US Coins

1905 medal celebrates the opening of the Denver Mint

As the end of 1905 approached, officials at the Denver Mint were getting ready for the new facility’s grand opening, testing the equipment to make sure the plant would be ready to start striking coins the next year.

The government had wanted a federal Mint established in Denver since the Civil War era, when the Colorado region was the center of a silver and gold rush. The government had even purchased a private mint in Denver in 1862, but officials chose not to strike federal coinage there, blaming the “hostility of the Indian tribes along the routes” for not beginning an official coinage. Instead, the building was first used as a refuge from the Indians for women and children and then as a federal assay office instead. Decades later, in December 1895, Congress authorized a Mint in Denver; nearly nine years later, in September 1904, operations of the old Assay Office were transferred to the new facility. However, the new Denver Mint was not ready to strike coinage yet.

Indian Head cent continues to resonate with collectorsLast minted in 1909, Indian Head cent still a collector favorite: Our first monthly issue of the summer is rich with Indian Head cent insights, along with “State quarters” for world coin collectors — a fascinating contrast.

The next year, 1905, saw the facility begin processing local silver and gold ore though the Mint still was not prepared to strike coins. Finally, on Nov. 1, 1905, a coinage press was fired up and the first pieces were struck. They were not coins, though.

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The press was used to strike uniface bronze medals the diameter of a gold double eagle. The design was exceedingly simple, with one side reading DENVER 1905 and the other side blank. The medal has a dentiled rim on both sides and a reeded edge. The striking of the medals was part of a ceremony celebrating the opening of the Mint. Colorado’s governor and other government officials participated in the event and examples of the medal were presumably passed out to attendees.

In a 2009 auction by Heritage, one of those medals was offered for sale. It realized $2,070.

Collectors have long categorized the 1905 Denver Mint Opening medal as a so-called dollar, a form of commemorative medal that is approximately the size of a standard silver dollar. In the standard reference for the series, the medal is cataloged as HK-876.

The piece sold in the auction is graded Mint State 63 red and brown by Numismatic Guaranty Corp.

The Heritage lot description states: “Struck in bronze with a reeded edge. This specimen exhibits pleasing reddish coloration throughout and lacks any serious flaws worthy of disclosure. This popular so-called dollar was the first issue produced at the newly constructed Denver Mint and, according to the newly released Hibler-Kappen reference (2008), less than 75 pieces are believed extant in all grades. Census: 2 in 63 Red and Brown, 3 finer (12/08).” 

According to the so-called dollar website, “Despite the statement that ‘thousands were struck,’ the medal was unobtainable at the Mint following the ceremonies and was ‘decidedly scarce’ in Denver.”

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