Coins – A Work of Art

The Trans Alaska Pipeline Coins


The Trans Alaska Pipeline Coins were the brainchild of Mac Turney who, during the 1960’s and 1970’s, lived in Fairbanks and who has been back and forth between Alaska and the Lower 48 several times. Mac and his wife Monica currently own businesses and properties in Alaska and they are pursuing yet another venture that will be good for all Alaskans by creating jobs and by bringing hundreds of visitors to Alaska each year.

 The Trans Alaskan Pipeline had been on the drawing board since the 60’s and the initial estimate to construct it was only around nine hundred million dollars but after years of bureaucratic haggling and court litigation it was finally getting started in 1974 with a cost that ended up being eight times the initial estimate – over $8,000,000,000.00.

Mac thought about a Commemorative Coin commemorating the Trans Alaska Pipeline and sketched out his idea for the coin based on a photo he had showing a worker in a hard hat and the start of the pipeline in 1974.

Mac decided that the coins should be made using .999 pure silver so he made contact with a gentleman out of Colorado that was selling silver through an ad in the News-Miner around the same time who put him in contact with a private minting firm in California.

He then sent his sketch to the mint and they arranged for a local artist to draw the Artist’s Depiction of the coin which was mailed back to Mac for his approval. After a couple corrections and another approval the final artist’s depiction for the coin was complete. The drawing for the 1974 coin was done by the famous artist Barbara Hyde. The other coins in the series were done by either Barbara or another famous artist Boris Buzan.

The mint assured Mac that the first order of coins could be completed and delivered to Fairbanks in time for Christmas 1974.

With their assurances in hand Mac wired them the money for 1,000 of the 1974 coins which are to be made in one ounce .999 pure silver and went to work laying out a newspaper add for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Let me digress and explain the process of actually making a coin in the 70’s:

First Step: The artist would form clay into a round disk about 12” in diameter and about 2” thick and with small tools they would carve the design for the coin in intricate detail in the clay. This first step would be a “positive” of the design (“positive” means: the design is exactly as it will appear once the actual coin is produced). This “positive” was then approved – or changes were made – by Mac. Once this “positive” was finished and approved the clay was allowed to dry and harden;

Second Step: The artist would then coat the clay with a non-stick coating and place it in a mold formed out of Formica that would fit snuggly around the clay disk. This would be placed on a perfectly level table and the mold would be filled with plaster and the plaster would be allowed to dry and harden. Once it has hardened the artist would separate the clay from the plaster but the clay would be destroyed in the process. Then the artist cleans any remaining clay from the plaster and carves more details into the plaster using small tools. This plaster rendering has been transformed into a “negative” of the artwork (“negative” means: everything is reversed – the design, including all words, is backwards);

Third Step: Once the plaster rendering is approved the artist then coats it with a non-stick coating and places it in a mold formed out of Formica which fits snuggly around it. This is placed on a level table and the mold is then filled with fiberglass which is allowed to dry and harden. The fiberglass rendering is separated from the plaster but the plaster is usually destroyed in the process. The fiberglass rendering is then cut at four precise locations on the outer edge so that it will mount on a “pantograph machine” which makes the die(s). The fiberglass rendering is now a “positive” of the artwork for the coin;

After a die (see below) has been made from the fiberglass rendering it is preserved for future use. Over time, as the coins are being minted from a die, the die will wear out or sometimes crack and become unusable so a new die must be made from the fiberglass rendering with a pantograph engraving machine, polished, hardened and re-polished to continue making the same coin.

Dies – how they are made: A solid round 2 1/2” to 3” bar of soft steel is cut to a specific length to be made into a coin die (around 3” long). The round bar is machined to the shape needed for the minting machine being used (there are several styles). The machining process takes precision and considerable time;

Fourth Step: Once the round bar has been cut and machined to fit the coin press the fiberglass rendering and the bar meet at a machine shop where they are attached to a pantograph engraving machine. The fiberglass rendering is attached on one end of the machine where a small feeler will trace every detail and cut the detail into the bar located at the other end of the machine where a very small diamond cutting bit cuts every detail into the bar. This takes from 24 to 48 hours – depending on cutting speed – and the bar (now a coin die) is ready for the next step. The die is a “negative” of the coin artwork;

Fifth Step: The die is polished or finished with a texture that is desired by Mac or whoever is ordering the coins from the mint. Once this is finished the die is sent to heat-treating which hardens the die so that it will stand up to the heat and pressure of the minting machine. After heat treating and hardening it is again polished or sand-blasted or finished according to the order;

Now we’re ready to mint coins – right? Not yet! This is only one side of the coin and every coin has two sides. The entire process – from sketch to artist to molds to dies to pantograph to striking the coins at the mint – has to be done for each side of the coin…..

Sixth Step (or eleventh step after both sides of the design have been made into dies): The dies are placed into a coin minting press and aligned so they line up and they are tested on a lead blank (sometimes aluminum) and re-aligned as needed. The pressure required to strike (make) the coins varies depending on the hardness of the metal used for the coin. Brass, copper, tin, zinc and other metals are harder than say silver or gold. Set up time can take a few hours to get the coin press set up perfectly.

All of this effort to make just a single coin can take days, weeks or a month to complete. In addition, as you can imagine, the cost is from several to many thousand dollars for a single, good quality, bas relief (detailed), coin.

 Cheaper (lesser quality) coins do not go through this lengthy and expensive process. A lot of the recent coins are made and designed by computer – which weren’t available in the 70’s and the quality of today’s coins may be lacking in comparison to the older coins.

Back to Mac and the first – 1974 – Trans Alaska Pipeline Coin:

With the ad design in hand (using only the final artist’s depiction for the coin along with the wording for the ad) Mac went to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and placed an order for an ad depicting the 1974 Trans Alaska Pipeline Coin with a guaranteed delivery in time for Christmas 1974.

 The ad came out and the orders from the News-Miner ad for the Trans Alaska Pipeline Coin were great. The coins came in from the mint via Alaska Airlines in a lead sealed five gallon metal bucket and Mac went to work filling the orders by sending the coins to individuals via the Post Office using Certified Mail. All orders were delivered in time for Christmas 1974! However, orders continued to come in after Christmas.

Mac revised his plan for the coins. He decided that he could design, produce and distribute a coin every three months depicting the progress of the Trans Alaska Pipeline. While Mac was busy mailing orders that were still coming in for the 1974 Trans Alaska Pipeline Coin he went to work on ideas for designing the second coin and setting up retailers (jewelry stores, gift shops, coin dealers and others) to sell the coins.

The first coin was dated 1974 and was minted in December commemorating the start of the Trans Alaska Pipeline after years of delays and at a budget eight times the original estimate;

The second would be 1975m (m=March) showing semis hauling the 80' sections of 48" pipe using the Yukon River Ice Crossing;

The third coin: 1975j (j=June) showing the first sections of the pipeline completed across the Tonsina River;

The forth coin: 1975s (s=September) showing elevated section of above ground pipe being installed;

The fifth coin: 1975d (d=December) commemorating the bridge across the Yukon River;

The sixth coin: 1976m (m=March) commemorating the Hover Platform crossing the Yukon River with material and crews;

The seventh coin: 1976j (j=June) commemorating President Ford visiting Pump Station #8;

The eighth coin:P 1976s (s=September) commemorating welding of the 80' sections of the 48" pipe;

The ninth coin: 1976d (d=December) depicting a carrier moving sections of pipe;

The tenth coin: 1977m (m=March) commemorating an AIA Hercules C130 used to haul material and supplies to the North Slope;

The eleventh coin: 1977j (j=June) showing the ease of Caribou migration across the buried sections of the Trans Alaska Pipeline; and,

The twelfth coin: 1977s (s=September) commemorating the loading of oil into the first oil tanker in Valdez Alaska. This coin coincided with the date scheduled for completion of the Trans Alaska Pipeline and the date they would be loading oil into the first tanker ship to transport oil to the lower 48 states.

The Trans Alaska Pipeline Coins are .999 fine silver. However, there are many sets that were struck in bronze, as well as sets in 18kt gold and sets in 22kt gold.

 If you are fortunate enough to own one of these sets you have a souvenir collector’s item that commemorates one of the greatest historic events in American history. Look up the Trans Alaska Pipeline on Wikipedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Alaska_Pipeline_System    you will be amazed at the reality, challenges and the impact on the US, of this project. Don’t forget - if you like Wiki and want to keep it free you may make a donation.

The Trans Alaska Pipeline Coins are in demand at Coin Shops everywhere and are selling for more than double their issue price today

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