There are six U.S. Mints, the Denver Mint is one of two offering tours.
Who would have thought that penny in your pocket could be so interesting…or that it was made just a few miles from my house at the Denver Mint? In fact, nearly all the coins in your pocket may be from Denver since the Denver Mint produced more than 8640 million coins that were put into circulation last year alone. Just one of the many little “money factoids” we picked up on our recent tour of the Denver Mint.
I’ve lived in Denver for 15 years and I have never visited the Denver Mint until this summer. Yet, it was the first thing recommended to me to visit…by my then 85-year-old grandmother who did a Denver Mint tour 40+ years ago. Every time I’ve talked to her since she’s asked if I’ve been. And, every time I had to say no. To be honest, I had never wanted to. I always thought it would be soooo booooaring. Then my kids started to learn about money at school…and were struggling…so it was time to take a closer look at Denver Mint tours. I thought that if they understood the context behind coins and seeing them being made it might spark their interest. I’m happy to report that it did, and it wasn’t boring. And, yes I did let my grandmother know I finally went.
Denver Mint Tour Reservations
I had no clue just how difficult it would be to actually get into do the free Denver Mint tour. You can’t just show up you need a reservation, which can be booked online. The Denver Mint releases available tour dates exactly 30 calendar days in advance at 12:00 am EST. (In other words, if you’re trying to book a tour in June, you can’t start trying to set it up until May 1.) During the summer, spaces fill up very quickly. The Denver Mint recommends visiting the website or calling the tour information line at 303-405-4761 for detailed information.
Last summer I tried for weeks to make a reservation but never could get in. This year I made it a priority and started trying in May, at 7am. I finally landed a tour on a Monday afternoon in June. I have to say I felt ever so accomplished!
What to Expect on Denver Mint Tours
There are six U.S. Mints in the United States but people can only tour two – the Denver Mint and the Philadelphia Mint. (The latter would be very interesting to visit if you have the chance given its historical value – it was the first federal building built under the United States Constitution.) My kids initially groaned about going to see how money was being made. Remember this is from two kids who are having a hard time learning about money, because after all isn’t it just on a plastic card? (OyeVye!) Yet, when we arrived for the Denver Mint tour and walked through the entry area filled with exhibits showcasing different types of currency used throughout the history of time their eyes began to open and the questions began to flow. Princess Two is a skilled reader these days so she was captivated with reading about the beads people used to trade as currency. The fashionestia in her was flabbergasted that people would wear coins as jewelry.
The historical lesson on currency during the initial walk through was fascinating and one I think a lot of people may overlook when they do a Denver Mint tour. I highly recommend you take your time to walk through and read each of the exhibits. The tour will begin 10-15 minutes after you enter, which should be enough time to get through everything.
Upon entrance for the Denver Mint tour each person is given a penny, well, kind of two pennies, but not really. One penny is stamped while the other is a copper coin that has yet to be stamped. This sets the stage for the tour through the Denver Mint where you will see thousands of pennies, nickels and dimes going from blank to artfully crafted coins.
The tour itself lasts about 30 minutes. A Denver Mint employee (and armed police guards) guide visitors through a few areas showcasing historical machinery previously used to craft coins. All the while you can watch today’s coins being stamped through glass windows on the floor below. You may just catch sight of one of the employees examining the coins for accuracy, every seven minutes they examine one coin in the batch.
The number of coins the Denver Mint produces each year is dependent of the years though. During the tour we learned that in 2008, when the economy was hurting, more people cashed in their jars of coins resulting in the Denver Mint not needing to produce new coins to put into circulation. In 2007 the Denver Mint produced 17 billion coins while in 2009 it only produced 4 billion. Coin production is all about supply and demand.
Throughout the tour the guide shares historical information and fun antidotes about the Denver Mint and its employees. Take Orville Harrington who in the 1920’s literally walked out of the Denver Mint with $80,000 worth of gold in pockets (now worth $6 million). I won’t ruin the story for you but it’s a good one… I will tell you that all the gold was recovered from his backyard, where it was buried.
I wasn’t able to photograph the last area during the tour for security reasons. It’s the vault. The one with a lot of gold. Real, beautiful and highly valuable gold. It’s a sight…
Denver Mint Tours & Security
The Denver Mint is a highly secure U.S. government facility. With that said, there are rules. A lot of rules. For one, no bags, purses or cameras. It’s spelled out online when you make the reservation but I was feeling so accomplished in getting a reservation that I overlooked this. Ok, I just didn’t read the fine print. So, when I showed up camera and notepad in hand to write a review afterwards I was told very nicely by the armed guard that it wasn’t going to happen. After running back to my car to drop things off, the Princesses and I did the tour. After a few emails with representatives at the Denver Mint I was allowed to come back and take photos with my kids on another tour (one they set up so I skipped the reservation headache!).
On this second tour, I wore a press pass and had a Denver Mint employee escorting me along with an armed police guard who then reviewed all my photos to ensure I didn’t capture something I shouldn’t have. That my friend is my point about security. Leave your cameras and bags at home. (Phones and cameras are allowed into the building, but both must be completely powered off. Pictures, phone calls, and texting are all prohibited while on the tour.)
Prohibited items on Denver Mint Tours
- Handbags, purses, fanny packs, tote bags, backpacks and packages
- Food, drinks, tobacco products, lighters and matches
- Weapons, including pocket knives and personal protective devices such as pepper spray
Permitted items on Denver Mint Tours
- A palm-sized wallet/change purse that will fit in your pocket
- Cameras/cell phones (must be turned off before entering the building)
- Medical items necessary for the safety and well-being of the visitor
America the Beautiful Quarter Program (Enter to Win!)
When I was in High School my mom gave me a quarter book for Christmas. All that came to mind when I opened it was, “Really?”. However, that quarter book quickly became interesting, and now rather valuable. Every night that I waited tables, which was a lot of nights throughout high-school and college, I would empty my tips and hold on to the new state quarters. Collecting the quarters became somewhat of a game for me, so much so that I had to get another book to fill… That quarter program ran between 1999-2008 and was very successful for the U.S. Mint, not to mention people like myself who now have two (almost) completed quarter books. Given its success, the U.S. Mint launched the America the Beautiful Quarters Program in 2010.
This new 12-year initiative includes 56 quarters featuring reverse designs depicting some of our most cherished national parks and other national sites. The U.S. Mint will issue five new quarter designs per year, with one final design in 2021. This year – 2016 – celebrates the Centennial anniversary of the National Park Service. The coins tied to this year’s celebration include Shawnee National Forest, Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and Fort Moultrie (Fort Sumter National Monument).
Things to Know Before You Go On A Denver Mint Tour
- The Denver Mint is a highly secure U.S. government facility. It is subject to Department of Homeland Security alerts; if the national security level are raised the Mint will close and tours will be cancelled.
- All tours are free.
- Make a reservation. You will not be able to get in without a reservation.
- Have your reservation confirmation number with you, either printed from the email or saved on your phone. You will not be allowed to enter without it.
- Visitors must arrive 30 minutes prior to the Denver Mint tour, this is very useful since parking can be terrible downtown. You should plan to either park at a meter or in one of the paid lots, fees will run around $15 for the day.
- Do not take a purse or bag. It’s not allowed.
- You will be asked to go through a metal detector upon entry.
- Pictures are prohibited. (Phones and cameras are allowed into the building, but both must be completely powered off. Pictures, phone calls, and texting are all prohibited while on the tour.)
- Phones must be turned off when you enter the Denver Mint.
- Groups larger than 15 must make their reservations through the Office of Public Affairs at 303-405-4759 at least two weeks in advance.
- There is a gift shop outside the entrance to the Denver Mint. You can buy commemorative coins here, t-shirts and all kinds of swag. I’d suggest getting your own America the Great quarter book (or enter to win one below!).
Location of the Denver Mint Tours
The Denver Mint is located in downtown Denver at 320 W. Colfax Avenue, Denver, Colorado 80204, across Cherokee Avenue from the Denver City and County Building.
All visitors must be at the tour entrance located on Cherokee Street 30 minutes prior to the start time. Late arrivals will not be admitted.
The Bottom Line for Denver Mint Tours
While my kids may still be having challenges counting money, they’re now more interested in identifying a coin, its worth and which U.S. Mint it was produced in; each coin is labeled with the initial of the U.S. Mint it calls home. They can also tell me all the metals used in the coins – magnesium, zinc, copper and nickel. My goal in peaking their interest in currency and helping them with it at school was accomplished. The educational aspect was definitely there but we also got the “wow factor” of seeing money being made right in front of your eyes. The Denver Mint tours are worth their weight in gold…and then some.
The Princess Rating: The Princesses rated the Denver Mint tours with two thumbs up. To be clear, this rating is for the first tour, according to Princess One, “the second wasn’t nearly as cool, only because I’d already done it”.
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Elaine Schoch (pronounced the German way – Shock) is the editor and founder of Carpe Travel as well as an award-winning travel writer, wine judge, certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 and certified American Wine Expert. She is married to The Husband and has two kids, Princess One and Two – who’s interest and knowledge in wine is quite extensive. Not to mention the stamps in their passports.