Carson not in Mint condition, just yet
For the Nevada Appeal
About the author: Rusty Goe, a professional coin dealer for more than three decades, spends much of his time researching and writing about the Carson City Mint and the coins it produced. From his business at Southgate Coins in Reno he has published two full-length books: “The Mint on Carson Street” (2004), and “James Crawford: Master of the Mint at Carson City” (2007). He founded the Carson City Coin Collectors of America in 2005, a non-profit educational club (www.carsoncitycoinclub.com), which publishes a journal called Curry’s Chronicle. Rusty is working on his next book, “The Confident Carson City Coin Collector.”
This is the third part in a six-part series about the history of the Carson Mint.
The following words in the preamble as set forth by the 37th Congress in its Nevada Mint Act, sounded like powerful lines from a victory anthem to the residents in the territory: “That a branch of the mint of the United States be located and established at Carson City, in the Territory of Nevada, for the coinage of gold and silver.” Virginia City’s leaders approved of every word in the decree except two: Carson City.
Four and a half months after the mint bill’s enactment, Treasury Secretary Chase commissioned Colorado’s territorial delegate to Congress, Hiram Pitt Bennet, to visit Carson City, survey the area, and select grounds on which to build a mint. Bennet arrived in Nevada’s capital on Sept. 3, 1863, where he received a royal welcome. Abraham Curry, Carson City’s architect and its most enthusiastic publicist, escorted Bennet around town, selling him on Carson City as the perfect site for Nevada’s mint. In Bennet’s report to Secretary Chase he strongly endorsed Carson City, adding the people there were “a very wide awake, enterprising and patriotic class of citizens.” All the while, dwellers in Virginia City viewed Bennet’s visit to Carson City, from a distance, with scorn.
When local newspapers in the region reported Bennet had chosen a site in Carson City on which the government would build a mint, Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise expressed discontent.
In a mid-September 1863 editorial, the newspaper urged Nevada Territory’s legislators to petition Congress to have the mint law amended to substitute Virginia City for Carson City as the location for the building, “no matter what Commissioner Bennet may do now in the selection of a site for the proposed Branch Mint.”
Moving forward, Nevada’s mint project would encounter numerous obstacles before commissioners could turn over the first shovelfuls of dirt to launch construction.
Mark Twain, on assignment in Jan., 1864 at Nevada’s territorial legislative sessions in Carson City as a reporter for Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise, wrote, “Speaking of the mint, I have an item of news relating to that subject.”
Twain reported his source had revealed Treasury Secretary Chase told Hiram P. Bennet “that no further steps will be taken toward building a mint” in Nevada until it became a state and its U.S. senators and House representative arrived in Washington, D.C. to clear up the controversy surrounding Virginia City’s objection to the mint’s location.
When in late March, 1864, residents in Carson City feared the government had changed course and instead of a mint would build an assay office, the local paper issued an appeal for territorial delegate Gordon Newell Mott to do something. The Carson Daily Independent of March 25, 1864, wrote, concerning hearsay about such a plan, “We suppose our delegate (Mott) is all right in regard to this matter, and it is to be hoped he will exercise all the vigilance necessary” to prevent the government from demoting the Carson City Mint to an assay office. Two days later, on March 27, 1864, the Daily Independent reported the encouraging news that “We are to have a Branch Mint in Carson. No assay office, or anything of that sort; but a real bona fide Mint, with its Superintendent, melter and refiner, and all the other (supporting cast).”
Meanwhile in Congress, Senator William P. Fessenden and other senators lost their patience when James W. Nesmith from Oregon introduced a bill to establish a mint somewhere near Portland.
Senator Fessenden fumed if Congress went ahead with the mint in Nevada, and built a new one in Oregon, “we must then make another (one) by-and-by in Montana, and wherever else gold or silver may be discovered.” Because once such precedents were established, said Fessenden, the government would set up shop “to coin those metals on the spot,” near the mining regions, “we shall be compelled to follow it up.” He asked, “Do we mean to go on and establish mints in every state west of the Rocky Mountains, (which) may be organized, where the precious metals are found?”
At this session of the Senate, at the end of April 1864, senators heard comments from Treasury Secretary Chase read in which the secretary said “the inexpediency of multiplying mints for coinage … would justify a recommendation that so much of (the) existing acts (that) authorize coinage, except at great commercial centers, (should) be repealed.” Word of the senatorial proceedings sent shock waves back to Nevada.
The Carson City Mint project remained on hold throughout the remainder of 1864. After President Lincoln signed the act that welcomed Nevada as the 36th state in the Union, on Oct. 31, 1864, the state now had the representatives authorities in Washington, D.C. had said it needed, to directly convey the wishes of their constituents.
In the next session of Congress, in Feb., 1865, Nevada’s Senator James Nye made a motion to confirm the U.S. government had title to the plot of land in Carson City where the mint would stand.
The lone procrastinator, Moses Job, who with his wife owned the south half of the lot in question, finally followed through on the transaction, and by May, 1865, the Treasury Department marched into the next phase of the Carson City Mint project, which entailed putting design ideas on paper, forming a local commission, and selecting a building contractor.
In the meantime, the northern California press launched a “One Mint for the Pacific Coast” editorial campaign. In articles in newspapers such as the Daily Alta, opponents of a mint claimed it was “a waste of money.” In their collective opinion, “One mint is enough on the Atlantic side of the continent, and one on the Pacific.”
Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch established a Carson City Mint commission in late Dec., 1865. In early 1866, McCulloch appointed Alfred B. Mullett, a 32-year-old native of England, as supervising architect for the Carson City Mint. Abraham Curry, one of the three commissioners McCulloch had selected for the project, won the job of building contractor for the mint.
Before work began, Nevada’s Senator William M. Stewart introduced an appropriation bill in the Senate in April, 1866, for the purchase of machinery for the Carson City Mint, which set a precedent for what would ensue over the course of the next three and a half years, as Curry operated on a shoestring budget.
Rusty Goe, of Southgate Coins, 5032 S. Virginia St. in Reno, can be reached at number is (775) 322-4455. For more information visit http://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.