Dennis Cassinelli: My fascination for silver dollars

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My mother, Phyllis, was one of the first female blackjack dealers in Nevada. She and her sister, Clare, worked for Harold’s Club in Reno in the early 1940s. General Manager Raymond “Pappy” Smith was the first Nevada casino owner to hire female blackjack dealers to work in the clubs. His reasoning was, if casinos hired female dealers, more GIs from the Reno Army Airbase would be attracted to the clubs. In modern times, female dealers are common.

In those days, casinos used composite chips nearly as much as they do today. However, they also used the common medium of exchange in Nevada at that time, the silver dollar, for many of their table games. Winners were paid out in silver dollars as were tips and even sometimes wages.

When I started school in Sparks, hot lunch was 20 cents per day or $1 for the whole week. Every Monday, Mom, being a blackjack dealer, would give me one silver dollar from her tip money for my weekly lunch. I soon noticed in addition to the Peace dollars minted from 1921 through 1935, most were the much older Morgan dollars minted off and on from 1878 through 1904 and again in 1921.

I was fascinated so many of the silver dollars given to me for lunch money were made back in the 1800s. One day, I noticed to my surprise that one of the silver dollars she gave me was a Cason City silver dollar dated 1890. I went all week without lunch and kept the old Carson City silver dollar. I can honestly say I still have the first dollar I ever saved. Since then, I have found or acquired several more. Silver dollars make great gifts to grand children.

Later in my illustrious career, I worked on our family farms on Glendale Road in Sparks and in Spanish Springs Valley, weeding onions, stacking hay and working in the potato fields.

My Uncle, Chester, was the paymaster and bookkeeper for the operation. At that time, wages for farm laborers was 50 cents per hour. At the end of each workday, boys I went to school with and I, along with other laborers, were paid for our work. Chester stood at the edge of the field with a cowboy hat full of silver dollars. As each laborer passed by, he gave each one of us five silver dollars for the 10 hours we worked.

Before you think we were being ripped off back in those days, consider this amazing fact. If I were being paid those same five silver dollars today, each one would be worth approximately $16. This means the wages for one day of work would now be about $ 80 instead of $ 5. Silver and gold prices do fluctuate daily.

In 1999, my crew and I uncovered the amazing stash of over 500 coin dies that had been buried in the ground at the Nevada State Museum, formerly a branch of the U.S. Mint. Many of these dies were used to strike the Carson City silver dollars and Trade Dollars. Some of these rusted dies have been cleaned and displayed at the museum. I believe that were it not for my fascination for silver dollars, the buried coin dies would not have even been noticed by my employees. On the cover of my book, Chronicles of the Comstock, are color photos of several of my Carson City silver dollars, including the one given to me by Mom for lunch money and an unusual Carson City Trade dollar. The book has many stories about the Comstock era and the historic old mint. At the museum, you can see the coin press where the coins were struck, along with a display of nearly every gold and silver coin ever produced there. Chronicles of the Comstock makes an excellent gift for people interested in Nevada History.

Dennis Cassinelli is a Dayton author and historian. You can order his books at a discount on his blog at


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