1860 Clark, Gruber & Co. $20. K-4. Rarity-6+. AU-55 (PCGS). CMQ-X. OGH.One of the most aesthetically appealing specimens we have ever offered of this well-known rarity, a far above average specimen, much nicer than usually seen even in advanced cabinets. Handsome golden-olive color greets the viewer from lustrous Choice AU surfaces. The strike is truly impressive for a Territorial gold coin produced under such rustic conditions, the detail sharp to full in virtually all areas. Some scattered marks are normal for the grade and for this heavy coin; one mark at the eagles right leg (to observers left) serves as the most useful identifier for provenance purposes.
The firm of Clark, Gruber & Co., Leavenworth, Kansas bankers, established a branch in Denver following discovery of gold deposits in the area, primarily in the mountains to the west. From that beginning was to grow Colorados largest mint, an operation which subsequently laid the framework for the government mint in the same city. Partners were Austin M. Clark, Milton Edward Clark, and Emanuel Henry Gruber.
Framework for the minting business was begun in December 1859, when Milton E. Clark journeyed to New York and Philadelphia to make arrangements in person to acquire coining and metal processing machinery. It is believed that Bailey & Co., Philadelphia jewelers, made arrangements for the dies, possibly enlisting the services of Chief Engraver James B. Longacre at the Mint. The workmanship of the dies differs from one to another, and we believe that more than one engraver was involved.
In the spring of 1860, Austin Clark and Emanuel H. Gruber arrived in Denver and purchased several lots on the northwest corner of McGaa and F Streets, later to become Market and 16th streets. An imposing two-story brick structure with a stone basement was set up. In April the machinery arrived by an ox-drawn wagon. By July 16th the building was complete inside and out, and coinage operations were ready to begin. At first, $10 coins were minted.
The <em>Rocky Mountain News</em> reported on the progress of the firm in an article in the August 29, 1860 issue:
<em>Clark Gruber & Co. melted and coined about $18,000 in $10, $5, and $2.50 pieces. As specimens of coinage these pieces are far superior to any of the private mint drops issued in San Francisco, and are nearly as perfect as the regular United States Mint issues. The faces of the $5s and $2.50s are a good imitation of the government coinage - the stars, with the name of "Clark & Co." occupying the head tiara. The reverse is occupied, of course, with "our noble bird" encircled by the words "Pikes Peak Gold, Denver 21/2D." Altogether it is a creditable piece of work, and we hope to see hosts of it in circulation before the snow flies. The fineness of this coin is 828-1/2; and the excess of weight over U.S. coin is 23 grains in a $10 piece. The value in gold is the same as government coin of like denomination, with an additional value in silver alloy equal to near 1%. Deduct the cost of coining at the U.S. mint, about 1/2%, and the actual worth of Clark & Co.s coin is 1/2% more than any other coinage.</em>
The initial coinages were of the $10 and $20 denominations. Later, pieces of $2.50 and $5 were made, as noted in the preceding article. By October 1860, the coins were in wide circulation throughout the "Jefferson" Territory. The mint operated both day and night, and by October $120,000 worth had been struck.
Toward the end of 1860 Clark, Gruber & Co. opened a branch office in Central City, Colorado. At the time, Central City, and its neighbor, Black Hawk, were among the most active gold mining areas.
Their coins being quickly accepted by the miners, Clark, Gruber & Co. soon became the most prolific of the Colorado coiners. The unchanged native ore and dust used for the 1860 issues, although the regions purest, proved to be too soft and prone to wear. In 1861, therefore, the firm added a higher concentration of silver to the alloy, all the while ensuring that the total gold content was roughly 1% higher than their federal equivalents. That year they also replaced the mountain design on the 1860 $10 and $20 pieces with the familiar Liberty head motif, probably for uniformity with their $2.50 and $5 issues, and also to facilitate the coins acceptance by a public accustomed to handling the United States Mints gold coinage. All told, Clark, Gruber & Co. coined just under $600,000 face value by the time they ceased their minting operation in 1862. That year they produced only gold bars. In April 1863, the partners sold their facility and equipment to the federal government, which then used it as an assay office for the next 43 years before building a full-fledged branch mint that opened in 1906. The principals continued operating several offices, including one in Central City, but in 1864, Clark, Gruber & Co. dissolved itself.
Popularly known as the "Mountain Twenty," the firms $20 issue of 1860 has become symbolic of Clark, Gruber & Co. coinage and, indeed, the Colorado Gold Rush in its entirety. We do not know what percentage of the $600,000 in total face value issued by this firm was composed of "Mountain Twenties," but the mintage must have been limited since this is the rarest Clark, Gruber & Co. type. Often years pass between offerings, as most of the few known examples are locked away in tightly held collections. The Eliasberg specimen is among the finest known, as most of the survivors are impaired, several significantly. It is a highly significant coin - a highlight of our recent sales - that is sure to see spirited bidding among specialists.PCGS# 10138. NGC ID: ANK5.PCGS Population: 2; 2 finer (MS-61 finest).From the Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection. Earlier from our (Bowers and Merenas) sale of the Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection, May 1996, lot 384; our (Kingswood Galleries) Kingswood III Sale, September 1997, lot 294.