Money Mecca
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... or I go to da place where dey Mecca da Money!

Currency Journal for July 25, 2012

 

Being an avid coin collector, I have always wanted to tour one of the US Mint facilities. Not being close to any of them has made this a dream yet to be fulfilled. Having recently become a collector of US currency, it dawned on me that I live very close to one of the two BEP printing facilities, the BEP's Western Currency Facility in Fort Worth, Texas. A quick search on the internet told me that tours are conducted pretty much every day, and walk-ups are welcomed. I have free time this week, so I elected to be spontaneous and take the free tour.

 

I set out early this morning, and after an hour-long drive arrived at the BEP Facility. You pull up to a small parking lot reserved for visitors. A recorded voice welcomes you, and reminds you that you cannot bring cameras, phones, backpacks, etc. and to leave them in your car. I did just that and entered the small security building just outside the gates. You go through a scanner, just like at the airport, and then wait for the next shuttle bus to arrive to take inside. The bus arrived less than a minute, and the ten others there and I boarded and we were on our way. It is just a short ride, and I was impressed at how much security there was there. Double fences, cameras and barbed wire surround the entire complex. You are dropped of in front of the Visitor's Center (the pyramid topped building in the photo) and greeted warmly. A receptionist welcomes you and tells you all the different places to go and see. There are two floors, and lots to keep you oohing and aahing.

 

THe first thing that drew my attention was a display with plates that you could touch. It is amazing how tiny the details are, almost imperceptible to the touch. From there I watched a demonstration on how note were printed in the 1800's. An original spider press was there, over 125 years old, and still in working order. Tom (the demonstrator) showed how the plates were inked, cleaned and then set into the press. Placing a sheet of paper on the plate, he spun the wheel and presto, a printed image was made. The image was of an old $10,000 note. The other plates he had there were of the $1000 Watermelon reverse, and the faces of the Educational notes. These were breaktaking, and the sample images were something you wished you could take with you!

 

From there, I toured the galleries, seeing things like the different counterfeit notes made by specific notorious counterfeiters over the past century. They had a special exhibit on the $100 note, with examples of every type ever made in the US. More exhibits included sections on each part of the process used to create our notes today. Some are interactive, and one I enjoyed was trying to spot the errors on a batch of $20 notes. I was able to find three of the four errors rather quickly, but that fourth one eluded me for awhile. :P

 

Fortune was smiling on me today, as they had a special event there. Only three times a year, they have a day where the actual engravers, printers and other craftsmen there are on the floor to take questions and show you what they do with actual materials. I spent lots of time there having a great conversations with these guys. They are so knowledgeable, and enjoyed talking about their work. I also learned that a new $2 has been printed, and is in the vaults waiting to be released this fall... I'll be watching for this new series eagerly! The deuce is my favorite note, and was the first note ever given to me as a collectible (1976 series).

 

The tour is all automated now, and you take it at your own pace. They give you a map, and a wand that looks like a remote control for your tv. The tour takes place in an enclosed walkway above the floor of the facility. You actually watch the money being printed, checked, cut and bricked. THe first thing that hits you is the staggering amount of cash sitting just below your feet. Billions of dollars are there, and that is just what you can see. More is stored in the vaults, ready for when orders are placed. When you arrive at one of nine stations, you press the number into your wand, and then hold it to your ear like a phone. You are told about what is happening below you at that point. The tour lasts about 45 minutes, and I was surprised at how many people were there; I'd estimate 100+. Despite that, it wasn't crowded or uncomfortable at all. There was plenty of room up there, and comfortably air conditioned.

 

After that, I moved on to the theater, where they has a short 15 minute film about how notes are made. It punctuates the experience nicely.

 

Finally, I made my way to the Gift Shop. Of course, everything you can find on the BEP online store is there, but to my surprise, it is much cheaper! You don't have to pay shipping, etc. I picked up a 2012 $2 Single note for $4.99, and a cool BEP t-shirt with the image of Washington's image from the $1 note. A short shuttle ride back to the car, and I was on my way home. I spent just over 2 hours inside the facility, but it seemed like 2 minutes. I was so engaged, and there was so much to see. A wonderful adventure, especially for a fledgling collector!

 

The image below is of the facility as seen from the parking lot, with an inset of the sign at the entrance. I wish I could have shown you the sites, but as I said before.. no cameras allowed. I hope that everyone of my fellow collectors can experience a tour of the BEP... it is well worth it!

 

Ciao for now!

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