It’s 1848, gold is discovered in California, and countless prospectors are heading west to stake their claim. People are coming by boat, stagecoach, train, and foot, hoping to make their fortune.
Sacramento Valley's population grew from 800 people in March 1848 to over 100,000 by the end of 1849. The 49ers, as they became known, would mine over 750,000 pounds of gold from the Californian hills.
The time required and safety issues transporting the gold to the Philadelphia Mint provoked Congress to authorize a California branch Mint. The Treasury Secretary chooses San Francisco. On April 3, 1954, the iconic San Francisco Mint opened its doors and began accepting gold from the miners. The new San Francisco Mint produced $4,084,207 of gold coins in the first year.
By 1867, the San Francisco Mint could not keep up with demand. A new building was authorized, but in 1868 there was an earthquake. The new building was to be built to withstand future seismic activity. "The Granite Lady," as she was nicknamed, opened in November 1874. Architect Alfred B. Mullett designed the building in a conservative Greek Revival style, primarily sandstone and granite.
The Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 proved the architect’s design. The Mint was the only building left standing for blocks. The Mint was the only option for banking and other financial services. The Mint became the storehouse for disaster relief funds and performed other emergency banking functions. The earthquake and resulting fire disrupted the gas works, which interrupted coining. Still, coining resumed when the gas works were repaired. The structure remained intact, but more importantly, the gold stayed safe. At the time of the earthquake, the San Francisco Mint stored $300 million worth of gold, which was 1/3 of the country's gold reserves.
The second building closed in 1937 and is now called the “Old San Francisco Mint.” In 1961, it was designated a national landmark. In 1937, a third building opened, and the building is still in use. In 1955, upgrades in the Denver and Philadelphia mints made the San Francisco minting process obsolete. For ten years, the San Francisco Mint ceased production. In 1962, Congress changed the designation from San Francisco Mint to San Francisco Assay Office. The Coinage Act of 1965 allowed the San Francisco Assay Office to start making pennies. In 1968, the San Francisco Assay Office took over production of all proof coins, formerly produced in the Philadelphia Mint.
On July 9, 1985, Congress passed the Liberty Coin Act authorizing the creation of the Silver American Eagles. The law was enacted on October 1, 1985. A little more than a year later, on November 24, 1986, the very first Silver American Eagle was born in San Francisco.
In 1988, San Francisco regained its status as a mint. The U.S. Mint produced the Silver American Eagles in San Francisco from inception in 1986 until 1992. In 1993, production moved to Philadelphia until 2000. In 2001, production moved to West Point, New York, where it has been since. The U.S. Mint has only opened the San Francisco Mint for unique and special coin production a handful of times since 1992. Due to the prestige and history of the San Francisco Mint, collectors and investors love the rare and highly coveted “S” mint mark.
Why Do We Love The San Francisco Mint?
The San Francisco Mint is a miniature story of America. Its glorious past represents the best of what America is. It came into being because the prospectors pursued an opportunity and made it a reality, just like the Founding Fathers. Gold offered an opportunity for people who were willing to risk their lives. The San Francisco Mint was the buyer of the miner’s gold, so the San Francisco Mint offered the average person the opportunity for a better life. It is the perfect paradigm for the American Dream. The message is that you can have anything you want if you are willing to do the work. When the first earthquake came, the San Francisco Mint learned her lesson and strengthened her walls. When the earthquake returned decades later, she was ready. She is a reminder that always being ready is the best strategy. The building left standing was the one holding the gold. How much more so in financial earthquakes! We love the San Francisco Mint story and hope you do too.