The San Francisco Mint

A Brief History of The San Francisco Mint

The San Francisco Mint, opened for business in 1854, was set in the middle of the greatest bonanza city, the wildest of all metropolises, during the Gold Rush.

In the first year, coinage was limited to gold denominations, primarily $20 pieces, of which 141,468 were made, a generous quantity of gold bullion converted to coin. In that year and also in 1855, private minting firms were still operating in the city.

Other denominations made at the San Francisco Mint in 1854 included the gold dollar (1,632 pieces), quarter eagle (246), half eagle (268) and eagle (123826). As can be readily imagined, the quarter eagle and half eagle are prime rarities today, with only slightly more than a dozen known of the former, and, believe it or not, just three of the half eagle, the last being an American classic.

The first San Francisco Mint, which actually had been built earlier as a private coinage facility for Moffat & Company, was cramped and poorly ventilated. From time to time workers fell ill, and in any event, being employed there was anything but pleasant.

In 1870 the cornerstone was laid for a new mint, large in size and containing the latest innovations, this in anticipation of vast quantities of silver and gold continuing to arrive from the Comstock Lode and elsewhere. Although the Carson City Mint in Nevada was but a very short distance from the Comstock Lode, political considerations intervened, the mint was unpopular with mine owners and refiners, and the business was directed to San Francisco. In 1874 the second San Francisco Mint opened for business, and would remain in operation until the late 1930s, when it was replaced by the third San Francisco Mint, a modern designed structure resembling perhaps a penitentiary, but no doubt suitable for keeping away unwanted visitors.

At the San Francisco Mint, Morgan dollars were first struck in 1878, and from that time they were continuously made through 1904, and again in 1921. In general, the coining press operators paid careful attention to their duties, were proud of their work, and turned out coins that were usually quite sharp and visually appealing. Quite a few of the San Francisco Mint Morgan dollars went into circulation soon after they were struck, as dollars were popular in the mountain states of the West, and San Francisco was the main supplier. In Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada, paper dollars were hardly ever seen, and silver dollars ruled the day—for grocery purchases, stakes in card games, and many other things in everyday life as well as in sporting activities. Perhaps, unlike the coiners in New Orleans, the employees of the San Francisco Mint knew their silver dollars would be used and appreciated by a wide slice of the general population. Whatever the reason, the output was excellent, and today certain issues stand as models of Morgan dollar excellence, the typical 1881-S being an example.