While not numismatic in the least, numismatists might be interested in a new biography of the man who hit it rich with the Comstock Lode, the source of silver for coinage for decades on end. The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed The Bonanza King: John Mackay and the Battle over the Greatest Riches in the American West. Here's an excerpt and link to the publisher's site.
Mackey, 35, was suddenly a rich man. He married a local widowed seamstress and began betting his pot on more mines. In 1875 he and a handful of fellow Irish speculators formed a partnership that bought into a claim of dubious worth. More than 1,000 feet below the Nevada desert, however, it proved to be the mother of all silver strikes—the “Big Bonanza.” In the 20 years it took for the Comstock to play out, it earned the equivalent of $545 billion in today’s dollars. The Big Bonanza contributed a third of that fortune. Mackay, who only a few years earlier was earning $4 a day, was now pulling down $450,000 a month.
Gold and silver helped shape America’s destiny, but it didn’t seem to change Mackay much. He drove a one-horse buggy, preferred a dinner of corned beef and cabbage, and enjoyed an occasional evening at the theater. Roughly the second half of Mr. Crouch’s portrait is devoted to the ways in which Mackay put his fortune to use.
Mackay and his Irish partners established their own bank, built a railroad line over the mountains and financed a pipeline system that brought a flood of clean water from the Sierras to Virginia City. These projects had the added benefit of foiling the machinations of a crooked California banker named William Sharon, the Snidely Whiplash of Mr. Crouch’s tale. For years Sharon had been enriching himself on the backs of Comstock miners through insider trading and stock manipulation.
For more information, see:
The Bonanza King
John Mackay and the Battle over the Greatest Riches in the American West
To read the complete article (subscription required), see:
‘The Bonanza King’ Review: The Man Who Hit the Mother Lode
Wayne Homren, Editor
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