Making sense of Mint

When I awoke this morning with nothing to do, I mused at the rarity of it. I always have something to occupy myself with over the weekends. After rummaging Facebook for a while, I concluded that I could either go to a street market, where I knew a few of my friends would be, or take a solo trip to the Royal Australian Mint—something I’d been putting off for a long time because it was just too far away.

The food market sounded fun, but considering I’d probably buy nothing and wander around aimless, I decided to do the wandering at the Mint instead.

After two buses and about 45 minutes, I entered the building that runs Australia’s coin system. A big pot of gold coins greeted me. Next to it, a staircase led to the upper level and the main exhibition. Stepping upwards, I couldn’t miss the thousands of coins studded into the stairs.

On the upper level, famous Australian bushrangers greeted me in large cutouts. From time to time, the Royal Australian Mint makes comparative coins marking important events and people. This year, they’ve made a unique set of coins to acknowledge and appreciate the contribution of bushrangers to Australian cultures and stories. It was an excellent way to remember history’s villains, most of whom died in captivity.

Moving on, I entered a corridor full of stunning displays. Hundreds of coins marked the timeline of Australia’s currency system, dating way back to the first foreign coins found in shipwrecks. Since some of the first outsiders to arrive in Australia were prisoners and war slaves, most of their currency became the initial seedling for Australia’s current monetary system. These coins gradually replaced the natives’ barter system.

Walking my way down the timeline, I learnt how, from using coins of unknown lands, the country progressed to establishing a proper way to assess the value of these random coins. From there, they moved on to adopting the shilling-and-penny system that Britain was using. As a country, Australia was under the British reign for a long time, and it only made sense to use the same coins. 

Then came the decimal period. From farthings and halfpennies, Australia went to cents and dollars. Displays showed how designers formulate the images and engravings that mark a coin. Looking at the detailing of each drawing, I was amazed to see how most of the coins in current use incorporate unique Australian fauna. There’s more to this country than kangaroos and possums. And sometimes, even though we handle and pass on these coins countless times every day, we don’t often pause to observe. 

Apart from these coins, the Mint also had displays of other collectible coins and medals that it’s made over the years. There were 1kg coins in both gold ($3000) and silver ($30) marking the Mint’s partnership in the 2016 Olympic games. There were gold, silver, and bronze medals offered to winners at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Also on display were the medals presented at the 2019 INAS Global Games. And my favourite, three special coins celebrating the Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier Reef - collector coins - Royal Australian Mint

It took me about an hour and a half to look and read through all the displays. From the various metal combinations tested for a single coin and the different designs they considered, to the actual robot that helps with heavy lifting and transporting during the minting process, the Royal Australian Mint has so much awe to offer. I’m glad I skipped the markets for this.

Forever

Act to incorporate the Bank of the United States - on display at the Chicago Money Museum

Erasable ink

embosses in history

unchangeable acts

– – – – – – – – – –

Photo: Act to incorporate the Bank of the United States – on display at the Chicago Money Museum

Unsuspected

Chicago-money-museum
Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Money Museum

Though unseen, untold—

love’s love as long as it lives

what seems regardless

 

Oh, money!

The Millennium Park left me craving less touristy experiences of Chicago. Having made up my mind to hit some of the not-so-popular destinations, I stopped by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

They have a money museum.

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I drew a blank walking in. It was a new idea—a money museum. I wasn’t sure if they’d have piles of money or just the history of money making. They had both.

Banners about Alexander Hamilton lines the walls He was the founder of the national bank, and the banners explained why and how the bank came into, and then went out of, practice.

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Framed posters or print ads that ran during wartime lined the walls. It was like peaking into the past, observing the government’s strategies to encourage people to save money, and only donate to sensible causes. For someone who hadn’t the slightest knowledge about the financial history of America, it was all fascinating.

Currency notes are cotton and not paper, I learnt. Huh, I wondered—perhaps it was the then-government’s way of recycling and using less paper? It’s possible.

There was an interactive display with stories of the leaders etched in each of denomination of a currency note.  There were titbits about Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Franklin, Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and even more.

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All the time, while I clicked away at the knobs, I couldn’t help but wonder how unlike a traditional history lesson this was. Instead of scanning through page after page here was a far more playful way for a child or a novice to start learning about a country’s currency system.

To take things further, there was a model of The Lifecycle of the Dollar. It showed how currency goes from production to circulation, and then to shredding and recycling. It took me a while to comprehend the complexity of the process and yet the simplicity of the explanatory model.

Federal-Reserve-Bank-of-Chicago---money-museum-7

Apart from those, were special exhibits about inflation, identifying counterfeit bills, the evolution of money, the types of bills used during various wars.

While I tried to wrap my head around all the new information coming my way, one of the museum staff announced a 30-minute presentation. A federal bank employee took to the stage, playing a 15-minute video explaining the federal bank’s operations in layperson terms. It was neither dense nor full of jargon—the presentation was understandable for someone foreign as I. And soon after the video, the presenter answered questions, dropping mind-blowing facts every now and then.

Who would’ve thought Abraham Lincoln founded the Secret Service a while before his assassination? Or that it’s the Secret Service that checks for counterfeit bills?

The Federal Bank of Chicago stores up to a hundred million dollars in its vaults, and is the only Federal Bank of all 52 states that remains unrobbed. Yet.

I came out of the session far more knowledgeable and curious than I’d ever been before. I was never one to care about banks, but that museum and the presentation made me see things with a renewed perspective.

If you’re in Chicago, visit this museum. It’s not just for kids, although it makes learning so much interesting, but it’s also a wonderful way for grown ups to pause and ruminate about the money we handle every day. We don’t realise this often enough but our purchasing power depends on so many varying factors and individuals. It’s eye-opening to understand how a single fluctuation in global economy can affect our rents, our mortgages, and our salaries.