For the past one hundred and sixteen years, the United States Mint has struck coins at its Denver, Colorado facility. While the Mint has had a Denver location since 1863 – 159 years – the location started off small and essentially a depot for gold found by minders during the Colorado Gold Rush. But all that changed on February 1, 1906 and now the location is the largest producer of coins in the world, not just the United States.
In this Coin History article, we will take a look at the history of the Denver Mint, from its humble beginnings to the coin producing powerhouse that it is today.
Pre-Mint Days: The Clark, Gruber & Company
The story of the Denver Mint begins in 1858, not in Denver but in Leavenworth, Kansas. It was there that Austin Clark, Milton Clark, and Emanuel Gruber founded a brokerage firm. Shortly after that founding, in 1859, the Clark, Burger & Company opened a office in Denver at the beginning of the Colorado Gold Rush.
The Colorado Gold Rush, which is also known as the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush, was from approximately July 1858 and lasted until the founding of the Colorado Territory in 1861. The largest rush into what is now Colorado was in 1859 when an estimated 100,000 gold seekers arrived to try to find their way way to wealth. As a sidebar, if you ever hear the term “Fifty-Niner”, that comes from the Colorado Gold Rush as those who arrived in 1859 were referred to by the moniker.
With the gold rush in full bloom, Clark, Burger & Company setup their office essentially to allow miners to turn in their gold to have it minted into coins. However, before 1859, the company would ship that gold back to Leavenworth, Kansas for this process to be done and the minted coins to be sent back to Denver. Obviously with shipping costs and insurance, this was an expensive process. That lead to the opening of a private mint in Denver.
On July 25, 1860, the Clark, Gruber & Company opened its private mint in Denver. It was located at the corner of Market & 16th Streets. The building has since been replaced with a three-story structure.
The Clark, Gruber & Company private mint minted $10 gold pieces initially but would later add a $20 gold piece, a $5 gold coin, and a $2.50 gold coin. The coins, were produced at around 20 coins per hour and prospectors could bring their gold dust or nuggets to the mint and have them smelted and pressed into coins – for a fee of course. By the end of its three years in operation as a private mint, the company had minted nearly $550,000 in gold coins, had purchased some 77,000 troy ounces of raw gold, and had shipped gold dust to the Philadelphia Mint for use in United States coinage (again, for a fee).
Congressional Act of 1862 Establishes The Denver Assay Office
With the western expansion of the country, the United States government was keen to establish a new Mint further west. On April 21, 1862, congress signed into law the authorization of a United States Mint in Denver. To get the Mint started, the government purchased the Clark, Gruber & Company operations for $25,000 (approximately $840,000 in 2022). The United States Mint Denver Assay Office opened in 1863.
When the facility opened, there were no coins produced and, in fact, the Denver location would not produce any coins until 1906 even though the facility had the ability to mint coins as it had the equipment from the Clark, Gruber & Company purchase. The decision was based on the situation in the United States. In 1863, the country was in the middle of the American Civil War (1861-1865) and arguably was at the height of that internal conflict. The Director of the Mint did not feel it was safe to produce coins based on that situation along with hostilities with Native American tribes in the region.
To that end, the Denver Assay Office accepted gold and nuggets from miners in the area to be melted and cast into gold bars. The bars where then returned to the miner with the weight and fineness of the gold stamped into the bar. As the mining of gold and silver picked up in Colorado and surrounding territories, the influx of the precious metals continued into the Assay Office. By 1859, the amount of gold and silver deposited at the Denver Assay Office reached $5.6 million.
Full United States Mint Status
With this influx of precious metals and post Civil War westward expansion, the pressure continued to mount on the United States government to establish the Denver facility to full Mint status. The need for gold and silver coins was ever increasing even though the Mint itself had not kept up with that demand. In 1895, Congress approved a bill that would allow for the Denver Assay Office to gain full Mint status. Specifically, the gaining of Mint status was specifically done so the Denver location could produce gold and silver coinage. Equally, as part of that law, a new Mint facility would be built. On April 22, 1896, the land at the corner of West Colfax and Delaware streets was purchased for nearly $60,000, or just over $2 million 2022.
Construction of the new Mint began in earnest in 1897 and by most accounts, went smoothly with few issues are delays. Construction of the build was completed in early 1904.
With the new location completed, the biggest delay in getting coin production done at the new Denver Mint kicked in. Fundamentally, two key factors caused the delay from 1904 to coin production happening in 1906. First, appropriate planning and paperwork to move the operations from the Assay office to the new building were delayed. While the new building was completed in early 1904, this transfer of operations didn’t happen until September 1st of that year. The bigger delay, however, was the machinery itself. The new minting equipment made a detour to the St. Lousie Exposition in 1904. That event started on April 30, 1904 and went through until December 1, 1904. It would be several more months before the equipment would arrive in Denver and then had to be setup, configured, tested and determined ready for production. By that point, the Mint was preparing 1906 coinage dies which would lead to the first coins being produced in Denver on February 1, 1906.
In 1906, the Denver Mint produced 167 million coins. Those coins consisted of various denomination silver coins, $20 Double Eagles, $10 Eagles and $5 Half Eagles.
The Denver Mint Today
The Denver Mint is still located in the building that was built in 1904 at the corner of West Colfax and Delaware streets. Since it began regular Mint duties in 1906, the location has produced an incredible 300 billion coins although that figure is likely higher given early mintage production figures were either not reported or are inaccurate. Regardless, the figure makes the Denver location the single largest coin producing facility in the world.
Production at the location is now limited to circulating coinage, numismatic products (such as annual sets) and commemoratives. Gold and silver coins are now produced mostly in West Point.
Prior to COVID-19, the Mint offered tours of the Denver facility on a daily basis (although spaces were limited). Those tours and the associated gift shop have been closed since early 2020 and there is no current timeline as to when the Mint will resume those tours and operations.