Description and Analysis

Modern Commemoratives

Description & Analysis

The United States Mint at San Francisco opened for business in 1854, but it is the second, grander structure completed twenty years later that is most associated with this institution. Designed by famed architect Alfred B. Mullett in the Greek Revival style, it is an imposing structure that captures the might of the federal government.

Though minting operations were relocated to a new facility in 1937, this old building housed various government offices as late as 1968. Considered useless at that time, it was faced with demolition until a dedicated group of volunteers rallied to have it re-opened as a museum of coinage and the West in 1973. The earthquake of 1989 prompted a seismic evaluation that exposed the need for an expensive retrofit. The museum was closed five years later and has remained vacant since that time, though the establishment of an even grander museum is now a certainty.

2006 was the centennial of a far greater earthquake that had rocked San Francisco in 1906. The San Francisco Mint was the only government structure to survive that disaster, and this anniversary provided the final push for approval of the commemorative coins that the museum’s supporters had been seeking for years. Surcharge funds from the sale of silver dollars and gold half eagles were earmarked for the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society for the purpose of seismic upgrading of the old structure and for establishment of a museum of coinage and Gold Rush history.

The obverse of the silver dollar features a perspective view of the Old San Francisco Mint borrowed from the U. S. Mint’s souvenir medal of this facility. This medal was created by Sheryl J. Winter of the Mint’s engraving staff many years ago, and it is his initials that appear below the building at right. Above the mint are the dual dates 1906 and 2006, while below is the inscription “OLD MINT ‘THE GRANITE LADY’.” Beneath this, arranged along the border, are the words “INSTRUMENTAL IN SAN FRANCISCO’S RECOVERY.” The usual mottoes required by law complete this side.

The reverse of this coin features the reverse of the circulating silver dollar type current in 1906, which was designed by George T. Morgan of the U. S. Mint. His initial ‘M’ appears on the wreath bow as on the original coin, though this recreation is clearly not taken from the original model. The mintmark ‘S’ of San Francisco is in the usual position for a coin of this type, beneath the wreath bow.

The gold half eagle is likewise a combination of old and new designs. Its obverse features an elevation view of the building’s portico taken from one of architect Mullett’s original drawings. Above the structure are the dual dates of commemoration and coining, while the inscription “San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Centennial” appears along the lower border. This side was designed by Charles L. Vickers and sculpted by Joseph Menna, both artists with the U. S. Mint, and their initials appear beneath the structure at either side of it. Statutory mottoes complete this side.

The reverse of the Old San Francisco Mint Half Eagle features a recreation of the reverse from the 1906-S five-dollar piece. Though the original master art for this coin by Christian Gobrecht no longer survives, the U. S. Mint’s current staff did a credible job of replicating it. Included, of course, is the distinctive ‘S’ mintmark beneath the figure of an eagle, as both the uncirculated and proof editions of the half eagle and silver dollar were coined at San Francisco.

The Old San Francisco Mint commemoratives were first offered for sale relatively late in 2006, since the authorizing bill was not signed by President Bush until June 15 of that year. The legislation required that the program be concluded by the end of 2006, and this seems to have hurt sales. In the end, proof coins outsold mint state by more than two-to-one as is usually the case.