History made, remembered at private mint in Dayton
Northern Nevada Business Weekly
Rob Vugteveen glances down at a cart of medallions as they’re wheeled across the production floor of Northwest Territorial Mint in Dayton. “Those were the Peabody Awards that just went by,” he says.
The medals for distinguished achievement in broadcasting are a part of a steady stream of awards, ceremonial coins and custom-minted items that flow from the 118,000-square-foot facility.
In many weeks, the 125 employees of Northwest Territorial Mint produce 45 new designs – the U.S. Mint struggles to produce fewer than a dozen in a year – and the plant also does a healthy business producing silver bullion bars for investors.
But Vugteveen, a project manager who helped oversee transfer of the Northwest Territorial Mint operations to Dayton after it acquired Medallic Art Co. in 2009, glows all the more when he shows off the historical and artistic legacies that surround him.
Medallic Art, which got its start in New York City in 1907, maintains an archive of bas-relief sculptures commissioned for ceremonial coins from artists such as Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who designed the Double Eagle coin, and Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore.
Old-fashioned typed cards cross-indexed in library drawers detail the work by every artist with whom Medallic Art – and now Northwest Territorial Mint – has contracted for designs.
Another set of drawers contains a sample of nearly every medal produced by the companies in the past century. Vugteveen opens one drawer and takes out a copy of a gold medal struck to honor Arthur Henry Rostron, captain of the passenger line Carpathia, after his ship rescued 712 survivors from The Titanic.
Every drawer, he says, contains dozens of similar stories.
“It’s a tremendous artistic resource,” Vugteveen says. “This represents some of the best work of the best sculptors in this country.”
Just outside the archives, the largest private mint in the United States continues to produce medallions and coins for customers such as military units, organizations and foundations that present annual awards and Harley-Davidson dealers, who sell collectible coins based on the iconic motorcycles.
Artists’ full-sized designs are mechanically reduced to create a die. Some jobs are handled by sophisticated software; others rely on a mechanical system developed in the 1800s.
Cost of creating a die ranges from $400 to $1,500, and two dies – one for each side – are required for each coin.
Gold, silver, brass and other alloys produced at the plant are developed into strips, blanks are punched out, a die strikes a design on the blank, and the coin is sent off to be finished.
A room in the facility is home to a team of patient artists who hand-enamel medallions with highlights of color. Another room is devoted to creation of an antique finishes.
Yet another corner of the plant is home to specialists who create custom knives.
Northwest Territorial Mint, launched in the Seattle area in 1984, had sent Vugteveen to scout for potential plant locations a few months before it learned the owners of Medallic Art were looking to sell.
“We could be anywhere,” Vugteveen says. “But we have to be in a spot where the business climate is favorable.”
The combination of Nevada’s business climate and Medallic Arts’ production facility brought the company’s jobs to Dayton.