One of the many quirky facts associated with the early United States Mint is that the Philadelphia coining facility once had a resident Bald Eagle (aka Peter the Mint Eagle).
According to the Coinage Act of 1792, also known as the Mint Act, American gold and silver coins were to be designed with an eagle on the reverse side of each coin. In keeping with this law, there were many different eagle designs used throughout the years following the U.S. Mint’s first silver and gold issues in the mid-1790s. This includes the Morgan Dollar reverse and Bust Half Dollar Reverse, among others. Even today, Washington Quarters continue to have an eagle as the reverse design.
What only a select group of collectors may be aware of, however, is that the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia actually had a resident Bald Eagle named Peter who called the Mint his home in the 1830s.
As the story goes, there were still Bald Eagles living in Pennsylvania in the mid-1800s, and they would frequently fly over the city of Philadelphia. One such eagle, later named Peter by the mint workers, began spending his evenings inside the Mint after flying around outside and having his exercise earlier in the day.
Upon returning to the mint each evening, he often perched on the coining equipment and was given access to an extensive portion of the mint building. With his presence at the Mint being a regular occurrence, many numismatic historians have conjectured that he may have served as inspiration for some of the reverse designs created for American coinage over the years.
One fateful day, Peter was perched upon the flywheel of a coining press when the machine started and his wing became injured. With a broken wing, he unfortunately passed away. However, Peter had become a beloved figure at the Mint and had lived there for approximately six years between 1830 and 1836. Upon his passing, a skilled taxidermist was hired to stuff and mount the Mint’s mascot.
If you visit the Philadelphia Mint today, you can still see Peter, where is on display in an acrylic case. He lives on, not only as a display of the Mint’s history in Philadelphia, but also on the United States Mint website.
Over 150 years later, Peter is featured as part of the H.I.P (History In Your Pocket) Pocket Change program for young collectors. As the continuing mascot of the United States Mint, Peter the Mint Bird has been able to live on for posterity.
By Sarah Miller