Cashing in on history |

Cashing in on history

Rhonda Costa-Landers
Appeal Staff Writer
Rhonda Costa-Landers/Nevada Appeal Nevada State Museum volunteer and numismatist Ken Hopple, right, talks with visitors at the museum about the Carson City Mint's original coin press. The press is still used today in the making of commemorative medallions for various groups.

The first medallion Ken Hopple pressed at the Nevada State Museum was a commemorative medallion for former Nevada Speaker of the Assembly Joe Dini in the fall of 2002.

He’s also pressed medallions for most Nevada towns, the Nevada Legislature, and requests from special-interest groups.

“We use different metals to press the medallions,” Hopple said. “Brass, copper, silver – I have done gold for the Nevada Legislature – silver clad and nickel.”

Hopple, 61, was pressing a brass medallion recently for Nevada’s 74th State Legislature – 2007. The front of the coin shows a tule duck decoy, and the Nevada State Seal on the back.

“I’m a tool and die maker by trade,” said Hopple, a senior tool maker for the Hamilton Co. in Reno. His profession is called a numismatist.

Ken’s wife, Karen, 53, does research work at home on the computer and helps design medallions.

“I make my own hours and do my own thing,” Karen said, as she cleaned the plastic medallion cases while wearing white gloves.

The Hopples have been volunteers at the Nevada State Museum for about five years. Married 29 years, they have lived in Golden Valley for 27.

“Imagine meeting this guy and listening to what he does and had done,” Karen Hopple said. “He took me to see the King Tut exhibit on our honeymoon.”

Ken started out as a volunteer in the anthropology department. He made a part for the coin press and, according to Karen, “he was stolen from the anthropology department to be a volunteer on the coin press.”

Now, the Hopples are at the museum the fourth Friday of each month operating the press and talking with visitors to the museum about the history of the press, coins and medallions.

“Ken’s a natural talker,” Karen said. “We have a lot of fun doing this.”

“Nevada is the only former mint with an original working press,” Ken said.

Bob Nylen, curator of history of the Nevada State Museum, said there have been only eight mints in operation throughout the United States. They are New Orleans, Charlotte, N.C., Carson City, Dahlonega, Ga., Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco and West Point, N.Y.

The bullion depository at Fort Knox is also part of the Mint system. New Orleans, Charlotte and Carson City are all now museums, with the old San Francisco mint in process of being converted into a museum.

Ken Hopple’s interests go beyond anthropology and coins. In 1972 he built a 48-foot ferrous cement boat and sailed it to Hawaii.

“It took me three and a half years to build it,” he said. “And I had a machine shop on board.”

It took Hopple 22 days to get to Hawaii from Southern California.

Hopple used the machine shop to make money while moored in Hawaii, enough to pay for his return to California.

“I’m also a black-powder shooter – guns,” he said.

From Anaheim, Calif., Ken’s employer – Quick Set – relocated to Nevada, so the couple moved to Nevada, also. He has a degree in manufacturing from Cal State Fullerton.

“We press the last Friday of each month and a couple of Saturdays throughout the year,” Karen Hopple said. “The medallions are for the gift shop or commemorative medallions for cities.”

Historic Carson City Coin Press No. 1

WHERE: Nevada State Museum, 600 N. Carson St.

WHEN: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily; press operates last Friday of each month and on special occasions

COST: $5 adults; $3 seniors, free to ages 17-younger

CALL: 687-4810

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The Carson City Mint was created March 3, 1863, and went under construction in 1866; building completed 1869.

The first six-ton press, a Morgan & Orr Coin Press No 1, weighing 12,000 pounds arrived in 1869, and on Feb. 11, 1870, struck the first coin bearing the CC mintmark, a Seated Liberty dollar. Production capability was 1,500 coins per hour; today, one medallion takes 10 seconds to strike.

Fifty-seven issues of silver coins minted bore the “CC” mint mark.

The Carson City Mint produced silver and gold coins with ore mined from the Comstock Lode and other western mines from 1870-85, and again from 1889-93 and was the only mint to carry a dual character mintmark on its coins.

In 1878 the press suffered a crack in the arch and was repaired at the local shop of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad. V&T machinists replaced the original brass Morgan & Orr plate with one bearing the name of their famous railroad.

The presses were removed in 1899 along with other machinery in the coiner’s department. Press No. 1 was moved to the Philadelphia Mint, where it was remodeled in 1930 to operate with electrical power.

In 1945 it was transferred to the San Francisco Mint and renumbered “5” to correspond with its place in the coining department there.

When coin production was temporarily halted at San Francisco in 1955, the old press was due to be scrapped. The state of Nevada purchased the press for $225 and it arrived back in Carson City in 1958.

However, with a severe coin shortage in 1964, the press was trucked to the Denver Mint and placed in operation, striking more than 188 million coins during the next three years.

The press was again returned to the Carson City Museum in 1967 and converted to a much slower electric drive. In 1976, it was used to strike Nevada Bicentennial medals in gold, silver, copper and bronze, and in following years created a lengthy series of medallions produced by the Nevada State Museum.

From 1885-1933 the Carson City Mint served as the U.S. Assay Office for gold and silver. The Federal Government sold the building to the state of Nevada in 1939, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places on Sept. 5, 1975.

The Carson City Mint produced in both silver and gold, $50 million worth of coin. The last coin struck was an 1893 Morgan Silver Dollar.

All items now pressed are called medallions. It is no longer a mint as it no longer produces coins, which is currency.

The most rare coin to be struck at the Carson City Mint is a dime, called “1873-CC Without Arrows” dime, recently purchased at auction for $891,250. It is the only one of its kind known to exist.

• Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at or 881-1223.