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The E-Sylum: Volume 11, Number 29, July 20, 2008, Article 10

BOOK REVIEW: SUPERINTENDENTS OF THE 1ST & 2ND SAN FRANCISCO MINTS

Superintendents of the 1st & 2nd San Francisco Mints This week I received my copy of Superintendents of the 1st & 2nd San Francisco Mints by Richard Nancy Oliver & Richard Kelly.

This 41-page spiral-bound book is printed on glossy stock with sturdy laminated covers. It is divided into twenty short chapters packed with pictures and biographical information about all of the men who held the important job of San Francisco Mint superintendent from 1853 through 1944. The mostly black and white illustrations are sometimes fuzzy, yet are likely the only available images.

The bios make for interesting and enlightening reading. Going beyond the requisite birth and death dates and career and family history, the authors include numerous stories of people, incidents and events surrounding the mint. For example:

The carpet in the Coiner's office was necessary, as his was entirely worn out and entirely unfit for use, and being so full of gold and silver, was replaced with a new one, in order that he might burn the old one. (p9)


The carpet was burned in the furnace so that the precious metals within it could be recovered. On April 30, 1861 a fire broke out in the assaying department:

The watchmen used axes to try and extinguish the flames, but were unsuccessful due to the fact that the flames had reached above the ceiling and had begun to burn the roof. Not wanting to call in the fire department, the watchmen contacted Superintendent Hempstead at his home. (p11)


The book of course touches on the Mint's harrowing ordeal in the 1906 earthquake and fire. It also discusses a secret transfer of $270 million in gold coin to the Denver Mint in 1908 (p32). One of my favorite stories is that of the silver dollar avalanche of 1933:

Vault "J" had not been opened in five years. On that near fatal day, employees unsealed the doors to the vault. They were unaware that moisture had oozed through the walls and rotted the sacks holding the dollars, so that when the fresh air came in, it quickly began to rot the sacks even further. The bags began to come apart as the seams...

No sooner than he made his way out of the vault door, when the 29,000,000 silver coins began to move. With a huge roar, the coins burst thorough their sacks, and filled the passageway where Michael had stood just moments before. The coins continued to escape their rotted sacks, spilling out the vault door and into the corridor.

It took two months, and the work of 14 men, to gather the coins, to weigh them, and to count them...


I noticed at least one typo in the book (page 9: "there was a charge of administration"), and the coin images could have been much better. But these are small matters; the book succeeds in its purpose. For the first time in one publication, we have a compilation of biographical and historical information on the important but heretofore obscure public servants responsible for creating the classic coinage of the San Francisco Mint. It's a thin volume, but it filled a wide gap in my shelf of references on the branch mints of the U.S.

To learn which Superintendent died of a stroke while decorating a Christmas tree, order a copy of the book! The authors have made this offer to readers of The E-Sylum:

The cover price is $20, but to E-Sylum subscribers we will defray the extra cost for shipping and handling so the total cost remains at $20. If you are interested, please email Nancy Oliver and/or Richard Kelly at noliver146@sbcglobal.net.


I shared my review with the authors, who add:
We have endeavored to correct the typing errors since we have sent out our first batch to our very first customers. We are doing all the work on the book ourselves, the creation, and the final printing - and do each book to order. Since the creation of the first six, we have made minor corrections. The "charge" word to "change" has already been corrected, as has several others we have found since doing yet another series of editing. None of them serious, thankfully.

Second, yes a few of our images of the Superintendents came fuzzy, especially Peter Lott, and Nancy worked hard to bring them clear with our software. The Lott photo came from a portrait on a wall of the Supt's office, which was almost invisible. But Nancy pulled it out, and I was generally shocked that she even got it that clear. And as well, a portrait of Stevens, after six months of search, was surprisingly unobtainable. We know for a fact that portraits of maybe all of the Supt's were on the walls of the Superintendent's office, but after questioning Washington DC, Director Moy, etc., no one seems to know if they still exist. We have tried to make the book of the best quality, and you have made us feel good that we have mostly accomplished that. And yes, the Michael Kelly story of the falling silver dollars is also one of our favorites.


THE BOOK BAZARRE

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DAVID F. FANNING NUMISMATIC LITERATURE offers fixed price lists on our Web site at www.fanningbooks.com. In stock: Historia Numorum, by Barclay Head. 1963 Spink reprint. A foundational work on Greek numismatics. Very good. $130 postpaid. dfanning@columbus.rr.com
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Wayne Homren, Editor

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