Press agent

Bob Nylen, the curator of history at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City, says the museum’s Coin Press No. 1—which struck its first coin at the Carson City Mint in 1870—has been returned to operation for demonstrations, after a year of repairs and restoration. The demonstrations will take place on the last Friday of each month from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 1 to 4 p.m. Visitors can purchase a blank silver planchet to have struck with a commemorative design in the press.

The press was down for a year. Were the repairs quite extensive or serious?

We had to have several parts replaced. The press had gone 40 years since it had its last major rehabilitation, back in 1975—just before it went into operation for the bicentennial. That’s when it got totally rebuilt and then put into service here to make medallions for the bicentennial. … It was due for a major overhaul.

I’ve heard that it had a major failure that was fixed by machinists at the Virginia & Truckee back when it was only like eight years old.

Right. That was an amazing thing. That’s why it even exists today, we believe. It was the first press here when the operation started in 1870. In 1878, it suffered this malfunction that cracked the upper frame of the press, so they had to decide if they were going to ship it back to the original manufacturer back in Philadelphia, called Morgan & Orr. What they decided was that the Virginia & Truckee railroad shops could do the repair here, just in Carson City. And they were located about a block away from the mint here.

A lot easier than shipping 12,000 pounds back to Philadelphia.

Yeah, and so what they did to preserve the press to this day was—they took off the original builder’s plate on it. It said “Morgan & Orr, Philadelphia.” They took that off and either made a new one or just redid the original and put on it, “Virginia & Truckee Railroad Works” and then the date, “Carson, 1878.” When the minting operation stopped in the 1890s, it went back to Philadelphia. After World War II, it went to San Francisco. When the press was at these different mints, anyone who was operating it would see that builder’s plate on there and know that the press had been here in Carson City. In the 1950s, they decided to upgrade some of the presses in San Francisco. So, they were going to destroy it for scrap. We had a friend there in the Bay Area who let us know about the press. We inquired about preserving it, and the mint sold it to us for $250 dollars in 1958.

When repairs need to be done, is that work done locally now?

We sent it off to the company that did the work back in 1975, when the press was put back into operation for the bicentennial. They’re still in existence. They’re over in Oakland, California. It’s called Columbia Machine Works. Actually, their owner today—he was just an apprentice in 1975. He knew the machine. … He’s very aware of the history and the background of the press. They were the logical company to go to, to have them make the parts we needed. Their primary specialty is coin presses.

Why are coins with the Carson City mint mark so collectible?

I think it’s because the press was not in operation for that long. … It was from 1870 to 1893, and there were actually three years in the 1880s when production was stopped. So it isn’t a long history of minting coins. I just think the fact of the location, too—the fabulous Comstock Lode, Virginia City, the history of the American West, all go to create this interest in collectors.