Norris, Gregg & Norris
In 1849 privately-minted gold coins made their first appearance in San Francisco. The Digger's Handbook, published at Sydney, Australia, apparently early in 1849, stated concerning California:
There is no coinage in the country. A Company, however, has been formed, which has imported from the United States all the material necessary for striking coins, and it is doubtless at the present time in full operation; that is, if it has succeeded in procuring coal to carryon the works, for wood is here much too dear for the purpose.
The newspaper Alta California noted on May 31, 1849, the existence of:
... a five-dollar gold coin struck at Benicia City, though the imprint is San Francisco. In general appearance it resembles the United States coin of the same value, but it bears the private stamp of Norris, Gregg & Norris and is in other particulars widely different.
The firm was earlier located in the East. The New York Directory of 1849 noted that Thomas H. Norris, a civil engineer, did business at 62 Gold St. and had his home at 68 Jay St., Brooklyn. Hiram A. Norris, whose name later appeared on a sailing list of a vessel bound for California in 1849, was also a civil engineer at the same business address. His house was at 310 Gold St., Brooklyn. Charles Gregg, an engineer at the same business premises, had his house at 209 Pearl St., Brooklyn. A New York advertisement of the period noted:
Norris, Gregg & Norris. Manufacturers and dealers in raw iron pipes .and fittings of all kinds for steam, water, gas, etc. No. 62 Gold St. (between Beekman and Fulton streets, New York). Mills and public buildings heated by steam. Tubular boilers of various sizes. Thomas H. Norris, Charles Gregg, Hiram A. Norris.
Gold coins of the $5 denomination were subsequently made in several varieties by the Norris, Gregg & Norris firm in California. Three of the pieces were assayed at the Philadelphia Mint and showed finenesses of 870, 880, and 892 thousandths, and respective intrinsic gold values of $4.83, $4.89, and $4.955, not including the silver alloy (which if added would have given them each about 2 1/2 cents extra value).
Examples of the coinage with the imprint of San Francisco. were made in large quantities and circulated extensively. Varieties were made with plain or reeded edges. In the 1960s numismatists were informed that a new variety, previously unknown, had been discovered. Bearing the address of Stockton, the piece was acquired by James Kelly of Day tan, Ohio.
The firm of Norris, Gregg & Norris is believed to have been the first quantity issuer of gold coins in California. Albert Kuner, who arrived in San Francisco. on July 16, 1849, stated that he made at least one pair of dies far Norris, Gregg & Norris. As the initial coinage with the San Francisco imprint had already appeared, it is possible that Kuner produced dies far a variety which was made only in pattern farm and never reached circulation, or perhaps the variety was one which is not known to' exist today.
The appearance of Norris, Gregg & Norris $5 pieces signaled a cascade of gold issues from different bankers, assayers, and other firms which would continue until 1855. Same coins would be the products of firms which organized in the East and came to California with great expectations, only to encounter difficulties of one sort or another once the land of gold was reached. Other coins were issued by large concerns such as Moffat, Kellogg, and the United States Assay Office of Gold.
The Cincinnati Mining & Trading Co.
Perhaps typical of an unrealized coinage dream was the experience of the Cincinnati Mining & Trading Co. Its activities are today shrouded by the veil of time, and its very existence at one time in California is net certain. Contemporary accounts seem to indicate that members of the firm came overland and probably reached California in the autumn of 1849. Edgar H. Adams, in his monumental reference Private Gold Coinage of California, 1849-1855, noted that Almarin B. Paul, of San Francisco, who conducted an extensive business in Sacramento in 1849 and 1850, and through whose hands passed many of the private gold issues, stated that neither he nor any of the pioneers with wham he had consulted remembered seeing coins of the Cincinnati Mining & Trading Co. in circulation. Both John J. Ford, Jr. and Don Kagin, present-day specialists in western proprietary issues, are of the opinion that the Cincinnati Mining & Trading Co. coins were actually struck in San Francisco, in limited amounts, in the autumn of 1849. It is their belief that the firm of Broderick (later United States Senator) & Kahler (later State Assayer) were the issuers, having apparently acquired the Cincinnati Mining and Trading Co. dies from members of that company when it disintegrated upon reaching California.
The company seems to have been one of many composed in the East by investors eager to reap profits by producing coins in California. The firm was officially known as the California Mining & Trading Co. Cincinnati, Ohio. J. H. Leavering served as president, W. B. Norman as vice-president, David Kinsey as treasurer, Samuel T. Jones as secretary, and A. H. Colton as bookkeeper. The firm's Board of Finance was composed of Joseph Talbert, G. W. Letter, and L. M. Rogers. Nearly four dozen other individuals were included in the lengthy roster of the company's regular members.
The Cincinnati Gazette an March 10, 1849, reported that the steamer Bay State under the command of Capt. Collier departed from Cincinnati far a trip dawn the Ohio River with the Cincinnati Company an board. Another paper, The New York Tribune of March 18, 1849, stated that on the same date, March 10th, the members of the Cincinnati Company started overland by way of St. Louis, The same periodical on July 7, 1849, printed a letter dated May 17th, written to a Cincinnati newspaper, by a member of an overland com-pany. While the company name was not mentioned, Adams was of the belief that the Cincinnati adventurers were the ones being referred to. "Coining apparatus," intended for use in California, is specifically mentioned. The letter was posted from Fort Childs located 300 miles to' the west of Independence, Missouri:
On the 10th we arrived at the junction of St. Joseph's Road and in the course of the morning saw so many wagons that we thought we must lighten our loads and get in advance of the tide of emigration, or our mules and oxen must suffer in consequence of short feed; therefore about noon we stopped and held a meeting, and passed a resolution appointing a committee to examine all the wagons and throw out and abandon everything that was not absolutely necessary. Accordingly, we left behind the wagon that we purchased for carrying corn, which cost $210; blacksmith tools, consisting of anvil, forge, sledge-hammers, etc.; about 200 mule shoes, several extra axle-trees, and came very near leaving the coining apparatus, most of the company being in favor of doing so, it being very heavy. We also changed the sugar, rice, etc., from boxes into bags. While we were engaged in this business a train of over 50 wagons passed. They reported that they had passed between 600 and 700 wagons since they left at St. Joseph's, and that a great many of them had to throwaway part of their loading, almost everyone loading too heavy. One team they passed had abandoned 1,200 pounds of bacon, among other things. So many trains have started that fears are entertained that they cannot all get through, as there will not be grass enough for the animals. This and the anxiety to get to the gold diggings as soon as possible, are the causes of property being abandoned. Among the wagons that passed us was one train from Georgia with a carriage or hack containing a man and his wife; that train also had several Negroes with them. Our wagons are made too heavy and strong. There are none like them. Other trains have just such as come out of the market at Cincinnati, many of them poorer. We might have saved $600 and had wagons more suited for the trip.