Important 55-Ounce Harris Marchand
55.05-Ounce Harris Marchand Gold Ingot. Recovered from the
S.S. Central America. CAGB-135, serial number 6526. 55.05
ounces, 875 fineness, stamped value $995.73. From Q. David Bowers,
A California Gold Rush History: "Large size ingot. All
inscriptions on face with bar horizontally oriented. $ leans
sharply left. Reverse finessed or dressed by tapping."
Gold Ingot from the S.S. Central America
The inimitable California Coiners and Assayers, by Dan Owens, compiles a wide range of primary documents, such as newspaper commentaries or court records, to present a portrait of its subjects and the firms they created. From his simple introduction, "H. Harris, D.C. Marchand & C.L. Farrington formed an assaying partnership in Sacramento," a wealth of detail emerges.
They described themselves in an advertisement in the October 4, 1855 edition of the Sacramento Union as follows:
"Harris, Marchand & Co., Assay Office, 107 J Street, between Fourth and Fifth, Sacramento.
"H. Harris, Melter and Refiner, formerly employed in the U.S. Mints at New Orleans and San Francisco, and in the assay offices of Kellogg & Co., and Justh & Hunter, San Francisco.
"D. Marchand, Assayer, passed his examination at the Mint of Paris, and holds a private stamp, there registered, which makes his bars recognized and merchantable in France.
"C.L. Farrington, Treasurer, late in the employ of Wells, Fargo & Co.
"Gold and ores of every description assayed promptly and faithfully, and returns made within from 6 to 24 hours in bars or coin.
"We guarantee our assays and will pay all differences that may arise in the same with the assays of the United States Mints.
"Spanish, French, English, German, Swedish, and Danish languages spoken in the office."
[The advertisement continues with a list of references.]
From this advertisement emerges an image of a remarkable firm. Harvey Harris, a Danish national then in his early 40s, had previously worked for Justh & Hunter and Kellogg & Co., both of which were associated (the latter as Kellogg & Humbert) with assayers of gold ingots also found in the S.S. Central America treasure.
Desiré Charles Marchand, a French-speaking Belgian (and later naturalized American) whose credentials from the Mint of Paris are mentioned in the advertisement, was extremely young at the formation of the firm; varying accounts are given of his date of birth, but in no case could he have been so old as 20 at the time of the advertisement, and might have been as young as 16. This exceedingly young age could explain why Marchand cited his credentials as opposed to his (possibly nonexistent) work experience.
Charles L. Farrington, the "& Co." of the firm, was an American from the state of Maine, but little else is written about him in California Coiners & Assayers, except to note that he "retired from the firm" per a Sacramento Union item dated May 30, 1857. The reason is not listed, though age is a distinct possibility. The firm continued without him as Harris & Marchand Assayers.
Though the firm Harris, Marchand & Co. did not last into June 1857, the gold bars stamped that way did, and three dozen bars from the Sacramento office received an unexpected gift of numismatic immortality: they were loaded onto the S.S. Central America, and instead of going to New York to be melted down, they landed at the bottom of the ocean, and over the course of more than a century, they transformed into historic treasures.
Like the majority of known Harris, Marchand & Co. ingots, this example shows irregular punching on the serial number, weight, fineness, and value. The arcing HARRIS MARCHAND & CO imprint and circular MARCHAND / ESSAYEUR stamp, however, are precise and elegant as ever. The ingot's surfaces are bright yellow-gold with the usual casting irregularities on most faces, though the bottom is smoother than usually seen (as referenced by Bowers). Corner cuts are at the upper left of the top face and its absolute diagonal opposite. The ingot measures 42 x 112 x 20 mm.
Ex: FUN 2002 Auction (Heritage, 1/2002), lot 7905.
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