Joe Sprague lines up a quarter in the big press in preparation for its encasing. The machine, which weighs more than 11 tons, can bring 300,000 pounds of pressure to the task. The original equipment required the operator to simply eyeball the fit, but Sprague brought it into the 21st century by adding the laser pointer. Kuchler said the machine may have served in the famous U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.
With his new business, Phillip Kuchler is making a pretty penny. And pretty quarters, dimes and half-dollars.
Kuchler recently purchased, and is now restoring, an entire mint — the massive equipment of the old Northern Mint, a private company that for more than a century operated in several locations in the Northeast. The company churned out specialty coins, including a large number of the doubloons tossed from floats in Louisiana's Mardi Gras parades.
The company also created "encased coins," a popular promotional item used in years past by companies across the U.S.
An encased coin is a coin that is squeezed into a metal ring. In the process the press adds advertisements or other elements to the encasement.
Americans of a certain age will recall being given a "lucky penny" with phrases like "Keep me and you'll never be broke" embossed in the horseshoe-shaped encasing.
Kuchler said encased coins, which were first created in 1901, started to lose their appeal about 1960 when ball-point pens were introduced. The pens provided a more cost-effective way to promote a business, he said.
Kuchler is convinced there is still a market for encased coins.
Kuchler recently purchased the Northern Mint's equipment and had it moved from Waukon, Iowa, to a Sequim warehouse. The move wasn't easy, he said. The die press, the biggest piece of purchased equipment, weighs more than 11 tons. "We had to hire a house mover to put it in place," Kuchler said.
He added that he also had to install a new transformer to handle the massive power needs of the equipment.
With the help of Joe Sprague of Vern's Place Small Engine Repair, Kuchler has been rebuilding the old machines and learning the trade.
Now he's ready to start producing a new generation of encased coins. The equipment can handle pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and half-dollars, all of which can be encased in 32 different colors of anodized aluminum rings. The firm also can produce the old horseshoe-shaped "lucky penny" encasing.
Those seeking a little extra panache can spring for a copper or brass encasing.
Kuchler anticipates companies celebrating an anniversary will be his best customers.
'From paradise to heaven'
Kuchler and his wife, author Bonnie Louise Kuchler, own a bed and breakfast in Port Angeles. He said he first learned about encased coins when the two were living in Hawaii.
While attending a coin show on the mainland in 2004, Kuchler saw a few encased coins. He was intrigued and purchased several to promote his own businesses, including the Honolulu Gift Fair, which he still manages.
He continued purchasing encased coins until 2005 when Northern Mint closed down. The next year Kuchler traveled to Iowa to see the equipment, but didn't buy it. "I had no idea how to get it to Hawaii affordably. And warehouse space is at a premium in Hawaii," he said.
Then "Flip" and Bonnie learned the P.A. business was for sale.
They took over the B&B in May 2009.
Kuchler said, "We came from paradise to heaven."
After purchasing the machines, Kuchler had the good fortune to make Sprague's acquaintance. "He had the ability to run the machines," Kuchler said. Since then the two have been slowly starting up the business.
Now they're ready to move the metal. "It's not too late for 2012," Kuchler said, noting the coins usually require 12 weeks for delivery.
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