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NNP Blog

Jun 20 2021

19th Century Teachers and Students Write to U.S. Mint Director

At an age when many people are ready to retire, 66-year-old Daniel M. Fox was appointed Superintendent of the United States Mint by President Grover Cleveland on June 19, 1885. His prior tenure as the Mayor of Philadelphia gave him valuable experience for this demanding position. He oversaw operations at the Mint until November 1, 1889 and also fielded questions and requests from the public during this period.   

The National Archives include correspondence with Superintendent Fox on a wide range of topics. Several of these letters, recently transcribed by the Newman Portal, reveal the interest that teachers and students had in U.S. coinage at that time. For example, Principal James Jenkins of the Six Street School is Worcester, Massachusetts, questioned whether “copper, silver and gold expand in passing from the liquid to the solid state; and will the solid metal, when cast, float in the liquid metal?”  Other educators were more curious about the specific denominations produced at each U.S. Mint branch and also how the coins were distributed once they left the Mint.   

Late 19th century students were just as inquisitive as their teachers.  W.G. Welsh, a high school chemistry student in York, Pennsylvania, asked Fox whether “the difference in the color of Gold Coins” is caused by the “[copper-gold] alloy or is it in the metal itself?”  William J. German, a young coin and autograph collector from McKeesport, Pennsylvania, respectfully requested the Superintendent’s autograph after reading a book on the history of the U.S. Mint. Fox also allowed at least one group of enthusiastic students to tour the Mint.  An April 25, 1889 letter reports that Fox permitted “a party of young ladies from the Langhorne [PA] Friends Institute… to visit the gold vaults and filing rooms.”  What an experience that must have been! 

Link to Worcester, MA letter: https://archive.org/details/doesgoldexpandorcontractwhenheated18880309/page/n3/mode/2up

Link to York, PA letter: https://archive.org/details/whatcausesdifferentcoloredgoldc oins18871207/page/n1/mode/2up

Link to McKeesport, PA letter: https://archive.org/details/wantssuperintendentautograph18871118/mode/2up

Link to Langhorne, PA letter: https://archive.org/details/wantstohaveschoolgirlsvisitmint18890425/page/n1/mode/2up


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