The City of San Francisco is kicking the nonprofit San Francisco
Museum and Historical Society out of the Old Mint as the
latter’s plan to renovate the building into a museum has stalled.
In a March 17 letter to the historical society provided to Coin
World by the city, San Francisco Director of Property John Updike
announced that the city was terminating the historical society’s
lease, effective immediately, due to “lack of progress” on the
A dramatic arts production company will use the facility on a
short-term basis beginning Sept. 1.
In the letter, Updike commends the historical society for, by
opening part of the building for events and rentals, providing the
public “a glimpse of what this treasure can and should become.”
“Unfortunately,” the letter continues, “the vision described in the
agreements between the City and SFMHS for the Old Mint—first in 2003
and then in 2006—contemplated a number of critical milestones in
improving this community asset, and SFMHS has not been able to meet
those milestones or implement this vision.”
While the lease has been terminated, Updike’s letter says the
historical society has until Aug. 1 to vacate the property.
FULL LETTER: Read why San Francisco terminated its lease of the
Old Mint building
The president of the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society’s
board of directors, Kevin Pursglove, said the organization had
previously been made aware by the city about the possibility of the
production company moving in temporarily, but was still “a little bit
disappointed” upon receiving the letter from Updike.
However, the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society is not
closing up shop. Pursglove said it is looking for a temporary office
space while “regrouping and restrategizing” and focusing on ways to
increase its fundraising.
MORE: Nonprofit hopes to return to Old Mint to carry out
Pursglove's been told the city will be seeking a tenant through a
public request-for-proposal process after the production company
leaves, and his organization will look to win the lease again.
“We feel that we’re still in the ballgame and we can still be a key
player in the use of the Mint as museum,” Pursglove said.
Donald Kagin, a professional numismatist and president of Kagin’s Inc., is a
strong supporter of the plan to incorporate a numismatic museum into
the renovation plan of the Old Mint.
He said he’s not surprised to hear that the city is kicking the
historical society out for now, and he didn’t sound too upset about it.
“Maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world to bring in new ideas
and people to come up with ideas to renovate the building,” Kagin said.
Kagin and the family firm have had a long relationship with the Old
Mint that has included direct sponsorship of numismatic exhibits
dating from more than 40 years ago.
The Clifford-Kagin Collection of pioneer gold coinage was on exhibit
at the Old Mint while it was still part of the Bureau of the Mint. The
collection, originally formed by pioneer gold specialist Henry
Clifford, was purchased by the Kagin family in the 1970s. At the time,
it was widely considered the finest such collection outside of the
Smithsonian Institution. Both Donald Kagin and his father, Arthur
Kagin, continued to add important pioneer gold coins to the collection
while it was on public display at the Mint facility.
The family sold the collection to two other coin dealers in 1989,
who kept it on display until 1990.
More recently, the Kagin family and the family business have worked
at gaining funding for a public museum. For example, in 2014, when
coins from the Saddle Ridge Hoard were sold by Kagin’s, the
firm arranged for the couple who found the hoard in 2013 to donate
some of the proceeds arising from the sale of the coins. The first
gold coin sold from the hoard, an About Uncirculated 53 1874-S Coronet
$20 double eagle, brought $15,000 at a fundraising event May 27 at
the Old San Francisco Mint just hours before the coins available from
the hoard were placed on public sale. The money went the museum society.
Collectors raised funds for the museum in other ways. In 2006, the
United States Mint struck gold and silver commemorative coins for sale
to collectors, who paid surcharges totaling nearly $5 million that
went to The Mint Project, an effort at forming public exhibits at the
The silver dollar and gold half eagle in the commemorative coin
program both featured scenes of the Old Mint.
The first San Francisco Mint was opened in 1854 to convert mined
gold into coins.
According to the U.S. Mint website, approximately $4 million in gold
bullion was turned into United States coins the first year alone.
Operations moved to the Old Mint, or the “Granite Lady” as it’s
known, in 1874. Coins were struck there until 1937, when coining was
moved to the present San Francisco Mint.
In 2003, the U.S. Government Service Administration sold the Old
Mint for $1 to the city, which in turn leased the facility to the
historical society. The historical society planned to turn it into a
San Francisco history museum, a part of which would celebrate the
history of American coins and the Gold Rush.
Senior Editor Paul Gilkes wrote in a May 2, 2014, post that the San
Francisco Museum and Historical Society had by that time raised more
than $14 million to develop the building for exhibits and events.
Pursglove said the goal after the historical society regroups is to up
that fundraising total to around $40 million.
“In 2013, more than 43,500 people attended events at the Old San
Francisco Mint,” Gilkes wrote.
Though the historical society’s plan may not come to fruition,
Donald Kagin said he thinks a renovation of the Old Mint will happen
eventually, and no matter what shape the overall plan takes, the Gold
Rush museum will be a part of it.
“It needs to be done. I believe it will be done,” Kagin said.
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