Golden Dreams in the “Great American Desert”
The territory of Colorado in the mid-1800s was a wild, untamed land where trappers, traders and Indians freely roamed the plains and mountains. Most Americans believed this territory to be part of the “Great American Desert.” But when gold was discovered near present-day Denver, miners by the thousands poured into the territory despite Indian claims that the land was theirs. Newspapers from border towns on the edges of the territory fanned the flames of gold fever. When news of a find reached the border towns, enterprising newspapers eagerly printed the stories and enlarged them out of proportion. The news spread East, growing as it went and by the time it reached the eastern states, headlines proclaimed miners had found the “New El Dorado.” Newspaper editors in those border towns knew that a westward migration meant prosperity since eager gold seekers would have to go through their towns to get to the gold fields. Those towns prepared for the gold seekers by stocking their shelves and advertising.
A Demand for Coinage
The influx of a growing population created local demand for a coinage facility. During the days of wagon trains and covered wagons, it was nearly impossible to move heavy gold and silver to the San Francisco or New Orleans Mint facilities. To meet the demand for circulating coinage, the banking firm of Clark, Gruber & Company, in 1860, established an assay office and private mint in Denver. They purchased gold dust from the miners and then shipped it to the mints in the East to be made into coins.
The Denver Mint is Established
In January of 1862, the U.S. Treasury Department proposed the establishment of a branch mint at Denver. With the Civil War now in its second year, a mint located in the heart of the Colorado gold fields was seen as highly practical. Established by an Act of Congress on April 21, 1862, the Denver Mint opened for business in 1863 as a United States Assay office. Operations began in the Clark, Gruber & Company offices, which had been acquired by the government for $25,000.
The Move Toward Branch Mint Status
Despite being established to strike gold coins, the Denver plant was unable to strike gold coins as originally intended. One reason for the lack of coinage was “the hostility of the Indian tribes along the routes, no doubt instigated by rebel emissaries and bad white men.” By 1895, however, there was new hope for branch mint status when Congress provided a new mint in Denver for gold and silver coin production. Construction began in 1897, but appropriations to complete and equip the new plant were insufficient, and the new building wasn’t completed until 1904.
The Denver Mint Finally Opens
Completed in 1904, the Mint’s opening was delayed because the new machinery to be used at the Mint was first sent to the St. Louis Exposition of 1904 for display. By 1906, coining presses were finally striking coins for release to the public, advancing the status of the Denver Mint facility to Branch Mint. In 1906, gold coins were again minted in Denver and, for the first time, silver coins were also produced there. The silver and gold mostly came from the nearby Cripple Creek mining district. From that time, until the final gold coins were struck in 1931, the Denver Mint struck a variety of gold coins, but primarily $20 Double Eagles, which were produced for banking settlements and international transactions.
The Denver Mint Today
Today, the Denver Mint produces about 40 million coins a day. Why so many coins? Consider that each day, Americans lose or save $100,000 in pennies — a total of more than 10 million coins taken out of circulation. Most are stashed in piggy banks, desk drawers and cash register cups. To replace this private stockpiling and to keep new coins in circulation, the Denver Mint must produce 40 million coins a day — a total of 8 billion coins a year. While 70 percent of the coins struck at the Denver Mint are pennies, the Mint also strikes nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars, dollars and commemorative coins. Additionally, the Denver Mint holds the country’s second-largest gold bullion depository, a treasure of $100 billion worth of solid gold bars.