History in Mint Marks.

Among the attractions of Branch Mint coin collecting, we have referred to the connection these pieces have with national progress and the financial conditions of the country. This feature ever gives to Numismatics its highest dignity and in no coinage destitute of portraits can history be so well read between the lines' as in that of the several Mints of the United States. With the establishment in 1838 of those at New Orleans, Dahlonega and Charlotte, we mark the rapid prosperity of the South from its rich products and growing commerce. Until toward 1840, the country at large and the South especially had been flooded with Spanish coins. But these were banished from circulation by law and from the first modest coinage of Dimes and Half Dimes at New Orleans in 1838, that mint rapidly enlarged its issues, especially in the Half Dollars, until local demands were well supplied with many millions of O Mint silver.

Few Silver Dollars were coined, as State Banks issued bills of this value in sufficient quantity.

The gold coinage of New Orleans commenced soon after the silver, with Quarter Eagles, Half Eagles and Eagles, the issues of the former and latter rapidly increasing in amount. In the few years from 1850, millions of Double Eagles were added to Southern wealth, and a quantity of Gold Dollars. Then the entire O Mint coinage gradually diminished until the Civil War in 1861 caused a long interruption. From 1879 millions of Silver Dollars and a moderate number of Eagles coined at New Orleans testify to the South's more substantial recuperation. Within two or three years all denominations of Silver and several of Gold have again been issued from the O Mint, but owing to the early construction of a much larger mint at Philadelphia, the prospects are that any great coinage at New Orleans has about come to an end, unless political influence overrules national economy of production.

The Mints at Dahlonega and Charlotte coined only gold Quarter Eagles, Half Eagles, Three Dollar and One Dollar pieces. The Three Dollar piece appeared in small quantity in 1854 only at the D Mint. Small issues of the Dollars were made by both Mints from 1849 to '60, but the Eagle denominations mentioned, especially the Half Eagles, were struck annually in large numbers as a division of patronage with New Orleans, and give a total Southern coinage of gold quite indicative of the affluence of that section during the period in which it was supplied.

The great West was meanwhile growing in population and material wealth with amazing rapidity. Its mixed races, natural advantages and invigorating atmosphere developed the highest activity and commercial progress. When the discovery of the precious metals in California and Nevada made the West in 1849 an Eldorado of the world, its financial needs commanded recognition and its remote mines and population a place of coinage adjacent to them.

The San Francisco mint was accordingly established in 1854. Its very commencement shows the boundless resource, confidence and energy of the section in which it was located. It plunged into the higher denominations of gold coinage at once and soon took the lion's share of the burden from Philadelphia.

The first issues were nearly three million dollars worth of Double Eagles and over a million worth of Eagles. And though other gold and silver denominations were soon very regularly coined they were but in moderate or small quantity. For nearly forty years an average of from fifteen to twenty million dollars worth of Double Eagles have been annually struck in San Francisco. This magnificence of wealth makes the more neglected denominations quite rare and therefore more desirable to the Numismatist, as his main wish to possess the larger S mint pieces would be in order to spend them for the smaller ones. Very few gold or silver dollars were coined in San Francisco until 1873 and of other silver, only the Half Dollars in more than small or moderate quantity, although the civil war caused a long interruption to issues from Southern Mints and threw a greater burden upon the Philadelphia and Western production.

Yet California has never seen the day of small things or of small coin in any quantity and its dates of high intrinsic value are far easier to collect than the small, while in the East the contrary is the case. When mining interests began to affect national legislation and the dishonest Trade Dollar was authorized, the San Francisco Mint, as convenient to silver mines and Chinese commerce, plunged again into restless coinage with an issue of four or five millions of these pieces annually from 1873 to '78. From 1875 to '77 there was a flood of Halves, Quarters and Dimes also. Then it gave its energies to a yearly average of about eight million of the standard Dollars and all other pieces than gold Double Eagles have since been practically disdained.

Thus all the indications of San Francisco coinage point to opulence and a lavish use of money, with the prospect of long-assured prosperity.

The Carson City Mint was organized to share with San Francisco something of the burden of coinage which rich mines, rapid growth and the civil war transferred so largely to the West. It was active from 1870 - the starting year - to 1885 in the coinage of gold, and followed the S Mint in a much larger issue of Double Eagles than of other pieces; but from 1870 to '78 it issued all current denominations of gold and silver in a fair relative proportion and in a peculiarly regular and moderate annual amount. It seemed rather to be doing a general service in a uniform way than supplying irregular needs of the section in which it was located. In 1878 its silver coinage was abruptly stopped in every denomination, owing probably to the immense issues of subsidiary coin at Philadelphia for the few preceding years, and in 1885 its coinage of gold yielded to other Mints also. Since that date the Carson City Mint has coined Double Eagles and Silver Dollars only. While it thus receives little present attention, its small coinage of many series for eight years in the past will always attract the great interest of collectors. The future of the San Francisco and Carson City Mints, as affected by the greatly to be increased coinage capacity of that at Philadelphia, cannot be foretold, but it seems as if their distance from the East and nearness to the mines would, apart from any sectional support, prolong their usefulness.

These brief evidences of the illustration of American events in the Mint Mark coinage can be followed up with increasing interest by a closer study of the Mint Report's tables of annual issues. This, however, would only begin the subject. Any elderly Mint officer or financier who considered the monetary questions of the United States for the past fifty years could, no doubt, supply enough additional facts connected with the coinage of the Branch Mints to make in themselves a volume of historic interest.

But, in suggesting the range and dignity of the topic, our purpose here is sufficiently accomplished, and we leave to others a study of the effects upon the Branch Mint issues of prosperous and disastrous commercial periods, greater or less product of mines, wise or imprudent legislation, large or small export of gold and silver, relative sectional progress and influence and the varying distribution of coinage between the Philadelphia Mint and its distant associates.

NOTE. - It should be stated, that while the dates of all denominations of coins at the Branch Mints are rarely entirely consecutive, the Philadelphia Mint has since 1838 coined every authorized denomination of gold and silver money annually (however small the coinage of some years) except the Quarter Eagle of 1841.


In a final word we urge upon all American numismatists the giving of their attention to the Branch Mint coinage of our country without delay. If not to all, certainly to the silver series.

A few collectors are already on the alert. Since commencing to write this Treatise we have heard of large purchases of choice Branch Mint gold at Southern and Western banks, of the accumulation of hundreds of uncirculated Silver Mint Marks of late dates by prominent dealers with a view to future demand, and of many things which prove that this pursuit is not the fancy of the few or of the moment, but is the vigorous beginning of a permanently established department of numismatic science. This activity is none too soon.

Circulating money contains many prizes in this new branch of coin study which any one may find, which each week's wear will injure in condition and which some early year's remelting may remove forever.

Dealers have an opportunity in Mint Marks, which catalogues show they are beginning to perceive, of doubling tripling or, at times, even quadrupling their sales of pieces from 1838 to the present. Collectors in different sections of the Union have, in the coins tberein produced, an unequaled cause of active correspondence and profitable exchange, and the whole numismatic world possesses, as this Treatise has fully shown, substantial reason for new and zealous interest in modern United States Coinage.