The History of Carson City, Nevada
The Eagle Station Trading Post first settled the area that is now Carson City, Nevada in 1851. Carson City was founded as a community in 1858. It is named after the famous frontiersman and scout Christopher “Kit” Carson. Following the discovery of gold and silver in the Comstock Lode in 1859, Carson City grew into a thriving commercial center of trade. In 1861 it was selected to be the capital of the Territory of Nevada.
In 1864, Nevada was granted statehood in the United States and named Carson City as its permanent state capital. The V&T railroad connected Carson City to the transcontinental railroad in 1872. By 1874, mining of the Comstock Lode reached its peak, and the railroad provided transportation of goods to and from the city. As other railroads were built to facilitate the westward expansion combined with the decline of the mining of the Comstock Lode, the population of Carson City began to shrink by the late 1800s. By 1950 the population dwindled to 1,800 people. Today, Carson City is a quiet community with a population of approximately 55,000 people.
The Need for Branch Mints
From 1790 through the mid-1800s, commercial transactions were always completed with gold and silver coins. Paper money was almost nonexistent and was never accepted for commercial transactions. In the early days of the United States, U.S. coins were few and far between. Foreign coins were an acceptable means to settle trade accounts. However, foreign coins were not accepted on their face value but were instead weighed, and the bullion value was taken into consideration when completing transactions. Silver was exchanged for gold at the standard rate of 15.5 ounces of pure silver per ounce of pure gold.
Prospectors discovered gold on the East Coast in the early 1800s which led to the creations of branch mints in New Orleans, Louisiana, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Dahlonega, Georgia in 1838. The discovery of gold on the West Coast led to the creation of the San Francisco mint in 1854. These branch mints were created to facilitate the creation of gold and silver coins without the risks and dangers of transporting gold and silver bullion to the Philadelphia mint.
Silver was discovered in the Western Utah territory in the mid-1800s. Prospectors discovered the Comstock Lode in 1859. In 1861, a section of the Utah territory was separated to create the Nevada territory. By this time over 200 mines and refining facilities were operated in the territory. Refined silver would have to be transported over long distance to the San Francisco mint or a longer distance to the Philadelphia mint. To minimize the risk of transporting gold and silver over these long distances, it was decided to locate a branch mint in Carson City since it was a central point in the vast area of mining towns and refining operations in the Western United States.
The Carson City Mint Authorized
The act of Congress of March 3, 1863, provided the authority for the United States Mint to open a branch mint in Carson City, Nevada. Carson City was located only 15 miles away from the richest silver mining area on earth, the Comstock Lode. In July 1866, plans for the mint were finalized and approved by the Department of the Treasury. Construction began in September, and by mid-1869 the mint was almost complete and equipment almost fully installed. Coinage began in December 1869 with coin dies dated 1870.
The Carson City mint produced dimes, quarters and half dollars until 1878. The short-lived twenty-cent piece was only struck in 1875 and 1876. Liberty Seated silver dollars were minted until 1873 when a lapse in demand curtailed silver dollar production until the Morgan silver dollar was introduced in 1878. Trade dollars intended for overseas transactions were struck continuously from 1873 until 1878.
Gold coinage commenced almost immediately with the production of five dollar, 10 dollar, and 20 dollar denominations. Initially, most gold coins circulated locally and throughout the region of Nevada and Utah. Twenty dollar gold double eagles were the exception. Many of these coins were shipped overseas to complete international transactions.
Production Declines at Carson City
Coin production at the Carson City mint began rather modestly with a total production in 1870 of approximately 92,000 coins. It took until 1874 for production to exceed a total of 1 million coins. Production peaked in 1876 with a total production of almost 16 million coins. Two years later, in 1878, coin production shrunk by almost 80%. By 1880 there were three presses at the mint. The largest press was used to strike silver dollars, trade dollars, and twenty-dollar double eagle gold coins. A medium-sized press was used to strike dimes, quarters and half dollars. The smallest press was retired in 1878 and sat unused at the mint until it closed.
Production was halted at the end of 1885 and did not resume until 1889. By this time the dilapidated condition of the building and machinery required repairs before operations could resume. The building was rehabilitated, and repairs were made to the machinery. This new era of the Carson City mint did not last very long and was only supported by the minting of Morgan silver dollars and gold double eagles.
After a study of mint operations in 1891, the United States Mint determined that the average cost of minting coins at the Carson City mint was more than twice the cost of minting coins at the other three mints. Arguments for the continued operation of the Carson City mint were met by criticism from the United States Treasury Department. The Secretary of the Treasury suspended operations at the Carson City mint on June 1, 1893. This effectively reduced the facility at Carson City, Nevada to an assay office where depositors of gold and silver could receive payment in either coin or refined bars.
In 1907, the United States Mint Annual Report noted that the Carson City mint operating as an essay office since 1893 employed seven men and had deposits of only $12,112.28 worth of silver and $811,415.95 worth of gold. In 1911, all operations were suspended and the remaining quantities of silver dollars sent to the United States Treasury building in Washington DC for storage. In 1942, the Carson City mint facility became the Nevada State Museum and is still a tourist attraction today.