Dennis Cassinelli: The Carson City Mint coin die discovery
The Carson City Mint operated from 1870 until it stopped producing coins in 1893, and was finally closed entirely in 1933. The historic building remained unoccupied until 1941, when it was selected to be the site for the Nevada State Museum. In 1955, the famed coin press No. 1 was salvaged for $225 and returned to the museum. In 1964, the old coin press was called into service again during coin shortages at other U.S. Mints. It has now returned home to Carson City permanently.
In 1999, the museum was undergoing a renovation in the west side parking lot where a section of Caroline Street was removed for landscaping and a new parking lot, dumpster enclosure, sidewalks and other improvements. During the process, some old tools and rusty trash were uncovered by the backhoe operator, Adrian O’Brien. One day, Adrian notified the contractor, Dennis Cassinelli, that he had uncovered what he called “a bunch of rusty old bearings.” Dennis went over to examine the items and being an amateur archaeologist, he recognized them as coin dies from the Carson City Mint.
Since it was late in the day, Dennis took some of the dies home and brought them back the following morning and showed them to Doug Sutherland, an employee of the museum. Doug asked “where did you find those coin dies?” Dennis then took Doug out to the dumpster enclosure area where Adrian had been digging a trench for the dumpster footing and showed him many more dies in a plastic bucket and even more still sticking out from the sides of the excavation. Artifacts found on state property remain the property of the state by law. Most of the dies were extremely rusted and some were fused together into clumps of rusted dies.
Dennis notified Dr. Gene Hattori of the discovery and he recovered the dies that were visible in the trench. He then made arrangements for a ground penetrating radar company to run a grid over the property. The radar revealed several places where there was an indication of buried metal. Hattori then started systematically hand excavating places where there were indications of metal. In one location, there was an especially “hot spot” where Dennis used the backhoe to carefully uncover a large piece of sheet metal. When the metal was removed by Hattori, there was a cluster of coin dies that been protected from very much moisture and the dies beneath the metal were well preserved.
Hattori then removed over 500 of the dies from the site until he felt he had enough for the study he would be making of the coin die discovery. When he finished, he asked Dennis to bury the site with his backhoe to preserve it for future archaeologists. When word got out in the media that coin dies had been found at the site, it became impossible to keep looters and artifact hunters from cutting down the orange plastic construction fence, especially on weekends. No one knows how many dies were taken during that time. Several of the coin dies are now on display at the museum.
It has been reported that the original cancelled Carson City mint coin dies that were discovered in 1999 appear occasionally at auctions. Some of these, depending on condition, have sold well into the five-figure range over the past 30 years or so. One of the coin dies Cassinelli discovered in 1999 was for an l875 20 cent coin that had been cracked when being used in the coin press at the mint. A coin collector has found that he had one of the 20 cent coins that had been produced with this cracked coin die. The museum has created a special exhibit that shows both the original cracked die and one of the 20 cent pieces that shows the image of the crack. This was the first time a coin has been matched up with the die that produced it. This is truly a rare occurrence.
Canceled coin dies are legal to own, since the design has been defaced. This removes the possibility of them ever being used to produce deceptive counterfeit coinage. Carson City Mint coin dies are known to have come into private hands following the closing of the Carson City mint during a period when the U.S. mint system was known for being less than above board in it’s operating standards. Proof of this was the burial of hundreds of the dies on the grounds of the Carson City Mint. One Carson City Mint coin die in rust free condition was used for years as a door stop in Virginia City. The owner’s grandfather had worked at the Carson City Mint in the 1870’s. It was later sold at auction for $ 18,975.
This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at denniscassinelli.com. All Dennis’ books sold through this publication will be at a discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.