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All Posts Tagged With: "California Numismatist"

The Story of the Two Greatest Gold Shipments In The History of the United States Mints

by Dr. Thomas F. Fitzgerald from the California Numismatist

Twice within a span of almost twenty-five years, all of the gold from the vaults of the 2nd San Francisco Mint, sometimes called the “Granite Lady,” was sent to the United States Mint in Denver, Colorado. Yet the story of these two operations could not have been more different. The first transfer was accomplished with so much secrecy that even the newspapers knew nothing of what was going on. But the second transfer was so well publicized that it included parades and search-lights calling attention to the shipments. This is the story of these two great shipments of gold.

The Very Secret Gold Transfer of 1908

In May 1897 newspaper editor and publisher Frank A. Leach accepted a political appointment by President McKinley to become the superintendent of the San Francisco Mint. He had wanted to divest himself of the newspaper business and this seemed like an ideal new career. Leach assumed his duties on August 1, 1897.

The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fires

It was a typical dawn in the Bay Area. Without warning a shaking of the earth occurred. It was 5:12 a.m. Wednesday, April 18, 1906! The “Great San Francisco Earthquake,” as it became known, was followed within seconds by a violent shaking that ruptured numerous gas lines resulting in dozens of fires. At the same time it was discovered the city’s water mains had been damaged. San Francisco, surrounded on three sides by water, could not battle the flames with water.

Just two years after the famous 1906 earthquake left the San Francisco mint’s surroundings in shambles, concerns about the mint’s storage capacity and security prompted the move of 331 million dollars worth of bullion to the mint in Denver.

Frank Leach made his way from his home in Oakland to the mint and, together with 50 mint employees and a squad of 10 soldiers, prepared to fight the inferno and save the mint. However, at the beginning of the struggle, the outcome was very much in doubt. The battle lasted for hours but shortly before 5:00 p.m. the fires were out and the building was saved. The men were able to leave the mint, return to their homes and reunite with their families.

More importantly for our story, the mint’s basement vaults that contained millions of dollars of gold and silver coins were saved. (more…)

The Second US Mint at San Francisco: Part Three

This is the third article in the series.

Granite Lady Closes and Reopens

San Francisco Mint 1937Its replacement, the third United States Mint at San Francisco, began striking coins in 1937. This period was comparatively brief however. Following World War II, the mints at Philadelphia and Denver were greatly improved. The plan was to have all of the nation’s coinage produced at these two facilities. As a result, in March 1955, after the production of the 1955 Lincoln cents, all coinage production at the third San Francisco Mint ceased and the facility became an assay offi ce and a supplier of plainchants for the Denver Mint.

The “Granite Lady,” after its closure in 1937 and through the years of the Second World War and the 1950s, served as a storage facility and offi ce space for a number of governmental agencies. It was apparent that the future of this historic building would become a concern of the government. Many facilities, following their wartime uses, were being declared as “surplus.” In its July 1959 publication, CSNA’s “Calcoin News” reported that a February 18, 1958 meeting was held to discuss the future of the mint building. At this meeting some people believed the site should be developed for commercial interests while other argued for a museum. Still, no action was taken.

By 1968 it was decided that the Federal Government no longer needed this building and the decision regarding its future commenced. At the end of February, the General Services Administration (GSA) sent notices to other federal agencies announcing the agency would remove its 150 employees now occupying the building within the next 90 days. The “Granite Lady,” fi rst opened in 1874, now was vacant and deserted. Offi cials advised that unless some local, state or federal agency made a bid for the building, the property would be sold at public auction.

Will The “Granite Lady” Become A State College?

The San Francisco Chronicle reported in its June 27, 1969 edition that the 2nd San Francisco mint building was to be given to the San Francisco State College system for a downtown campus. To facilitate this plan, the property was transferred to the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The transfer was made offi cial on June 19, 1969. However, the State College wanted the site not the building and announced plans to demolish the old Mint building. (more…)

The Second US Mint at San Francisco: Part Two

This is the second article in the series.

Frank Aleamon Leach was born in Auburn, New York on August 19, 1846. In 1852, when he was not quite five years old, the family arrived in San Francisco. As he became a teenager, Frank tried his hand by working in machine shops but found this work unsatisfactory. In 1863, at the age of 17, he learned about the publication of a newspaper that was about to be started. Frank was offered a job to assist the printer and thus began his newspaper career. Frank Leach always considered himself a “newspaper man” and published his life story under the title of: “Recollections of a Newspaper Man.”

The Mint in San Franciso 1927It is important to this story to remember that in the days prior to the mass electronic media such as radios, televisions, internet-websites, portable telephones, etc., the newspaper provided the citizens with the reports of the political, business and other events of the day. As a result, the editors of these newspapers were very influential in shaping public opinion. They were as influential in elections and the shaping of governmental policies as any modern political action networks.

Frank Leach had been interested in political matters for a number of years. In fact, in 1880, he attended the Republican Convention in Chicago as an “alternate” delegate. He was appointed to the 1891 Assay Commission. In May 1897, following the inauguration of President McKinley, Frank Leach was notified he was the choice for the position of Superintendent of the United States Mint at San Francisco. He had wanted to divest himself of the newspaper business and this opportunity seemed to offer a new career. Leach assumed his duties on August 1, 1897.

Frank Leach served as head of the San Francisco Mint from 1897 through 1907 and again from 1912- 1913. Perhaps as a result of his work in serving both the mint and the city of San Francisco following the horrendous earthquake of 1906, he was appointed Director of the Mint and moved to Washington D.C. where he served from September 1907 to July 1, 1909. Frank Leach must be considered one of the most important leaders to have served as both a branch mint and as mint director.

The San Francisco Mint under Frank Leach produced the greatest volume of gold coinage in mint history. In addition, during this time the San Francisco Mint struck the Philippine coinage, introduced new and radical changes in the designs of the gold coins and adopted a new electrolytic method of refining the metals. His brief two-year service as Mint Director in Washington included the changes of the designs of our gold coinage, as a result of the efforts of President Theodore Roosevelt and Augustus Saint Gaudens. In addition, Frank Leach was instrumental in the historic design for the Lincoln cent, created by Victor D. Brenner, featuring the image of the assassinated President on the obverse in place of the Indian.

It was, however, the enormous San Francisco earthquake, that has become the legacy of Frank A. Leach!

The Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

1906 Earthquake SFIt was a typical dawn in the Bay Area. All of a sudden a shaking of the earth occurred. It was 5:12 a.m. in San Francisco on Wednesday, April 18, 1906! Although only a foreshock, it had sufficent force to be felt through out the entire Bay Area. The “Great San Francisco Earthquake,” as it became known, followed within 20 to 25 seconds. The epicenter was just off the coast, near the city. The violent shaking, which seemed to last an eternity, actually continued for 45 to 60 seconds.

Although not immediately known, the violent shaking ruptured numerous gas lines that resulted in dozens of fi res that quickly merged into a single blazing inferno. But the damage wasn’t limited to the gas lines. Almost at the same time, it was discovered that the city’s water mains had also been damaged. San Francisco, surrounded on three sides by water, could not battle the flames with water.

In a letter dated April 23, 1906, E.H. Adams wrote: “The city is a mass of ruins from the Ferry Building or water front west to Van Ness Ave. and across town from north to south. Within the above radius no business house is left standing.” When the destruction of both human lives and property was totaled, the destruction of the earthquake and subsequent fi res was horrific. In 1906 the population of San Francisco was about 400,000. After extensive research in the late 1900s, it is estimated that 3,000 deaths resulted either directly or indirectly by the catastrophe. The property damage in the burned area of approximately 4.7 square miles was totaled as follows:

• 24,671 wooden buildings destroyed.
• 3,168 brick buildings destroyed. (more…)

The Story of America’s Most Beautiful Coin

By Dr. Thomas F. Fitzgerald, From Vol 4 Issue 4 of the California Numismatist

1933 $10 Indian Head EagleThe Cast of Characters President Theodore Roosevelt, artist-sculptor Augustus Saint- Gaudens, Henry Hering and the chief engraver of the United States Mint, Charles Barber, played pivotal roles in the creation of one of our most beautiful coins in the history of the coinage of the United States.

Roosevelt was elected Governor of New York in 1899 and ascended to the office of Vice President of the United States in 1901. With the tragic shooting of President William McKinley on September 6, 1901, Theodore Roosevelt became President and was inaugurated on September 14, 1901. He ran for the office and was elected President in 1904.

The parents of Augustus Saint- Gaudens migrated to the United States shortly after his birth in Dublin, Ireland on March 1, 1848. The family settled in New York. Saint-Gaudens always believed he was destined to become a sculptor and, at an early age, became a cameo cutter. He studied drawing at the Cooper Institute (1861-65) and was a student at the National Academy of Design (1865-66) receiving an Honorary LL.D. from Princeton.

Augustus Saint GaudensTraveling to Paris, Saint-Gaudens studied at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts (1866-70) and in Rome (1870-72). By 1885 he began to spend his summers in Cornish, New Hampshire and in 1900, he made his residence there.

Saint-Gaudens was diagnosed with intestinal cancer in 1900 and he had been in treatment, including surgery, since that time. The cancer continued and grew worse. During the first six months of 1906, the artist struggled with the constant debilitating pain caused by this disease. He spent most of March 1906 in Corey Hill Hospital in Brookline, Mass. Upon his return home, he continued to work but was quite limited due to his poor health. He relied more and more on his assistant, Henry Hering. By May 1906 Saint-Gaudens had to rely on his assistant to do all of the relief modeling. His doctors were no longer able to treat his cancer by radiation and Augustus Saint-Gaudens slipped into a coma and died at his home on August 3, 1907

Henry Hering was born in New York City on February 15, 1874. He attended the Art Students League in New York (1894-98) and, like Saint- Gaudens, the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. In 1900 Henry Hering arrived in Cornish, New Hampshire where he served as an assistant to Saint-Gaudens. He remained in Cornish until the death of his mentor in 1907. (more…)

This 19th Century Cent Coin Design Lasted For Only One Year

By Dr. Thomas F. Fitzgerald – Republished with Permission from The California Numismatist [ Volume 5 Number 3]

1859 Indian centThe one-cent denomination is unique in our nation’s monetary history. It was first struck in 1793, the year that the Philadelphia Mint, located on Seventh St. between Market and Arch, began minting coins for the new nation. With the exception of 1815, this denomination has been struck every year from 1793 through the present day, a total of 214 years of one-cent coins. They may truly be called the “King of U.S. Coins.”

Yet during this tenure of 214 years, only in 1793 and in 1859 was there a change of design after only one year. The first year of minting one-cent pieces in 1793 included three major types while the other, in the middle of the 19th century, saw a change on the reverse after only one year. This is the story of that Indian Head one-cent design.

Note, this article speaks only about major design types, not metallic differences such as the zinc-steel cents of 1943 or the new composition of the present-day Lincoln cents.

The Need For A Change

The large copper cents were never popular and by the 1840s the resistance to them had increased significantly. It was said that they were just too heavy and too fi lthy. In addition, these large coppers were not legal tender at this time and many banks and stores refused to accept them. In 1850 Rep. Samuel Vinton, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, notified the Mint of a proposal to issue wing-shaped cents of a billon composition.

Meanwhile, Joseph Wharton, who held a monopoly of the nickel mines in the Western Hemisphere, was avidly promoting the use of nickel for coinage.

Beginning in 1853, when the cost of producing the large cents was more than one-cent each and the copper planchets were hard to obtain, various proposals for a new cent coin were tried. An alloy composed of copper, nickel and zinc, was struck. These attempts continued for several years through 1855. At the same time, Mint Director James R. Snowden feared that Congress, not the Mint, would make the decision regarding the replacement of the large cents with smaller coins. He was determined this prerogative should remain with him.

Finally, in 1856, Snowden decided on an alloy of 88% copper and 12% nickel for the new cents. (more…)