Pike's Peak Gold Rush and the Birth of the Denver Mint

Pike's Peak Gold Rush and the Birth of the Denver Mint

In the 1850s in the United States, when many people thought of the Wild West, they thought of gold. Tales of people from showing up broke as beggars and leaving as rich as sultans were told all over America. By the time the San Francisco Gold Rush ended, miners and settlers were looking for the next big score. And some lucky miners would find it, near what’s now Denver, Colorado.

Though legends of gold deposits in the Rocky Mountains had been around for years, no one had any luck until July of 1858. Green Russell and Sam Bates found nearly 20 troy ounces of gold in Little Dry Creek, which is located in what’s now a suburb of Denver called Englewood. The gold was never actually found on Pike’s Peak, the gold rush’s namesake, but the peak was the closest and most recognizable landmark to the gold. Though the find was fairly small, word spread of the legendary Rocky Mountain gold, and miners from all over the world swarmed the area.

Soon after the initial discovery, mining communities began popping up all over the region. Breckinridge, South Park, Denver City, Golden City, and Boulder City were all born out of the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush. And as more gold was discovered, more miners came, and more miners stayed.

With all the gold being mined, these new communities needed some way to change the raw gold ore into more usable coins. Seeing this opportunity, businessmen Austin and Milton Clark and Emanuel Henry Gruber founded an office of their pre-existing brokerage firm in Denver early on in the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush. It was at this office that they opened their very own private mint in 1860. The gold coins they produced were in denominations of $5, $10, and $20, and weighed more than government-issued gold coins. The private mint was only in operation for three years, but during that time it produced over a half a million dollars in gold coins. At the beginning of the gold rush, the Colorado territory had not yet been established. But after the mint’s first year of operations, the Colorado territory was officially declared, prompting speculation that a federal mint might soon come to Denver.

An Act of Congress called for the creation of a Denver Assay Office in 1862. The U.S. government bought the existing private mint facility for $25,000, and it began operations as an official government Assay Office in 1863. The Assay Office transformed gold into bars with a stamp of weight and fineness, but didn’t produce actual currency.

The new Denver Mint was constructed and set to open in the early 1900s. Silver coins were minted for the first time in Denver in 1906. Though most of the loose gold in streambeds had long dried up by then, lode mining turned up huge veins of gold and silver. So the precious metals were still rolling in. In fact, in its first year, the Denver Mint produced 167,371,035 gold and silver coins estimated to be worth $27 million.

Today the Denver Mint still remains in operation. Coins for circulation, commemorative coins, and proof sets are all minted in Denver. Some days, this mint produces more than 50 million coins!

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