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  • A VISIT TO THE MINT AT LIMA, PERU IN 1805 – PART I

    1805 PERU 8 Reales

    PERU 1805-JP 8 REALES
    PCGS MS63

    In 1817, Captain Amasa Delano published a book titled “A Narrative Of Voyages and Travels, In the Northern And Southern Hemispheres: Comprising Three Voyages Round The World; Together With A Voyage of Survey And Discovery, In The Pacific Ocean And Oriental Islands.” Delano described his extensive voyages aboard the American ship Massachusetts as it traveled around the world. For general readers, this is a detailed description of Delano’s voyages to parts of the world that were mostly unknown at the time. Numismatists will be particularly intrigued by Delano’s visit to the Mint at Lima, Peru in 1805. Thanks to special access, Delano provided insider details of the Mint and its procedures.

    Ken Bressett referred to the Delano story in Bowers & Borckardt’s 1993 reference book on U.S. Silver Dollars, where he pulled in a portion of the narrative relative to the use of silver plugs to raise underweight planchets to the required legal standard. However, there is a lot more to the story.

    Original copies of the Delano book are quite rare. Fortunately, several modern reprints can be found on sites such as AbeBooks.com for as little as $13 plus shipping. Even better, digital copies of the original are available for free at Google Books.

    This installment presents the first half of Delano’s mint visit (his story appears in the highlighted text blocks below):

    The next curiosity here, that is worthy of mentioning, is the mint; which I visited and was shown every thing worth my attention in it. Two or three gentlemen accompanied me to see it, first having sent to know when we could be admitted, and the answer being returned appointing the day.

    The Spanish King, Philip II, established a mint at Lima, Peru in 1565 by royal edict.  In 1568, production began of silver “cobs” (crudely shaped coins cut from the ends of silver ingots).  In 1659, the Lima Mint added gold “escudos” to their lineup.  By 1805, Spanish colonial coins were made of a more uniform size and they bore the portrait of the King (as seen on the 8 Reales illustrated above).

    When we went we were received with every degree of attention that could be shown. The master or conductor went with us over all parts of it, and shewed [sic] us all that was worthy of seeing, and explained every thing to my satisfaction. The building forms a square, one part of it fronting on the street. It has a strong wall on all sides of it, which forms a large square that is about one hundred and fifty feet each way. The gate is in the middle of the front side. We entered a row of buildings on the left hand after passing through the gate, in which the process of refining and separating the ore is performed; and as we proceeded on the left hand side, we came to where they were melting and casting gold and silver in iron moulds. It was cast in a proper shape to be drawn down cold. The process with the gold which was performed in my presence, was by bruising the ore fine with mauls, and then wetting it with some liquid, and working it over in the same manner as lime mortar is prepared in this country. This is done on the floor of the room, which was all paved with smooth stones, or bricks. This labour is done by negroes, who tread it over with their feet and kneed it like dough…

    The implication here is that Peru used slaves to produce coins.  The U.S. Mint, from its establishment in 1792, relied entirely on paid laborers.

    …after which they put quick silver amongst it, as I was informed, which separates the ore from the other metals that are mixed with it. It had the appearance as they worked it, of yellow mortar, or dough. After it was separated, it was cast into ingots or bars. The silver is separated previous to its being brought to the mint, and cast into pigs that weigh from eighty to one hundred and sixty pounds each. Many tons of these bars I saw piled up like cord wood.

    There was another method by which I saw them separate gold dust (so called,) which is by putting it into a little trench, that runs through one part of the mint. It is made serpentine, and is about one foot wide and two feet deep, with a little descent. Its sides and bottom are made as smooth and even as possible with stone and lime cemented together. In each of the turns of this trench a small ragged iron wheel is sunk, like the sunk wheel of a watch, in the cement at the bottom of the trench. This wheel has a shaft, or spindle in the middle, which comes above the top of the trench, and has another wooden horizontal wheel on the top of this spindle; to which were fixed bands that were brought from the barrel of a large wheel, which being put in motion moved all the small ones. The gold dust, sand, and all together as it was taken up, was put into the upper part of the trench, and a gate hoisted that set the large wheel going which moved the horizontal sunk wheels. The water running likewise through the trench carried the dust down, and at every sunk wheel it got a scouring; and by the time it had passed through the trench, the sand and other particles of matter lighter than gold were swept away, and the gold dust left in the basins formed for the ragged wheels to move in.

    This sounds a lot like the way gold is processed in the field by modern mechanical devices (see the popular TV series “Gold Rush”).  At Lima, this would been a big operation that required a lot of labor and a reliable source of significant amounts of water.

    The next process is the melting of the metal. The method for this was to have crucibles made of a kind of clay which will stand fire. These are made in the form of a tub as large as aa half hogshead, with the top a little contracted, which were suspended by axles fixed to their sides, and placed in a frame similar to the method that blacksmiths hang their bellows; by which means they can tip them backwards and forwards. They then have an iron crutch, or brace, which hooks into two eyes like crane eyes, put into the side of the crucible for the purpose of commanding it. The crucibles are filled with charcoal, after a fire being kindled in them, and two or three hundred weight of gold or silver put on the coals. Two large bellows of a curious construction, worked by hand, were brought up to the front of the crucibles, and their pipes introduced into two holes made for that purpose, which blows the fire with great force. The fire is constantly fed with coals until the ore is sufficiently melted for casting. Whilst it is running into the moulds, it cannot be destinguished [sic], the gold from the silver, both being all red as blood. When the ore is sufficiently heated, the bellows is moved back by means of something similar to cogs or rollers; the crucible is then tiped [sic] backward, on account of the holes made for the bellows pipes, until the metal rises above the top of a little spout like that of a pitcher, but it will not run until it is touched with a small stick with a piece of cloth round the end of it and moistened with some kind of oil; this when touched to the spout where it is wanted the metal to run from, will flash in a blaze like powder, and immediately the ore will run in a small stream not much larger than a pipe stem, into moulds cut in small flat iron bars, about twenty inches long, one inch and a quarter wide, and half an inch deep, with wooden handles to them. After the ore is drawn off in this way in bars, according to the dimensions of the mould, they are taken to a room further to the right in which the grand water works are fixed; in this room were more than ten pairs of rollers arranged very much like those that sugar cane is run through in the West Indies, made horizontal, and gradually decreasing in space. The bars of gold and silver are run through between these rollers, from one to the other, until they are laminated to near the thickness of a dollar, and the gold to that of a doubloon, having by that time the requisite width. By the time they are nearly reduced to a right thickness they are more than four feet long, the silver having a similar appearance to iron hoops. They are then taken to another room still to the right, and run through a plate which brings them to an exact thickness, at which time they are wide enough to cut out the dollar. After this they are passed under a sharp steel trepan of a roundish figure, hollow within, and of proportionable diameter to shape and cut the piece at the same time.

    The “trepan” (from the Spanish “trepanar – to create a hole) was used to produce blank planchets of a uniform diameter.  If the thickness of the silver or gold strips were exact, each planchet produced using this method would be of consistent weight.  However, such technical perfection eluded the Mint, as will be shown in the discussion of silver pins and plugs in the next installment.

    This instrument is fixed at the lower end of a screw which is made with a very large worm; this causes it to descend very forcibly, and when the laminated bar is held under it, every time the screw is turned it comes down and cuts a piece out of the silver the exact size of a dollar; but when a gold laminated bar drawn to a proper thickness, is placed under it, the screw is supplied with another instrument to pierce out a piece the exact size of a doubloon.

    The next (and final) installment of Delano’s narrative will include details of actual coin production at Lima.

  • IN THE PRESENCE OF GREATNESS

    I’m sitting here at the February 2017 Long Beach Expo in the shadow of one of the greatest coins in American numismatics – the $10 million 1794 Silver Dollar – and one of the greatest collections of U.S. Silver Dollars ever assembled – the Bruce Morelan Collection of Early Dollars. What Bruce has done is assemble many of the highest-quality examples of Bust Dollars from the 1794-1803 era. Thanks to the emergence of some incredible-quality coins in recent years, Bruce has had access to coins and collections that many of us never believed would ever appear on the market. When I wrote about this collection for the promotional brochure that accompanies this presentation, I called it the highest concentration of value in the PCGS Set Registry, meaning that the per-coin value in this set is simply off the charts.

    The perspective I’d like to impart in this blog is from that of a “fly on the wall” who observed the comings-and-goings over a day-and-a-half day period. In other words, what was it like to observe the reactions of collectors and dealers as they examined this incredible set?1794 in holder

    First of all, the marketing presentation for this set was stunning. Typically, PCGS displays important Set Registry collections in one or more cases in a designated area at major coin shows. For the Morelan Collection, PCGS took over a carpeted area measuring thirty by thirty feet (to my knowledge, that’s the largest area PCGS has ever devoted to a single collection). The premier coin in the collection, the PCGS SP66 1794 Dollar, took center stage in a specially constructed, secure cabinet, always attended by one or more of PCGS’ security personnel. A backdrop of large graphic panels presented each of the twelve coins in the collection with descriptive notes provided by Bruce himself. In front of the 1794 Dollar was a well-lit display case containing the remaining eleven coins in the collection, again with descriptive cards for each. The PCGS Marketing Department developed some fun, social media cutouts with which collectors could take photographs of themselves and their friends. In another area, a video monitor featured an endless loop of interviews about the collection with Bruce, David Hall, Don Willis, and me. PCGS Set Registry staffers Gayle and Cosetta were on hand to guide people through the display area and answer questions. PCGS Marekting Director, Steve Sloan, supervised the construction of the display and ensured everything ran smoothly.

    On Wednesday, the day when dealers set up their booths, traffic was somewhat light, primarily because most of the dealers had already seen the coins when PCGS presented them at the Florida United Numismatists convention in January. Many of the dealers spent a lot of time examining each of the coins and relishing the experience. I kept hearing the word “Wow” over and over again, which was my reaction, too, when I first saw the coins on display. Many of the dealers had pictures taken of themselves standing beside the 1794 Dollar.

    On Thursday, traffic through the exhibit was steady throughout the day. Hundreds of collectors and dealers took the opportunity to view these amazing coins. For most, this was their first exposure to coins of this type and quality, so we answered a lot of questions and explained the importance of the collection. The most common question came from collectors who wondered about the meaning of “Silver Plug” as it pertained to the 1794 Dollar. Normally, “plugged” is not a positive attribute because it means the coin has been holed at some time (usually for jewelry), then repaired by having the hole plugged. However, in 1794 and 1795, silver plugs were used, in the normal course of business, to increase the weight of some coins up to the required amount.

    In the afternoon, Bruce Morelan, the owner of the set, came by. This was his first time seeing the display and his enthusiastic response was especially gratifying. Bruce is one of the nicest guys in the business, very approachable and congenial, and his passion for collecting is evident throughout his conversations about his coins. He held court and paused for photos with appreciative collectors and dealers who were present for this unannounced, special moment. Laura Sperber, who has assisted Bruce in building some of his world-class collections, visited the display. Here’s what she posted on her website shortly after her visit: “We actually had to wait in line to get our pics taken with the [1794 Dollar]! The display was beyond any we have ever seen anywhere.” Other veteran coin dealers commented that they had never seen a collection of such exceptional quality.

    Kudos to everyone at PCGS who had a hand in presenting this fantastic display and, thank you, Bruce, for your willingness to share this unique collection.

  • United States Mint Opens Sales for 2016 American Eagle One Ounce Silver Proof Coin on September 16

    WASHINGTON-The United States Mint will begin accepting orders for the 2016 American Eagle Silver Proof Coin (product code 16EA) on September 16 at noon Eastern Time (ET).

  • Forum to Discuss the Numismatic Hobby

    Mint Seal

    WASHINGTON, DC — The United States Mint is holding a one-day Numismatic Forum on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Philadelphia, Pa.
     
    The purpose of this meeting is to gather individual members of stakeholder organizations to share perspectives on the past, present, and future of the numismatic hobby. In anticipation of the Mint’s 225th anniversary in 2017, the Forum will discuss the future of the Mint and the numismatic environment as a whole. 
     
    “It seems only appropriate that, while we as a bureau are celebrating our history, the Mint is also looking for ways to improve the way we engage our customers and invigorate our relevance into the future,” said United States Mint Principal Deputy Director Rhett Jeppson. 
     
    Those interested in attending should submit requests to USMintNumismaticForum@usmint.treas.gov by no later than Sept. 15, 2016. Individual requests to attend should include the person’s affiliation (e.g., hobbyist, coin dealer, coin grader, etc.). Seating is limited and submitting a request does not guarantee admission. Attendance will be at the cost of the participant. Detailed information will be provided to confirmed attendees. For those unable to attend or who do not receive an invitation, any formal presentations made by the Mint during the forum will be made available online as soon as practicable after the event.
     
    About the United States Mint
     
    The United States Mint was created by Congress in 1792 and became part of the Department of the Treasury in 1873.  It is the Nation's sole manufacturer of legal tender coinage and is responsible for producing circulating coinage for the Nation to conduct its trade and commerce.  The United States Mint also produces numismatic products, including proof, uncirculated, and commemorative coins; Congressional Gold Medals; and silver, gold, and platinum bullion coins.  The United States Mint's numismatic programs are self-sustaining and operate at no cost to taxpayers.
     
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  • United States Mint Announces 2017 America the Beautiful Quarters® Program Coin Designs

    WASHINGTON - The United States Mint today announced the five new designs that will appear on the reverses (tails) of the 2017-dated coins in the America the Beautiful Quarters® Program.

  • United States Mint Opens Sales for 2016 Standing Liberty Quarter Centennial Gold Coin on September 8

    WASHINGTON-The United States Mint will begin accepting orders for the 2016 Standing Liberty Quarter Centennial Gold Coin (product code 16XC) on September 8 at noon Eastern Time (ET).

  • United States Mint Launches America the Beautiful Quarters® Program Coin Honoring Theodore Roosevelt National Park

    WASHINGTON - The United States Mint joined the National Park Service (NPS) today to celebrate the release of the America the Beautiful Quarters Program coin honoring Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.  The ceremony coincided with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the NPS on this day in 1916. 

  • 2016 First Spouse Bronze Medal Series Three-Medal Set Available on August 31

    WASHINGTON - The United States Mint will open sales for the 2016 First Spouse Bronze Medal Series Three-Medal Set (product code 16MA) on August 31 at noon Eastern Time (ET).  This is the final release in the series.

  • United States Mint Unveils Designs for Boys Town Centennial Commemorative Coins

    BOYS TOWN, NEB. - Designs for coins commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of Boys Town were unveiled today during a ceremony at Boys Town Music Hall in Boys Town, Neb. 

  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park Quarters Available on August 29

    WASHINGTON - The United States Mint will accept orders for product options with quarters honoring Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota starting on August 29 at noon Eastern Time (ET).

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