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The E-Sylum: Volume 4, Number 10, March 4, 2001, Article 6


Bob Van Ryzin provided the following information on his new book.

"This is the book I long wanted to have published and, with 25 chapters, it covers a lot of territory.

'Crime of 1873: The Comstock Connection', just released by Krause Publications, culminates research I have been doing into the history of the Coinage Act of 1873 since the 1970s. Along the way, I had the good fortune to uncover a series of previously unpublished letters that show conclusively that not all was above board with the passage of this important act.

The book begins with William C. Ralston’s death under mysterious circumstances one day after the collapse of the Bank of California, of which he was a founder and president. By the late 1860s much of the Comstock Lode was controlled by Ralston and his “bank ring.”

Early chapters cover the discovery of the lode and the dire fate of its locators, the beginning of deep mining, hazards of mining the lode, the great Gold Hill fire of 1869, the building of the bank-controlled Virginia and Truckee Railroad, and Adolph Sutro’s tunnel. The book then moves into the heart of my research, detailing Ralston’s early career in Panama and as a San Francisco shipping agent (he was on hand for the departure of the ill-fated treasure ship the Yankee Blade), followed by his involvement in early California banking, the formation of the Bank of California, and his rise to power on the lode.

By the late 1860s Ralston had come in contact with Dr. Henry R. Linderman. This relationship was first observed by John M. Willem Jr. in The United States Trade Dollar, but Willem could find no evidence of Ralston’s involvement in anything related to coinage. Willem also concluded, logically (considering the known source material at that time), that Linderman had little to do with the mint bill until shortly before its passage.

This proves, however, to be incorrect. In some very candid letters written by Linderman to Ralston from 1871-1873 (including one signed under the alias “Guyescutes”), the Treasury agent reveals not only his behind-the-scenes role in key provisions of the mint bill that would benefit the silver interests but also that he was taking payments from Ralston in return for his efforts.

I was able to obtain a photograph of a $3,500 bill of exchange made out to Linderman, the supporting letter in which Linderman requested that sum, and Ralston’s response, agreeing to pay an additional $5,000 for Linderman’s continued vigilance. The letters and Bank of California sight draft are reproduced in the book with complete documentation as to source.

Additional letters show that Linderman and Ralston were aware of the coming decline in silver nearly a year prior to the bill’s final passage and worked to place the nation on a gold standard (through passage of the mint bill) before it could be flooded with silver, while securing provision for the Trade dollar and making plans to replace fractional currency with subsidiary silver coins to support silver prices.

Linderman would continue to act on Ralston’s behalf after taking over as Mint director in 1873, though evidence of any additional payments is lacking. Through his “Old Man” letters of 1874 and early 1875, it is clear he helped Ralston to secure some previously blocked provisions as part of the Specie Resumption Act.

Just prior to his death, Linderman was under investigation in Congress for, among other things, taking stock payments from the lode’s Bonanza Kings. The book includes what is known of the investigation, the story of Linderman’s coin collection, and his estate records.

Later chapters focus on Ralston’s fall from power on the lode, the discovery of the Big Bonanza, the collapse of the Bank of California, and Ralston’s death in San Francisco Bay. The rise of the Free Silver Movement is also detailed as are the myths of foreign intrigue surrounding the Crime of 1873 developed by free silver writers.

Sandwiched in and around this story are chapters dealing with collecting Morgan and Trade dollars (including current pricing and a timeline for each date), the Carson City Mint, the GSA silver dollar sales, and William Jennings Bryan’s 1896 presidential bid and the Bryan Money it spawned.

The book is hard cover, 304 pages, 8.5” x 11.” It includes more than 300 photos (many Comstock or coin related), and is priced at $34.95. It is available directly from the publisher or at major bookstores."

Wayne Homren, Editor

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