US Coins

ANA expands museum Gold Rush exhibits

The Edward C. Rochette Money Museum, operated by the American Numismatic Association in Colorado Springs, Colo., has unveiled an expansion of its “Gold Rush” exhibit, which currently highlights Colorado mining history with displays of Clark Gruber & Co. pioneer gold coins and Lesher dollars.

The Clark Gruber coins and Lesher dollars (medals, actually) both have local connections for the organization based in Colorado Springs. 

The permanent exhibit now showcases the California Gold Rush as seen through the instruments that were essential for processing bullion — scales and weights. The exhibit was made possible through a donation from the Gerard A. Smith Collection.

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Notable instruments on display include a giant scale used at the Denver Mint, as well as handheld scales used by miners and prospectors in the gold fields. 

Also on display is a scale model replica of a Wells Fargo “Concord” stagecoach. First introduced in 1827, the Concord stagecoach was designed for freight and passenger service; Wells Fargo adopted the Concord for its passenger, mail and bullion service in 1852.

“Donations of this type help to make the ANA’s educational mission possible and enables the Money Museum to enhance exhibits by illustrating the history of our country through numismatic objects,” said Doug Mudd, the Money Museum’s curator and director.

Rush for riches

The California Gold Rush began in 1848 with James Wilson Marshall’s historic find at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, Calif. The world became electrified as rumors of a gold discovery spread; within months, 300,000 potential miners stampeded west to the new promised land of mineral riches.

The balance (also known as the balance scale, beam balance or laboratory balance) was the first mass measuring instrument invented. Scales have been used in the U.S. since the colonial period to weigh coins, accurately calculate their value and detect counterfeits. Scales were also essential to miners.

Clark Gruber & Co.

In 1858, about 10 years after the California Gold Rush began, gold was discovered on the South Platte River, near the site that one day would be the city of Denver. As happened in California, a private company was formed to turn the ore into refined gold ingots and then into coins.

Clark Gruber & Co. issued pioneer gold coins from 1860 to 1862, in $2.50, $5, $10, and $20 denominations. Some of the coins featured a fanciful representation of Pikes Peak, the mountain that now serves as the backdrop for the ANA Money Museum and headquarters.

Mining in Colorado was predominantly accomplished through claims staked on geological deposits formed by water currents in riverbeds, or what is called placers, though those deposits were not the only source of gold in the region. Significant quantities of lode gold were discovered near present Central City, Colo., on May 6, 1859, and other discoveries followed.  

As in California a decade earlier, more permanent housing structures were erected among the mining tents, and the need arose for a medium of circulating currency. To fill that need, the private firm Clark Gruber and Co. was founded. The firm melted the raw native Colorado gold — found in nuggets and dust containing large quantities of silver — and converted the raw material into the firm’s gold $2.50-, $5-, $10- and $20-denominated coins. In all, Clark Gruber issued coinage totaling $120,000 in face value.  

After the end of coinage production, in January of 1862 the Treasury Department submitted a proposal to Congress seeking the establishment of a Branch Mint of the United States at Denver for the production of gold coinage. Congress approved the measure April 21, 1862, and acquired the Clark Gruber & Co. structure for $25,000 in the late fall of 1862. 

The structure, however, struck no federal coinage though it did serve as an Assay Office. The Denver Mint became a reality in 1906 in a new state-of-the-art structure built by the federal government.

Lesher dollars

Lesher Referendum dollars or medals were the creation of Joseph W. Lesher, an Ohio-born transplant to Colorado who was a strong proponent of using silver in coinage. (Vast quantities of silver were found in Colorado after the first gold finds in the region.)

Lesher Referendum dollars “are interesting, rare pieces of money in Colorado’s history,” as described by ANA. These octagonal silver “coins” were privately issued by Lesher in Victor, Colo., in 1900 and 1901 to boost local commerce and support silver mining. 

Various merchants punched their names into the coins, which served as a form of advertisement and a message that Lesher dollars could be used to trade for goods and services at said business.  

It’s not clear how many Lesher dollars were actually struck — according to the ANA, Lesher himself said in a 1914 interview that between 3,000 and 3,500 pieces were minted, but noted Lesher dollar researcher Adna Wilde — former ANA president, executive director and treasurer — believed only about 1,870 were made, of which only 550 were documented at the time.

Both the Lesher Referendum dollars and Clark Gruber pioneer gold coins are avidly collected today.

Money Museum background

The Money Museum includes an extensive and ever-growing collection of historical numismatic treasures. This one-of-a-kind facility showcases some of the most valuable and significant numismatic items the public cannot see anywhere else. 

Rarities include a 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coin valued at $2 million and two of the 15 known 1804 Draped Bust dollars.

In March, the museum opened the “Olympic Games — History & Numismatics” exhibit, which features rare Syracusan dekadrachms (Greek coins) from the fifth century B.C.; a 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics bronze medallion designed by the famed Karl Goetz; a complete set of award medals from the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics and 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics courtesy of the U.S. Olympic Committee; plus participation medals, torches and even a few mascots.

The U.S. Olympic Training Center is also located in Colorado Springs, which gives this section of the exhibit a hometown connection as well. 

The Money Museum is located at 818 N. Cascade Ave, beside the campus of Colorado College and next door to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Museum hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission costs $5 ($4 for seniors, military and students). Kids 12 and under are free. For more information visit, call 719-632-2646 or visit 

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