Monday, May 24, 2010

Coin Monday: Pikes Peak Gold

May 24, 2010
Written by John Dale

The ANA Summer Seminar, held at the Colorado College in Colorado Springs, which was the site of some of my fondest Young Numismatist memories.

When a gathering of coin enthusiasts reaches critical mass, learning and silliness ensue, and this is especially true when said coin enthusiasts are in high school or college. By the end of the week, several (usually harmless) pranks have been sprung on various seminar-goers staying in the dorms.

One year, I was a designated target of the dress-as-a-ghost-and-jump-out-of-the-closet trick. Unfortunately for the pranksters, my voice hadn’t cracked yet.

BOO! EEK! ARRGH! as the “ghost” in front went down, clutching his hands to his ears.

Other moments were plenty serious, and plenty awesome, like the trip up Pikes Peak. (No apostrophe, no joke. Supposedly there’s even a law about it in Colorado.) I’d heard about Katharine Lee Bates writing America the Beautiful after visiting Pikes Peak, and after looking out at the same views, I could understand why.

Pikes Peak isn’t all that close to present-day Denver, but when gold was discovered in the area (and the earliest version of Denver founded), Pikes Peak was the most visible landmark in the region, and “Pikes Peak or Bust!” became a famous slogan for the Colorado gold rush.

The three most prominent issuers of Territorial gold coins in Colorado all referenced “Pikes Peak” on their coins. John Parsons & Company and J.J. Conway & Co. were short-term operations, and their coins are rarities today, but Clark, Gruber & Co. was better-established and struck numerous pieces in denominations that mirrored the Federal coinage. (All coins from the upcoming June Long Beach U.S. Coin Auction.)

Not only were the denominations the same, but the smaller coins looked suspiciously similar to U.S. quarter eagles and half eagles, too. The government eventually bought out the firm, and Clark, Gurber & Co. is actually the ancestor of the Denver Mint that still operates today.

While Clark, Gruber & Co. did its assaying work in present-day Colorado, the dies used to strike the firm’s coins were not made on-site, but rather shipped in. This is most obvious on the $10 coins, like lot 1978 or 1979.

Clearly the artist had never been to Colorado. Pikes Peak doesn’t look like that. Not even close. (Art directors of the world, you have a new case study!)

Today, however, the peak-that-is-not-Pikes is all part of the quaint charm of the ten dollar pieces. The Territorial coinage enthusiasts are sure to be out in force when the Clark, Gruber & Co. sequence sells. Why not join them for this golden opportunity?

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-John Dale Beety

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