How much work did U.S. Mint Lady Adjusters do?
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The subject of adjusting gold and silver coin blanks and planchets is not one that comes up often. The entire world of “Lady Adjusters” is one of limited knowledge and obtuse language. “Standards,” “Lights,” “Heavies,” “Collectors” are not routine coin collector terms, and the Adjusting Room was, itself, off limits to most mint personnel. (The best description of adjusting work will be found in my book From Mine to Mint.)

During April 1900, sequestered within the Adjusting Room, plus an adjacent lunch room and lavatory, sixty-two (62) women carefully weighed every gold coin blank and most silver coin blanks. The work was repetitive, tedious, exacting; the room was crowded and often stuffy – windows were always closed to prevent loss of the tiniest fragment of gold. Leather aprons were worn to prevent metal from becoming embedded in clothing, and most ladies wore thin buckskin gloves so gold would not rub off on fingers.

This excerpt from an Adjusting Room work report of the Philadelphia Mint for April shows the number of blanks the ladies handled per day. [The image is supposed to be here, but the SW stuck it at the bottom.

The column titles require a little explanation:

Total Days = Days worked.

Average Planchets = Average per day of all types of planchets handled.

Silver Dollars = Quantity of dollar planchets handled per day this month.

Double Eagles = Quantity of double eagle planchets handled per day this month.

Days D.E. = Number of days working only on double eagle planchets.

Con’d gold per no. = Quantity of gold planchets the adjuster condemned for all reasons per month.

The names are in order of daily average from high to low. As can be seen from the table, Harbison averaged 2,425 planchets during 24 work days and the next highest was Flaherty at 2,239 or almost 200 less per month than the top performer. The lowest performer (number 62, not shown on this page) was Griffitts, with an average of just 720 planchets per day, also for 24 work days.

The overall average was 1,466.2 planchets per adjuster per day.

Data from these reports was used to determine employee retention in the case of furloughs, reductions-in-force, or reassignment to other duty such as counting, press operation, coin inspection and so forth.

[PS: If you enjoyed this little numismatic history lesson, please deposit 50-cents in your computer or iphone coin slot.]

19000514 P Report on adjuster work-April-2.jpg

Edited by RWB

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#48 Burns was probably in trouble - one of the lowest average planchets and by far the highest number of condemned pieces.

I enjoy seeing this stuff. I recall that these people were paid somewhere in the range of $2.50-4.50 per day.

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All pieces condemned for light weight were checked by a separate small group of adjusters and then approved by the Forewoman of the Adjusting Room. Miss Burns' might simply have encountered more defective blanks than other workers.

Low productivity was expected from new adjusters, but if it persisted for several months, corrective action seems to have been taken. This could mean removal, suspension, re-training, furlough or reassignment and pay reduction. There was usually a long waiting list for these jobs. The Mints could keep wages low, working conditions oppressive, and benefits minimal, although there was unexpected generosity when it came to long-term female employees who were ill. Correspondence indicates some women were given full pay for several months after their sick leave was exhausted (max. 30 days) even though unable to work. Civil Service rules tightened things, but the Director retained considerable leeway.

 

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15 hours ago, numisport said:

You did say most silver blanks right ? In 1900 imagine how big that job was.

Yes, silver coin blanks. By 1900 the US Mints all had automatic weighing and adjusting machines. These separated blanks (or planchets or coins) by weight into 5 classes: Overs; Heavies, Standards, Lights (all 3 within tolerance); and Unders.  "Unders" were melted. Overs and Heavies were sent for manual adjustment. Lights, Heavies and Standards were kept separate and then mixed to create the correct bag tolerance for gold coins. (The Royal mint, in contrast, just did a count of coins that were within tolerance for each bag. Thus, a bag of 1,000 Sovereigns could contain mostly light coins, and thus be under weight for the total number of coins.)

US silver was much less strict. Silver dollar blanks were the first to be handled automatically in 1879, followed by halves in the 1890s. There appears to be a lot of variance from month to month in the adjusting of silver, but gold was strictly handled. (Personally, I am skeptical that individual dime and quarter blanks were adjusted, but little solid information has appeared -- yet.)

Edited by RWB

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I have trouble reconciling some of the numbers, particularly the 1466 average planchets per day. Over an 8 hour day that works out to 3 per minute, or one every 20 seconds. Is that possible? Harbison was doing one every 12 seconds?

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The average includes more than silver dollars and DE --- all other gold was adjusted, too, plus smaller silver. Maybe by looking at several similar monthly reports, the situation will become clearer.

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Since load cell technology wasn't developed until maybe the 60's, they must have multiple balance scales within reach to make these determinations quickly and then make exacting adjustments. Might have been interesting for a few moments.

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17 hours ago, kbbpll said:

I have trouble reconciling some of the numbers, particularly the 1466 average planchets per day. Over an 8 hour day that works out to 3 per minute, or one every 20 seconds. Is that possible? Harbison was doing one every 12 seconds?

It's a little more interesting than that - something's up with the numbers.

Harbison worked 24 days, processing 4167 dollars and 1270 DEs. But dividing that total by the 24 days worked, that's only 226.5 planchets per day average, not the 2425 recorded. So either their math is wrong, my math is wrong, or there are other planchets in the adjusting room than the dollars and DEs.

The DE days were only Double Eagles, which means Harbison did 84.66 Double Eagle planchets per day assuming she didn't do any DEs on any of the other days. Assuming the 10 hour workday, that's about 8.5 planchets per hour.

Take the remaining 9 days, she was doing 463 silver dollar planchets per day or a semi-leisurely planchet every 3/4ths of a minute...if she was doing nothing else. But there's still the matter of the additional ~5800 planchets per day on the non-DE days to make the average work. 

It's pretty clear the DEs were significantly slower than any of the other planchets. Given the numbers, the silver dollars would have been the next slowest, and everything else must have been been handled in bulk or it's not humanly possible. 

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The New Orleans adjusting room records for April 1900 are easier to analyze. They only made dollars that month. 1,500,000 of them, taken from the monthly mintage records found here. https://archive.org/details/Rg104entry271vol5/page/n61/mode/2up

New Orleans lists 43 employees. They averaged 352 planchets per hour, 5.87 per minute, one every 10 seconds. The "perfect attendance" employees worked 168 hours, there were 21 weekdays during April 1900, so I conclude that New Orleans was working 8 hour shifts 5 days a week. I plugged the below numbers into a spreadsheet. We easily derive total April planchets for each employee, by multiplying hours worked by average per hour. The sum of that equals 2,167,021 planchets adjusted during April - 667,021 more than were coined. I suppose they got ahead of the coining, they touched roughly a third of the planchets more than once, or there's a discrepancy. I don't know how they would have recorded planchets per hour. I suppose each employee had a bin, but did they have counting machines? Merely counting roughly 10,000 coins per hour seems like a daunting task.

10 seconds per coin is an astounding rate. Even if the 2.1 million total was fudged, and we took the 1.5 million mintage instead, and all 43 employees worked the full 168 hours, that's still 207 coins per hour per employee, or one every 17 seconds. Harbison doing one every 12 seconds was actually a bit slow. :)I guess I needed a project this morning!

rg104entry229box114_0110.jpg

rg104entry229box114_0111.jpg

Edited by kbbpll

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Interesting. So the Philly mint is measuring planchets per day, New Orleans is measuring planchets per hour, and the average given the 8 hour workday isn't even close: 1466.2 for Philly but 2816 for New Orleans. Both sets of records have interesting discrepancies that make it somewhat hard to draw a conclusion.

According to a 2012 article, the dollar planchets weren't being adjusted, just checked for flaws and weight. That would definitely speed it up. 

Because I'm bored today too I did a little unscientific experiment: I took 50 raw Morgans that I haven't gotten around to yet, and stacked them as indicated in the article. I went through them 4 times looking for cracks or lamination errors and weighing them using a digital scale. They were all spot on for weight, had no flaws, and I averaged just under 4 coins/minute - 233 per hour. That's not terribly far off the low end of what's seen in the New Orleans mint's records. I make the assumption that a flaw or lamination error would be easier to detect on a blank planchet than a struck coin, offsetting any gain I got by using the digital scale.

That same article makes reference to a letter between the San Fran coiner and superintendent talking about the adjuster rate for double eagles of "about 400" but helpfully leaves off the per_____ bit. I searched NNP for it but drew a blank.

Edited by Kirt

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The adjuster records for San Francisco for April 1900 are here and on the next page. https://archive.org/details/rg104entry229box114/page/n341/mode/2up

Yet another different format. SF was also on 8 hours/day. DEs ranged 62-112 per hour. There seems to be a separate set of 7 employees doing the filing. SF also lists halves, quarters, and dimes. They minted no dollars that month. SF seems to only be weighing the silver. Some were doing upwards of 1200 dimes per hour - 3 seconds each.

I recall a lengthy letter, or exchange of letters, regarding someone's performance in the adjusting room and a defense of them, or something of that nature, around this time frame, but I did not bookmark it. Maybe I can find it again (or I could be remembering something else).

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I think I figured it out!

I don't think Philly's averages are per day - I think they're hourly, like SF and NO:

                            San Fran (Hourly)     |     New Orleans (Hourly)    |     Philly as reported     |      Philly Hourly Conversion (assuming daily was reported and an 8 hour day)

Double Eagles                         80.5      |                       - N/A-           |                          64.2     |                                                         8.0

Dollars                                     -N/A-     |                        352.0          |                        333.3     |                                                       41.7

Other silver                            2369.4    |                       -N/A-            |                      3879.8     |                                                     484.9

 

The other silver is the aggregated averages from San Fran halves, quarters, and dimes. I estimated Philly other silver by calculating the total coins based on their daily averages, then subtracting the double eagles and dollars.

I bet the text "Average Hourly Planchets" didn't format as neatly as a column header and to them it was obviously an hourly figure, so why not eliminate the word? What could go wrong? doh!

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Ahhhh.....some good thinking and data analysis going on! Nice work!

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