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The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 26, June 27, 2010, Article 7

THE UNITED STATES BRANCH MINT AT DENVER, COLORADO TERRITORY

Larry Lee submitted these thoughts on the status of the Clark, Gruber operation as an official U.S. Mint facility. -Editor

First Denver Mint (Clark Gruber) Regarding the question of how many different facilities the U.S. government has authorized to mint coinage, I can perhaps shed both light and darkness on what has thus far been called “the first Denver Mint” and “the Denver Mint of Clark, Gruber”.

Officially, the “United States Branch Mint at Denver, Colorado Territory” opened for business September 24, 1863. It was the intent of Henry Gruber and the Clark brothers when they sold their company to the Treasury department that the government use the facility and equipment to mint gold coins on site. The facility was NOT just to be the assay office it eventually became. So what happened? And even more intriguing, is it possible the first Denver facility actually did strike coins?

The proof the government originally intended to strike coins at the Denver mint is demonstrable on many levels, from conception by the Clarks through the legislation authorizing the facility through subsequent parliamentary correspondence all the way to the name of the building itself: “United States Branch Mint”; the “…and Assay Office” was added later to give name to reality.

Additionally, many of Clark, Gruber’s mint employees, including chief coiner George McClure, stayed on staff when the government took over the facility and trained them in minting operations. George Lane, the Denver Mint’s first superintendent, urged Mint Director James Pollock as early as 1864 that the various problems besetting the mint would “be greatly modified if the law establishing this Branch Mint for the coinage of gold was put into execution” (that is, if they were allowed to mint gold coins as designed).

Despite the clear mandate to strike coins and all the equipment, training, staff and raw material positioned to put the plan into action, it seems to be generally accepted among numismatists that the original Denver mint did NOT strike coins; it only provided assay services for the local mining region.

Thus, the “first Denver mint” fails to make the list of those facilities actually minting U.S. coins. However, I wondered if this is just an argument from the negative: because there are no coins known from the first Denver mint, there must not have been any struck?

In researching the original Clark, Gruber & Co. minting facility at 16th and McGaa, including have access to the original minting machinery and unpublished photographs of the mint basement, I have had pause to reconsider the question. I believe there may be evidence: documentary, artifactual and circumstantial, that suggests the U.S. Mint may have indeed planned and even attempted to strike $20 coronet-head gold coins at the Denver Mint in 1864/5, only to have the operation be overcome by events, including Lincoln’s assassination, a devastating fire and a technical snafu of the highest order.

For more details I am afraid the reader will have to wait for my long overdue book on Colorado gold coins based upon the unparalleled Frederick Mayer collection. I thus tentatively raise my hand and say, yes, the United States Branch Mint at Denver, Colorado Territory should be included on the exclusive list as a bona fide U.S. Mint. Stay tuned.

Larry supplied two never-before-published images for E-Sylum readers. Thanks! The photo is one of about 20 taken in 1980 during urban renewal. We'll look forward to more news on the upcoming book. -Editor

Photo 1: Presumed layout of Clark, Gruber & Co. basement coining room based upon contemporary descriptions and a series of photographs of the former mint building basement during demolition and excavation in 1980. (drawing by Deon Bahr, copyright 2009 Lawrence J. Lee)

Clark Gruber building Floor Plan

Clark Gruber building during demolition Photo 2: United States Branch Mint at Denver, Colorado Territory: southwest window of the basement coining room as revealed during excavations in 1980. Both windows on this side of the building were open during the Clark, Gruber era but were bricked up when the entire facade of the building was changed in 1864.

The mirror duplicate of the white limestone lintel in the window's upper left corner can be seen on the opposite (16th Street) side of the building in the famous photograph of the three proprietors standing in front of their mint. (Photo by Robert Pulcipher; copyright 2009 Lawrence J. Lee)

Wayne Homren, Editor

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