Through the efforts of Carson City pioneer Abraham Curry, Congress authorized construction of a branch of the U.S. Mint in Carson City on March 3, 1863. For various reasons, construction and completion of the facility took another six years before the first coins of Comstock silver and gold could be struck.
Manufactured by Morgan and Orr in Philadelphia, the six-ton, steam-powered press arrived at the new Carson City Mint in 1869, the same year the Virginia and Truckee Railroad was completed to Virginia City. As was the custom of the day, the 12,000-pound press was painted with a large “1” to signify the first press located at this branch mint.
On Feb. 11, 1870, this press struck the first coin bearing the famous “CC” mintmark. This was a Seated Liberty silver dollar. In the years to follow, it would produce silver coins in the denominations of dime, 20-cent piece, quarters, half-dollars, silver dollars and trade dollars. It also produced gold coins in the denominations of five, 10 and 20 dollars. The mint was in production from 1870 to 1885 and again from 1889 to 1893.
In 1878, the press suffered a cracked arch, which was the massive steel casting that bore the stresses of the stamping process. Fortunately, the Virginia and Truckee Railroad shops just one block away had the equipment to cast a new arch and repair the machine. The machinists at the V&T shops were so proud of their handiwork, they removed the brass Morgan and Orr plate from the press and replaced it with one bearing the name of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad. This brass plate still adorns the press today.
The Carson City Mint ceased coining operations in 1893, and the presses were removed in 1899. Press No. 1 was taken to the Philadelphia mint, where it was remodeled in 1930 from steam power to operate with electric power. In 1945 it was transferred to the San Francisco Mint and renumbered “5” to correspond with its place in the coining department there. Finally, when all the coin production was temporarily halted at San Francisco in 1955, the old press was due to be scrapped.
Through the efforts of Judge Clark J. Guild and other local businessmen, the antique press was purchased by the state of Nevada for $225 and arrived back in Carson City in 1958. Then, in 1964, the nation faced a severe coin shortage. U.S. Mint director Eva Adams, who was also a Nevada native from Ely, requested the loan of the venerable old press. It was soon trucked to the Denver Colorado Mint and placed in operation, striking more than 188 million coins during the next three years.
With the Denver tour of duty completed, Press No. 1 again returned home to the Carson City Mint/Museum in 1967, where it was converted to a much slower electric drive. In 1976, it was used to strike the Nevada Bicentennial medals in gold, silver, copper and bronze. Hundreds of other metal tokens and medals have been produced at the museum on the old coin press. Carson City’s old coin press No. 1 has the unique distinction of being used at four of the United States mints, Carson City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Denver, producing hundreds of millions of coins.
After I discovered the hundreds of coin dies during construction of a park at the museum in 1999, some of the old dies were used to strike coin tokens complete with the cancellation marks cut into the dies. This was discontinued when some of the original iron dies developed cracks.
As you can see from this short narrative, Coin Press No. 1 is one of the most historic artifacts in the state of Nevada. If you would like to see the same Coin Press No. 1 that produced millions of Carson City coins from Comstock gold and silver, please stop by the Nevada State Museum in Carson City. This was the mint building in the 1800s. They also have a display of the coin dies I discovered and a collection of nearly every coin ever produced at the Carson City Mint.
Dayton author and historian, Dennis Cassinelli, can be contacted at email@example.com or on his blog at denniscassinelli.com. All Dennis’ books sold through this publication will be at a 50 percent discount to reduce inventory and Dennis will pay the postage.
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