Unshakable: Successful completion of Carson Mint

Ken Hopple displays a freshly pressed coin on Friday at the state museum in Carson City.

Ken Hopple displays a freshly pressed coin on Friday at the state museum in Carson City.

This is the final part in a six-part series about the history of the Carson Mint.

By the end of July, 1869, Curry told reporters he had all of the machinery installed and fitted, and the mint was nearly ready to commence work. On Aug. 12, he fired up the steam engine that would power all of the machinery and said he expected to have the mint in full operation and coining money by September 1. He gave much credit to Ezra Staley, whom the Treasury had sent from Philadelphia to equip, inspect, and test the mint’s machinery. Staley, a one-time millwright, had, according to the Daily Alta on Aug. 14, 1869 (quoting a Carson City dispatch), “put several Mints into running order.”

In late summer 1869, Henry R. Linderman, formerly the Director of the Mint, now serving as a special agent to the Treasury Department, visited the Carson City Mint as part of his sweeping two-month tour of government branches in California, Colorado, and Nevada. Linderman’s report, filed later in the fall, showed the Nevada institution to be in satisfactory condition.

The planned Sept. 1 opening date proved impossible to meet as Curry grew increasingly frustrated with the delays. He filed his mandatory report with Mint Director Pollock for the week just ended on Sept. 8, 1869. He told Pollock he had the assay department all set up, and he had already received commitments from depositors for $200,000 worth of gold and silver bullion, which the depositors anxiously wanted him to turn into coins. They would not deliver their bullion, however, until Curry could assure them he could coin it. Curry said he couldn’t give them that assurance until the government appointed the remaining officers he needed, especially the assayer.

Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise of Oct. 5, 1869, reported Supervising Architect Alfred Mullet had inspected the Carson Mint on Saturday, Oct. 2. Mullett “pronounc(ed) himself highly pleased with its construction,” stated the Enterprise. About three and a half weeks later, the Enterprise announced Curry would have the mint ready to spring into action by the first week of November.

More setbacks. Curry still needed an assayer, and he needed dies with which to stamp the coins.

He gave the go ahead for his machinists to test all of the machinery on a trial run on Tuesday, Nov. 2. He could go no further that month, however, as the Treasury Department continued to stall. Curry bypassed Mint Director Pollock and sent a letter to H. R. Linderman, crying out for help. Linderman told Curry the Carson Mint’s new assayer, Frank D. Hetrich, should arrive by mid-December. Linderman said Hetrich was “a reliable assayer and one of the best accountants and mathematicians in the U.S.” and Curry would “find him a very valuable aid.” As for a coiner, Linderman assured Curry he would talk to Secretary Boutwell about expediting the appointment of one.

In addressing Curry’s discouragement about winding up in December and not having a mint in operation, Linderman employed a put-an-arm-over-the-shoulder approach to comfort him. “Never mind being in too much of a hurry,” wrote Linderman. He then waxed philosophical, saying this:

“Mints are not started in a day, month, or even several months. These delays and vexations have attended the establishment of every one of our Mints, from the old Shop at Philadelphia down to Yours.”

Curry’s perspective obviously transcended Linderman’s “day, month, or even several months” vista. He surveyed the situation from a six-year span, dating back to March, 1863 when Congress had first authorized a mint in Nevada. He had poured out his life into this project, especially over the past four years. He had placed his other business affairs on hold and made many sacrifices that affected his family. He had suffered hardships and endured ridicule from naysayers, and had even declared bankruptcy. No, he could not dismiss the government’s slow-footedness as lightly as Linderman had suggested. Curry felt justified in his impatience. He wanted to open the mint for business, not tomorrow, not in a month, not in several months, but now.

In mid-December, Curry read Mullett’s report about his inspection of the Carson City Mint. Mullett noted Curry had completed everything according to plan, and could begin operations when the last positions were filled. For the record, Mullett added in time the mint building would benefit from an expansion of space.

It seemed doubtful Congress would ever appropriate more money to increase its size, especially since the total cost for building and equipping the mint had soared to more than $425,000. Curry would have to wait months before the government would reimburse him in full for expenses he had paid out of his personal assets. Laborers and suppliers who had given their time and materials, solely on their faith in Curry’s promises, also had to wait for delayed Treasury remunerations.

Curry wrote to Mint Director Pollock a few days before Christmas to inform him the would open the Carson Mint for the reception of bullion on the first Monday in 1870. Furthermore, Curry told the director he would commence coinage soon after he received the bullion deposits, and would use the dies dated 1869, which he had on hand. Curry asked that Pollock would promptly order the delivery of full sets of dies dated 1870 for gold and silver coins. He let Pollock know he had read in the director’s annual report Pollock believed the Carson Mint would probably “be much more an assay office than a mint,” confined to making commercial bars. Curry said “you express the opinion that very little coinage will be done in this Mint.” He disagreed with Pollock’s assessment, and said he hoped to soon prove the director wrong.

A powerful earthquake trembled through Carson City one week after Curry sent his letter to Director Pollock, shattering windows up and down the main business district and cracking walls. The Carson Mint at the north end of the main street stood like an indestructible citadel, not a stone out of place. Curry had built it to last for as long as its city endured.

A week later, just as he had told Pollock, Curry opened for business during the first week of Jan., 1870: a new mint to start a new year. Would it last a day, a month, several months, more than a year? Would it ever stamp a coin? Would anybody in the future care? Answers to these questions and many more have intrigued not only numismatists but also historians in general and Old West enthusiasts for decades, and they continue to evoke countless emotions and conjure up blissful and starry-eyed images galore.

The launch of the Carson City Mint in only the sixth year of the state of Nevada’s existence, opened the door to one of the most colorful and significant periods in U.S. coinage history. The coin factory’s impact on Nevada, although often obscured by time, ranks right up there near the top of the list of the greatest monuments of success in the Silver State’s past.

Rusty Goe, of Southgate Coins, 5032 S. Virginia St. in Reno, can be reached at number is (775) 322-4455. For more information visit www.southgatecoins.com. In 2012, Rusty collaborated with the California-based rare coin auction firm Stack’s Bowers to bring to market a complete (111-piece) set of Carson City coins in history. Rusty served as the chief architect , which he christened the Battle Born Collection, in honor of Nevada. It sold at auction in August 2012 for nearly $10 million.


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