It was 150 years ago this month when one of the Nevada State Museum’s — and the state of Nevada’s — most treasured artifacts first arrived in Carson City.
The opening of the U.S. Branch Mint was still several months off, but the coin press that would produce coins from the silver and gold mined from the Comstock Lode arrived to the mint building in the winter of 1868. There to welcome it was Abraham Curry, one of Carson City’s founding fathers.
Today, it’s known as Coin Press No. 1 and is the only coin press of its day known to still be operating — producing commemorative medallions for museum visitors, special occasions and numerous historic organizations. Each one featuring the famed CC mintmark, making it part of the Mint’s living legacy.
“It is hard to overstate the significance of the Carson City Mint and its original coin press, still in operation,” said Nevada State Museum Director Myron Freedman. “It is nothing short of a national historical phenomenon. We love sharing that story with visitors. Every time the press runs is like a magic moment connecting them to a unique period in Nevada’s history.”
On Saturday, Dec. 15, the Nevada State Museum will launch an 18-month celebration of the sesquicentennial of the opening of the U.S. Branch Mint in Carson City with a Coin Press Arrival Party. (The Nevada State Museum occupies the former Mint building).
Cake and punch will be served in the Dema Guinn Concourse and volunteers dressed in 1868 fashions will offer historical interpretations for visitors. Visitors are also encouraged to dress in period costume. Students in the Carson High School Culinary Arts Program are baking “Mint 150” cupcakes to mark the occasion.
The event, which starts at 10 a.m., will also include coin-related activities for children; a talk on the history of the coin press by Bob Nylen, the museum’s curator of history at 11 a.m.; and demonstrations of the coin press in which visitors can purchase a “blank” silver medallion in the museum store and have it minted on the press. A new medallion featuring Abe Curry will be minted, beginning at 12:30 p.m.
Curry was instrumental in the construction and the opening of the Carson City U.S. Branch Mint on Jan. 6, 1870. In late 1868, he oversaw the arrival of critical machinery needed to operate the mint, including Historic Coin Press No. 1.
Manufactured in Philadelphia by Morgan and Orr, the press was a state-of-the-art, steam-powered machine. It was sent by ship, crossing Panama by rail (before there was a canal from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans), and upon arriving in San Francisco was transferred to the Central Pacific Railroad for delivery to the newly established town of Reno. In Reno, the 6-ton coin press was loaded on to wagons for delivery to Carson City.
The press was moved into the mint building where it was reassembled and readied for operation. Unfortunately, due to other delays, the press wouldn’t go into coining production until 1870.
Due to his determination, Curry was able to overcome the many obstacles and received the honor of being appointed the first superintendent of the Carson mint in April 1869. He was present to see the first coins come off the press in 1870 when the Liberty Seated dollars were produced.
Between the opening in 1870 and its closure in 1893, the Carson City Mint produced nearly $50 million (face value) of gold and silver coins. Today, coins with the famous “CC” mint mark are highly coveted by collectors and among the most valuable in the coin-collecting world. An 1873 dime with no arrows — the only one of its kind known to still exist — sold at auction for $1.8 million in 2012.
“We are planning programs every month leading up to the 150th anniversary of the Mint’s opening,” Freedman said. “Visitors will learn about all facets of its industrial and social history, and there will be several special mintings along the way, starting with the new Abe Curry medallion.”
The Coin Press Arrival Party also includes the museum’s annual Autumn Book Signing in the Dema Guinn Concourse from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. It features more than a dozen Northern Nevada authors.
Minting of the Abe Curry commemorative medallion will continue on Sunday, Dec. 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.