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America the Beautiful Silver 5 oz. Coin Series: Great Coins That Tell Great Stories

Perhaps because America has so many beautiful landmarks, or because Congress takes them so seriously, the 5 oz America the Beautiful silver coins turned out to be one of the U.S. Mint's biggest challenges to date.

Commissioned by the America's Beautiful National Parks Quarter Dollar Coin Act of 2008 and signed by President George W. Bush on December 23, the coins would not reach the public until 2010, when a 12-year commemorative program began.

The act, also known as Public Law 110-456, mandates that the Mint produces quarters matching notable sites in all 50 states, with the addition of the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The 56 unique quarters must also be matched by corresponding silver bullion coins weighing five ounces and sporting a gargantuan three-inch diameter. (That's a smidge under 142  grams and 76mm diameter.)

Now, let's take a step back and put this into perspective… The biggest coins, historically, weren't really that big. They came in about the same sizes as modern U.S. coins. The largest of the Ptolemaic pentakaidekadrachm found weigh in at 52 grams.

America the Beautiful 5 oz coins are the size of the coasters a waitress puts on the bar before she sets your beer down. Big enough to cover the palm of your hand. As thick as two stacked nickels. Big enough to make a reasonable paperweight, no joke.

Obviously, this is quite the increase over the quarter: 25 times heavier, twice as thick. The big AtB coins are nearly double the size of the American silver eagle.

These big American beauties are so much bigger than the usual coins it took the U.S. Mint two whole years to figure out how to make them.

Redefining impossible

The two-year delay came due to what appears to be a lack of familiarity in regards to minting technology on behalf of Congress members. When the bill was issued in 2008, there wasn't even a 5-oz blank available on the market, so the Mint had to get one made for this specific purpose. But because of the diameter, the coin turned out to be extremely thin. This made it impossible, at the time, to adhere to the bill's mandate that the edges of the 5-oz silver coin are lettered.

Instead of waiting for a revised bill that could make issuing these coins easier, the Mint ordered a unique press from a German firm that would be ideally-suited for a thin and detailed coin. With the Philadelphia Mint now sporting a high-tech press that can apply up to 1,000 tons of pressure on each strike, the first monster AtB coins went up for sale in April 2010, a little over a month after the press was obtained.

The most amazing thing about these huge coins, for our money, is just how crisp and beautiful the detailing is. And each designs are much easier to admire on th 5 oz. coins than on the circulation quarters.

The first state to get its America the Beautiful silver 5-oz coin was Arkansas, with an image of Hot Springs National Park, a 33,000 coin bullion mintage and a 27,000 uncirculated mintage. While the two-month interval between states was adhered to throughout the program, the number of coins issued varied considerably. (For example, 126,700 bullion pieces of Pennsylvania's Gettysburg National Military Park coin were minted, with an additional 24,625 uncirculated ones.)

The 56th coin, which features the Tuskegee Airman National Historic Site in Alabama, marks the end of the program and has been issued as part of a 50,000 bullion set. The uncirculated coins have yet to reach the 20,000 mintage limit and are still available on the Mint's website. And, as the lofty $229 price tag can attest, there's more to a quarter dollar than meets the eye.

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