David Lange submitted this review of the new Richard Kelly - Nancy Oliver book on John Daggett of the San Francisco Mint. Thanks!
Gold in His Veins: The Story of John Daggett – Early California Mine Owner,
Mint Master, Lieutenant Governor & More
by Richard G. Kelly & Nancy Y. Oliver
(reviewed by David W. Lange)
Rich Kelly and Nancy Oliver have become well established as the premier researchers of San Francisco Mint history, and the latest fruit of their labor is a fascinating book about the life of a person known to numismatists mostly for the wrong reason. It has long been assumed that John Daggett was the primary person responsible for the creation of a United States numismatic rarity–the 1894-S dime.
In addition to chronicling his entire life from birth to death, Kelly and Oliver have provided compelling evidence that Daggett, superintendent of the San Francisco Mint 1894-97, played only a peripheral role in the creation of these coins, though he may have been aware of their rarity at some point. This is just one chapter in the many which relate the rich life of a California pioneer who came west in ’52 to seek his fortune. Like many prosperous individuals of the Gilded Age, he was part gentleman and part scoundrel, in addition to being a devoted family man.
In their Introduction the co-authors state that their purpose in writing this book was several-fold: It is a continuation of their ongoing research into the 1894-S dimes; it relates to their long-held fascination with the San Francisco Mint; it complements their interest in genealogy; and, finally, it completes a task which Daggett himself sought to undertake but did not live long enough to do–write his own memoirs.
This book relates John Daggett’s New York State upbringing as the son of a foundry owner and his attempts to establish a similar business in California during the Gold Rush 1850s. After middling success as a prospector, John and his brother David did establish a foundry in Marysville, California, but the business was cut short by his brother’s untimely death. John ultimately began to dabble in mine ownership himself, and this is where he built the wealth that sustained him and his family for the remainder of his life. It also permitted him to dabble in California politics, where he held several state offices though failed in his attempt to become a United States senator.
A lifelong Democrat, Daggett’s prospects were challenging in the post-Civil War America, which was dominated by the Grand Old Party. He still held some sway in California, and this permitted him to be named superintendent of the San Francisco Mint in 1894 during the Democratic administration of President Grover Cleveland. His political enemies smeared Daggett for this appointment which, they claimed, was obtained through the influence of railroad tycoon Leland Stanford.
In all probability this was true, and Daggett set about replacing mint employees with loyal party Democrats. The openness with which this was done is astonishing to readers today, though it appears to have been the norm in a time when every position was held by political appointment. Daggett himself was terminated following the inauguration of Republican President William McKinley in 1897.
John Daggett was absent from the mint more than he was present during the first year and a half of his superintendence, and he drew much criticism for this neglect from his several political enemies. If he knew of the rare 1894-S dimes, no document penned by him has survived to confirm it. Kelly and Oliver relate what they’ve discovered about these rare coins in some detail.
What documents do exist seem to confirm that just 24 dimes were made June 9, 1894. This work was performed to complete an odd sum as part of a mandated melting and recoining of obsolete issues. The mint’s employees almost certainly assumed that coinage of this denomination would continue during the second half of 1894, with thousands or millions of coins resulting, but this never came to pass. As early as 1895 the San Francisco Mint’s officers and clerks were replying to inquiries about this rare issue and advising the correspondents to seek out dealers in rare coins.
The years following his removal from the San Francisco Mint were primarily ones of retirement, though John Daggett’s story was far from over. He died in 1919 at the age of 86, having lived a full and occasionally controversial life. The entire span of his life is revealed in detail through this book.
Rich Kelly and Nancy Oliver drew upon a broad range of sources to tell his life story, and their book is filled with a great many documents, letters, advertisements and personal reminiscences which tell the full story of John Daggett, his family and his acquaintances. There are quite a few intriguing sidebar stories that provide a rich image of Victorian Era California in general and the mining industry in particular. Absolutely no one will be disappointed in the text of this book.
If there is any criticism to be made it is in the book’s production values. Like previous works by this writing team it does have a certain homemade quality to it. The photos and other images are clearly multi-generational copies and are sometimes quite indistinct. Of course, this is true of the surviving source material itself in some instances, so the fault is not always theirs.
The book is perfect bound, and it would have benefited from a scoring line on both front and back to permit easier reading and provide greater durability to the cover. Though its price reflects the low production cost of this book, I would have preferred to pay more for a volume that appears more graphically pleasing. I believe the subject matter is sufficiently interesting to warrant the added expense. Nevertheless, I would not let this stand in the way of adding this title to one’s library.
Gold in His Veins is available from O.K. Associates, 26746 Contessa Street, Hayward, CA 94545. It is priced at $21.95, postpaid. Emails may be directed to: email@example.com.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
NEW BOOK: GOLD IN HIS VEINS: THE STORY OF JOHN DAGGETT
THE BOOK BAZARRE
Wayne Homren, Editor
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