Child's Play: It's two for the money at the Denver Mint

So, you've got a kid, huh? Whether it's your own rambunctious preschooler or the bratty nephew you've been charged with keeping alive for the next five hours, the most important thing is leaving your house where valuables are liable to be destroyed and seeking refuge on somebody else's property. In this series, we'll be exploring fun, local, and quirky spots that are kid-tastic and adult-friendly, too.

Money's sort of cool, right? There are just four United States mints in operation today, located in Philadelphia, San Francisco, West Point and, yup, sunny Denver. True, the Denver Mint might not have the raw sex appeal of, say, the Children's Museum, but the historic building is rightly treasured for being one of Colorado's oldest institutions and for its listing on the National Historic Register. What Coloradans may not know, though, is that this stately facility offers free daily public tours that'll amuse preschoolers, adolescents -- maybe even fickle teens, too.

See also: Climb your way to an afternoon of family bliss

The Denver Mint has a rich history that begins in 1858, the year gold was discovered in Colorado and hundreds of merchants migrated westward. A year later, Denver was founded, and then in 1863, the federal government established a mint facility in town. For its first 46 years of operation, the mint was a smallish and unassuming assay office in the Clark, Gruber and Company Bank Building, where local miners brought in things like gold dust and nuggets to be melted down and cast into bars.

But, by 1895, the facility was bringing in over $5.6 million in gold and silver deposits annually and so a new building was constructed at the location, this one much more grandiose than the first and inspired by a Florentine palace. Architect James Knox Taylor drew on Gothic Renaissance elements and, over a century before the "Buy Local" movement began, he chose granite from Arkins, Colorado for the building's stone facing. The grand hallway -- adorned with one-of-a-kind chandeliers and hand-stenciled ceiling artwork surrounded by gray- veined white-and-red marble -- is a marvel.

In its first year of operation, this new Denver Mint produced over 167 million gold and silver coins valued at $27 million.

Today, the Denver Mint continues to manufacture all denominations of circulating coins, with an output that can exceed 50 million coins in a single day. Coins produced at this mint all bear a "D" mintmark.

And you can see the magic happen.

Guided 45-minute-long tours are free and run every ninety minutes, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. Technically, these tours are recommended for children 7 and up, but, according to Jennifer DeBroekert in the mint's Office of Public Affairs, the tour guides make the experience memorable and fun for everyone.

During a typical tour, you'll get a bird's eye view of the production floor, complete with coining presses that strike over 750 coins a minute. Aside from watching the minting of coins and checking out real-live gold vaults, families can also sneak a peek at rare artifacts -- some of which date to the late 1700s and America's founding fathers.

It's a little-known fact that the Denver Mint is a gold repository, just like Fort Knox. "We store about a quarter of the nation's gold reserves right here in our facility," says DeBroekert. A few more fun facts: The Denver Mint is featured in Sylvester Stallone's film Cliffhanger, as the production point of the stolen money, and Jimmy Eat World mentions the place in the song "Lucky Denver Mint." The Denver Mint was also responsible for producing the first Congressional Medal, as well as the Colorado Statehood Centennial medal.

Reservations are required for all tours and can be made online. You should be at the tour entrance thirty minutes before the tour begins; there are some security requirements -- all outlined online. For more information, visit the Denver Mint's website or call 303-405-4761.

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Jamie Siebrase is a Denver-based freelance writer, and author of the forthcoming Falcon Guide Hiking Wth Kids, Colorado: 52 Great Hikes for Families.
Contact: Jamie Siebrase