Probable Finest Known 1860 Pikes Peak $20 Gold Piece1860 $20 Clark, Gruber & Co. Twenty Dollar MS64 NGC. Kagin-4, High R.6. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that we have ever offered an example of this issue in our company's history. What a pleasure it is to handle this coin and provide a little of its history. It was last offered 36 years ago in the 1970 ANA Sale. That sale, featuring the collection of General Miles Standish Newton, represents one of the earliest numismatic memories of the present cataloger (MRB). It was the first major numismatic auction catalog I ever received, at the age of 12 years, and I recall spending hours poring over the descriptions and marveling at all the numismatic delicacies contained within. Without a doubt, this exact coin was one of the most important offerings in that catalog. I certainly never would have dreamed at that time, that some day I would be able to study, appreciate, and enjoy such a coin. Perhaps there is an aspiring young numismatist reading this description today, that might look forward to the joy of handling it in another 36 years!
A detailed physical description is obviously one of the most important aspects of the present offering. When RARCOA offered this coin in 1970, they said nothing more than "We describe it as Superb Gem Uncirculated with Proof-Like Surfaces." The obverse has an idealistic view of Pikes Peak, appearing as if several mounds of dirt were piled on top of each other in a pyramid fashion. This looks nothing at all like the real mountain. The base of the mountain is lined with trees and shrubs. Below this is DENVER. Around, the legend PIKES PEAK GOLD with TWENTY D. along the lower border. The reverse has an eagle with wings spread upward, and its head turned to the viewer's left. The eagle is grasping three arrows in its left claw, and an olive branch in its right claw. Around, CLARK GRUBER & CO., with the date below. Both sides have fully brilliant greenish-yellow gold, with the fields textured, representing the appearance of the original dies. The fields on both sides are prooflike, although not deeply mirrored. The fields are lightly abraded with a few wispy scratches, especially over the eagle's head. On the obverse, a tiny "I" is scratched into the surface, inside the O of GOLD. We are intrigued by this, for it is certainly not a random scratch, but we don't believe it represents any type of damage. In long ago numismatic times, it was not unusual for owners of coins to have their secret marks to prove ownership. For example, large cent collector Homer Downing marked his earliest large cents with white ink on the edge, filling in the first and last letters of HUNDRED with this ink, representing his initials. Today, such coins are highly prized. Similarly, James Dexter punched a tiny letter D on certain of his coins, including his 1804 silver dollar! Was there an old collector whose initial was I, and who may have left his mark on this beauty?
It was known by the late 1700s and early 1800s that gold existed in the territory that would eventually become Colorado, but it was not until the fall of 1857 that news of Colorado gold spread widely from the area. In the last few years of the decade, prospectors made their way to that area. The first large area of habitation was Denver City, named for James W. Denver, governor of Kansas Territory. This area was initially known as the Territory of Jefferson, later as the Territory of Colorado, and eventually the State of Colorado.
Along with gold discoveries came the challenges of handling the gold and converting it to coin. Brokerage firms soon opened to handle the exchange, shipping the gold east to be minted into coin. This process took a great deal of time, and was quite risky due to the potential of loss by robbery. Eventually, it was important that a local coinage operation opened, and Clark, Gruber became the most important producer of gold coin in Colorado. Austin and Milton Clark were grocers operating in Leavenworth, Kansas. The brothers were from Brown County, Ohio, along the Ohio River, just east of Cincinnati. The brothers sold substantial materials to prospectors traveling to this new El Dorado, and eventually decided to open their own banking business in Denver City. They formed a partnership with Emanuel Henry Gruber, a former cashier at a St. Louis banking firm, with a sound knowledge of banking principals and procedures. In Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States, Don Kagin reproduced a newspaper interview that took place with Gruber in 1904. This is of such importance for an understanding of the times, that we have reproduced it here as well:
"My firm was one of the heaviest purchasers of gold dust in the early days. And when we bought a large quantity of dust, we had to ship it to the states to have it coined into money. This was a rather expensive proceeding, as there were only stage coaches and pony express reaching this city in those days, and we had to pay 5 percent of the value of the dust as an insurance against loss in transit and another 5 percent expressage. Our dust was out of our hands anywhere from three weeks to three months, and often times the cash we would have in transit would total nearly $300,000.
"This was considerable money to have and yet not be able to use for months at a time, so one day the idea struck me that the firm of Clark, Gruber & Co. bankers should also become coiners. I spoke to one of my partners, Austin M. Clark, who with his brother, Milton E. Clark, was interested in all my enterprises in those days, about the matter. He was a lawyer, and after spending several days looking up the authorities gave it his opinion that there was no law of the United States which could be construed as against the coining of money by individuals, provided it was made of full weight.
"Not entirely satisfied, I consulted two of the most prominent attorneys in the state of Kansas on this matter, and their opinion was the sale as that of my partner, Mr. Clark.
"We went ahead then and ordered the machinery required in the coining of gold, and in 1860 built the old Mint building, which still stands at the corner of Sixteenth and Market streets, and having installed our machinery set to work to turn the dust of the miners into coin of our company." Total output of the Clark, Gruber & Co. Mint was $594,305 in gold coinage of four different denominations. An 1861 assay of their coinage, conducted at the Philadelphia Mint, indicated that the Clark, Gruber coinage was of at least the stated value, or a bit greater. Listed on page 362 of the 2006 Guide Book. Census: 1 in 64, 0 finer (11/05).
Ex: RARCOA, 1970 ANA Sale, lot 1600.
From The Great Western Collection of Territorial Gold, Part Two. (NGC ID# ANK5, PCGS# 10138)
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
View all of [The Great Western Collection of Territorial Gold, Part Two ]
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