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All Posts Tagged With: "Dr. Thomas Fitzgerald"

Through the Numismatic Glass: The 1792 Half Disme

By Dr. Thomas F. Fitzgerald – The California Numismatist Spring 2010

The need of a national system for the coinage of the United States was dealt with by the Congress. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton favored the adoption of the decimal system for the young nation’s monetary system. These leaders adopted ideas from Europe. The French referred to this system as “La Disme.” It was from these European roots that the concept of “tenths” or “La Disme,” anglicized later to “dime,” came to our coinage.

A Congressional resolution on July 6, 1785 adopted the dollar as the monetary unit of the United States. Subsequent resolutions, in 1786 and 1787, specified each of the coins that were authorized by the Congress. The adoption of the Constitution of the United States on September 17, 1787 reserved the authority to coin money and regulate its value to the Congress.

The United States in 1791

In 1791, Vermont had joined the original 13 states. The army, consisting of about 5,000 men, was fully engaged fighting the Indians in the Northwest Territory. However, there was no navy and an annual tribute was paid to the Barbary Pirates. The nation’s settlers had begun their migration westward. There was an obvious need to establish the financial system that had been authorized by the Congressional Acts of 1786 and 1787.

The Mint Act of April 2, 1792

Apparently Washington, for international reasons, wanted silver coinage struck as soon as possible; he believed this would establish the authority of the new nation among the nations of the world.

The 1792 Mint Act, that had specified the details of the nation’s monetary system, was followed by President Washington’s actions to establish the mint. On April 14, 1792, he appointed David Rittenhouse of Philadelphia, the most renowned scientist in America, director of the Mint.

On June 1st, clock maker Henry Voight was appointed acting chief coiner. A little over a month later, on July 9, 1792, President Washington authorized the coinage of half dismes. Just four days later, on July 13, 1792, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson recorded the following in his household account book: “rec’d from the mint 1500 half dismes of the new coinage.” It should be noted that the “new mint” did not begin to strike U.S. coins for circulation until 1793.

The Dies Are Prepared For The Half Disme

British medalist William Russell Birch designed and engraved a single set of dies. He probably used letter punches supplied by Jacob Bay, a Germantown, Pennsylvania, maker of printing types. The obverse of the 1792 half disme portrays the head of “Liberty” facing left, with the date 1792 below. The motto LIB.PAR. OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY (Liberty parent of science and industry) around the border. The reverse bears an eagle flying left with the denomination HALF DISME in two lines, with a five-pointed star in the exergue below. The legend UNI. STATES OF AMERICA encircles the eagle.

The coinage machinery was in the cellar of saw-maker John Harper while the new mint was being prepared. It was here, at the corner of Cherry and Fifth Streets, where these pieces were struck. They used a private coin press owned by John Harper.

In 1844 John McAllister interviewed Adam Eckfeldt about the minting of these coins. Eckfeldt was the only surviving member of the mint who was presented when these coins were struck. He stated:

“These coins were struck expressly for Gen. Washington, in the extent of One Hundred Dollars, which sum he deposited in bullion or coin, for the purpose Mr. E. things that Gen. W. distributed them as presents. Some were sent to Europe but the greater number, he believes, were given to friends of Gen. W. in Virginia. No more of them were coined. They were never designated as currency. The Mint was not, at the time, fully ready to being put into operation.”

The striking of these coins was noted by President Washington in his fourth annual address on November 6th, 1792. He stated, “There has been a small beginning of the coinage of the half dismes: the want of small coins in circulation calling the first attention to them.”

Although Washington used the coins as presentation pieces, most, if not all, surviving pieces bear evidence they were circulated. (more…)

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 Second US Mint at San Francisco: Part One

This is the first article in the series.

The “New Mint” – The “Granite Lady.”

The early history of Alta California included the establishment of a series of Missions by the Franciscan Monks, accompanied by Spanish soldiers from Mexico and, from the north, the fur trappers, including those from Russia. The population, at fi rst, was sparse. On September 16, 1848, there were only about 15,000 people in Alta California. However, this changed rapidly with the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill near Coloma by John Marshall on January 24, 1848. Soon, the “gold rush” began, led by the miners known as the “49ers.” Within two years, California was admitted to the Union as the 31st state in 1850.Workers inside the SF Mint

A desperate need for financial institutions soon followed. Some twenty private mints of various sizes and efficiency were established. On September 16, 1848, a newspaper, “The Californian” printed a resolution reciting this great need and asking for action.

The “action” was soon forthcoming. President Fillmore, in his first Message to Congress, December 2, 1850, recommended that a U.S. branch mint be established in California to meet the need there. The California State Legislature, meeting in Sacramento on April 9, 1852, approved a resolution asking that a mint be established in San Francisco. Congress authorized a U.S. branch mint in California and passed the Act of July 3, 1852 noting the facility would be located in San Francisco.

The minting of coins soon got underway. The new mint was located in a small, sixty square foot building located on Commercial St. However, it soon became apparent the facility was inadequate, even with modifications. The mint’s director remarked: “It is almost impossible to conceive how so much work can be well done, and so much business transacted safely in so small a space.”

The problem grew worse. With the discovery of the vast amount of silver from Nevada’s Comstock Lode, the huge influx of silver sealed the fate of the small facility on Commercial St. The plans to either find a new building or look for a new site and construct a facility commenced. On December 6, 1866 the “Daily Alta California” reported a recommendation to the Secretary of the Treasury by a person named Miller that “the Vara lot located at the corner of Mission and Fifth Sts., owned by Eugene Kelly, be purchased to house the new building.”

In his annual report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1866, James Pollock, Director of the Mint, wrote: “I cannot too earnestly urge upon the Government the importance of erecting a new Mint building at San Francisco. The present building is not only wholly unfitted for the large and increasing business of the Branch Mint, but unsafe, and unworthy of the great mineral wealth of the Pacifi c States.”

A special telegraphic message to the “Daily Alta California” on Feb. 5, 1867, reported the purchase of this lot on Feb. 4th for $100,000 in coin. The plans were for a building 220 feet long by 166 feet wide, to cost $600,000. (more…)