Carson City U.S. Branch Mint and Historic Coin Press No. 1
Although legislation authorizing the creation of the U.S. Branch Mint at Carson City was passed by Congress on March 3, 1863, actual construction did not begin until three years later. Work proceeded so slowly that three more years passed before coining machinery arrived in November of 1868.
Historic Coin Press No. 1 arrived in that first shipment; the six-ton press was manufactured by Morgan & Orr in Philadelphia, who created many of the steam-powered coining presses then in use throughout the world. The mint officially opened for business early in January of 1870, and on February 4, 1870, this press struck the first coin bearing the soon-to-be-famous CC mint mark, a Liberty Seated dollar. For the first five years of operation, coin press no. 1 was the only press, and then two additional presses were added in 1875 and 1876, one smaller and one larger.
When the press suffered a cracked arch in 1878, it was repaired at the local shop of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad. Proud of their handiwork, V&T machinists replaced the original brass Morgan & Orr builder’s plate with one bearing the name of their famous railroad.
For nearly a quarter of a century, it was used to strike most of the larger denomination pieces. Between 1870 and 1893, the Carson City Mint produced roughly $ 50 million (face value) of gold and silver coins, including gold double eagles ($20), and eagles ($10), half eagles ($5), silver Trade dollars, silver dollars, half dollars, quarters, dimes and for two years 20-cent pieces. Today, coins with the CC mint mark are highly prized by collectors and among the most valuable in the collecting world.
The coin press continued in service at Carson City until coining operations ceased in 1893, and in 1899, along with all other machinery in the coiner’s department was moved to the Philadelphia Mint, where a few years later it was remodeled to operate with electric power. In 1939, the Mint was purchased by the state of Nevada for use as the Nevada State Museum, which opened in 1941. In 1945, Coin Press No. 1 was transferred back across the country to the San Francisco Mint. Finally, when all coin production was temporarily halted at San Francisco in 1955, the historic press was due to be scrapped. Oakland newspaperman Frederick J. Monteagle, an avid collector of Carson City coins, recognized the brass plate of the V&T Railroad and alerted the Nevada State Museum. Museum founder Clark Guild and other local businesspeople were able to buy the press for the state for $225, and it returned to its original home inside the Nevada State Museum in 1958.
For the next six years it was a favorite artifact on exhibit in the museum, but in 1964, U.S. Mint Director Eva Adams, herself a native Nevadan, was faced with a severe national coin shortage and requested the loan of the press. Judge Guild and the museum board agreed to loan the press for as long as was needed to alleviate the small denominational coin shortage. It was trucked to the Denver Mint and operated for the next three years, striking more than 118 million coins during that time, then in 1967, the press was returned and went back on display.
In 1976, it was put back in operation for the United States Bicentennial celebration used to strike Nevada Bicentennial medals in gold, silver, copper, and bronze. Since 1977, the Nevada State Museum for the last 42 years has continued to mint special commemorative medallion on the 150-year-old press.
“The coin press is one of the museum’s most beloved artifacts, and the staff and volunteers love sharing its history,” Myron Freedman, director of the Nevada State Museum, said. “The fact that it is operating in the same Mint building where it first began service makes it one of the most unique coin presses in the world.”
The coin press is operated each Friday in summer months, and on other special occasions, demonstrations are free to observe with museum admission. Patrons can also purchase a blank .999 silver medallion at the museum store for $60 and see it pressed with one of the special designs.
The Liberty Seated Half Dollar
Coin Press No. 1 again takes center stage on August 1st when the museum releases a half dollar replica coin in honor of the Mint’s sesquicentennial. The 1870 CC Liberty Seated Half Dollar will be a limited edition and minted with .999 fine, Nevada silver thanks to support from the Coeur Rochester mining company. The story of the CC half dollar, first minted on Coin Press No. 1 in April of 1870, is fascinating.
Our replica was sculpted by retired U.S. Mint engraver, Tom Rogers. The original design was created by Christian Gobrecht, third Chief Engraver of the United States Mint. Born in 1785 in Hanover, PA, Gobrecht’s ancestors on his mother’s side went back to the Plymouth Colony in 1642. He apprenticed as a clockmaker and first worked as an engraver for a clockworks company in Baltimore, then later as an engraver of seals and banknotes for a Philadelphia company. He was also an inventor and invented a tool to reproduce relief on a plain surface, something all engravers would have found useful. There is evidence that Gobrecht did some work for the U.S. Mint as early as 1823 after the death of the first chief engraver Robert Scot, though it was William Kneass who became the second chief engraver, a position Gobrecht sought. Gobrecht was performing work for the Mint when Kneass suffered a debilitating stroke in 1835, and was then made “Second” engraver. He would have created the Liberty Seated design during this period. Kneass died in 1840 and Gobrecht was appointed chief engraver of the U.S. Mint by President Van Buren on December 21, 1840. Christian Gobrecht died in 1844, and James B. Longacre became the next chief engraver.
The basic Liberty Seated obverse design was used on many coin denominations from 1839 to 1891 (125 dates and varieties) and consisted of the figure of Liberty clad in a flowing dress and seated upon a rock. Gobrecht based his design on sketches from the American painters, Thomas Sully and Titian Peale. Peale’s father was Charles Wilson Peale, who constructed the first museum in the Western Hemisphere, yet another historical connection that enriches the meaning attached to this replica produced by this mint-museum. In her left hand, Liberty holds a pole topped by a Phrygian cap. This was a popular Neoclassical symbol that depicts a cap given to freed Roman slaves and represents the pursuit of freedom. Her right hand rests on a Union shield inscribed with the word “Liberty.” The shield has 13 stripes for the original colonies and represents Freedom’s defense. Though the figure of Liberty did not change, there were many design variations on both the obverse and reverse of half dollar issues. The 1870 CC half-dollar was the fourth and last of these types and known as, “Motto Above Eagle,” for the added banner above the eagle containing the phrase, “In God We Trust.”
The coin was 90% silver and 10% copper, a common alloy at the time that made a mint-able yet sturdy metal. It was minted from 1870 to 1878, but the smallest coinage was the first in 1870 at 54,617 coins. This low number makes the coin valuable to collectors. Today, coins of average condition may be found for under a $1,000. The very few existing mint condition coins can fetch upwards of $70,000, with one collector paying $172,500 at a 2011 auction. Interestingly, many coins even in good condition show low relief in some of the details, such as the drapery of Liberty’s dress. Apparently, the dies received a lot of polishing causing weak strikes to begin with. Our replica is one way to experience the beauty of Gobrecht’s original design, and to connect with the phenomenal heritage marriage of the Carson City Mint and Coin Press No. 1.
The replica will be released on August 1st at a special “Release Party” at the museum. The first 200 of the series will be minted that evening. Check out the Events page for more information on how to attend the party.