virtual tour.
Gold Rush Started It All
The San Francisco Mint was born from a recommendation from President Millard Fillmore in 1850 that a United States Mint be established in California to turn miner's gold from the California gold rush into coins. Congress approved the recommendation in 1852 and the San Francisco Mint opened its doors in 1854.
In the first year, the San Francisco Mint produced over $4 million in gold pieces. Within 20 years the Mint had outgrown its first location and it was moved in 1874 to a larger location. The Mint continued producing coins in this building until 1937 with only a slight stop after the disastrous 1906 earthquake.
In 1937 the San Francisco Mint was moved to a location at Fifth and Mission. It continued to produce coins until 1955 when production was halted. The Mint continued to operate as an Assay Office.
New Purpose: Coin Sets
In 1966 the Coinage Act of 1965 approved the San Francisco Mint as the production source for coin sets and commemorative coins.
The San Francisco Mint was moved to another building located on Hermann Street near Duboce Avenue. This white stone building, called the "New Mint" was designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, the architect who designed the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite. This imposing stone building was built in 1937, the same year the Golden Gate Bridge was opened.
The United States Mint at San Francisco does not currently produce circulating coins, but it is the exclusive manufacturer of proof coin sets in regular clad (a mixture of metals, mostly nickel and copper) and silver as well as the production of commemorative coins as authorized by Congress. The Mint now produces enough coins annually to sell for over $100 million.
Security Stops San Francisco Mint Tours
The Mint in San Francisco is built like a fort on a hill with extreme levels of security. In the past 35 years, citizens have only been admitted twice.
San Francisco Mint tours were discontinued because of its security procedures and the Mint's need to use all of its space for coin production.
Several of the San Francisco tour companies offer San Francisco Mint tours which consist of a stop at the exterior of the "old" Mint at Fifth and Mission. The Trolley Car Tour includes a stop at the Old Mint, as do many San Francisco walking tours.
There are video tours available online which show how circulating and collector coins are designed and produced. The "How Collectors Coins Are Made" video includes segments on how proof sets and commemorative coins are made, the two types of coins that are produced at the San Francisco Mint.
The Mint Project
The San Francisco Museum and Historical Society is leading The Mint Project, an extensive restoration project on the Old Mint Building. The project is projected to open in 2011 and will include a museum with interactive exhibits showing American money as well as San Francisco and Bay Area history.