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The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 53, December 31, 2006, Article 5

BOOK REVIEW: THE DENVER MINT - 100 YEARS OF GANGSTERS, GOLD AND GHOSTS

A sucker for new books, I ordered a copy of 'The Denver Mint: 100 Years
of Gangsters, Gold, and Ghosts' by Lisa Ray Turner and Kimberly Field.
It's a bit of a disappointment given that the publisher touted it as
"the most comprehensive book ever published about the Denver Mint."
If by "comprehensive" they meant covering the entire timespan of its
existence, the book does that, covering the Mint's history through its
2006 centennial.  But while its span is broad, its coverage feels shallow.

Not that there isn't some good stuff here - the authors have fleshed
out a lot of interesting details behind some of the high-profile
incidents at the Mint, particularly the thefts and robberies.  With
background from contemporary newspaper articles and other sources
the authors do bring these fascinating incidents to life.  Photos of
the thieves, their guns and getaway cars, stories of their friends and
family, all make for interesting reading.  There aren't many numismatic
books featuring an abandoned garage containing a shot-up Buick and
the bloody frozen corpse of a robber.

But other parts of the book seem thin, despite the number of sources
and people consulted.  However, I'm viewing the book through the lens
of a numismatic bibliophile who's seen a lot of what's been published
on all the U.S. Mints.  The highlights are there, but not a lot of meat
- at least not a lot of fresh meat.  While it's a fine book for general
readers looking to learn more about a slice of Denver history, it
will augment, not replace anything already in print.

Where it augments the current body of work on the Denver Mint is in
the details of the crime stories described above and in its telling
of the modern era of the Mint building's disrepair, near abandonment
and replacement with a suburban facility, and finally its refurbishment
and expansion.

A number of the book's features were real head-scratchers though,
starting with the few coin illustrations - these are of circulated
coins, sometimes heavily circulated coins.  There's nothing wrong with
circulated coins, but why not show better examples of the Mint's
product?  The coins were lent for the project by one of the authors'
parents.  And why waste space in the chapter notes to point the reader
to some homegrown web page to view an illustration of Frank Gasparro's
proposed dollar coin design instead of just including a picture of it?

And just what is the purpose of including recipes?  Yes - recipes.
While I'm sure Copper Penny Glazed Carrots, Denver Mint Brownies, Gold
Lemon Bars and Prohibition Punch would make for an interesting lunch,
they're a distraction here.  The book is a breezy read and that may be
all it was ever intended to be.  And I'm a crotchety old bibliophile.
But I'll still make room for it on my mint history shelf.  After all,
any book that includes NBS (www.coinbooks.org) in a list of reference
web sites is OK by me.

Besides, there really isn't anything much out there that directly
addresses the Denver Mint.  There are books on the Mint's forerunner,
Clark, Gruber and Company, but unless I've missed something, there's
nothing as substantial on the U.S. Mint in Denver. I have a copy of
David Eitemiller's 'Historic Tours: The Denver Mint' (1983), but it's
more of a pamphlet.  The Turner/Field book references a 1996 publication
I haven't seen, but it doesn't sound very substantive, either: Ohanian,
Susan, 'Denver Mint: Fun Facts and Figures about Making Coins in
Colorado'.  Has anyone seen this?

The book also references Larry Lee's 'Secrets of the Denver Mint
Archives' video.  This was a recording of his Numismatic Theatre
presentation at the 2003 Baltimore ANA convention.  I missed that
day of the show and asked him about the presentation.  He writes:
"The upshot is that some of the archives for the Denver Mint are
stored at the Denver Federal Center a few miles west of the mint.
These archives are rarely accessed by numismatic researchers -
according to the register, I was the first to look at much of the
material.

The holdings include the original die books for every coin series
struck at the Mint from 1906 the 1930s. So, for instance, you could
look up the 1914-D "penny" and note that it was actually a combination
of say, 8 obverse and 7 reverse dies (or whatever the exact figures
are) with a given mintage for each die; dates the dies were switched
out, and other numismatic jewels. The 1922 cent records are also a
treat. The archives are a real treasure trove of information for the
hard-core numismatic researcher and one that has yet to be fully
plumbed.

In the talk I covered the Denver Mint from 1906 to date. I am still
researching the Denver Mint as a non-minting assay office from
1863-1905, a time period upon which nothing has been published."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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