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The Flipside with Robert R. Van Ryzin

Old Mint left its mark
August 03, 2007

Next week I head off for the American Numismatic Association convention in Milwaukee, and I am looking forward to it. The first ANA convention I attended was in 1986, which was the same year I joined staff of Krause Publications. Since then, I've missed only one ANA and that was because of an illness in the family.

Two years ago I was especially pleased to attend the convention in San Francisco because it gave me the opportunity to tour the Granite Lady, the old San Francisco Mint, which is to be restored and include an American Money Museum.

Since then, I've regularly followed online editions of the San Francisco Chronicle, watching for information about the mint. I was pleased, therefore, to read in a June 10 article by Chronicle staff writer Carl Nolte that the rather seedy alleys around the Old Mint are being transformed into a European-style plaza, which will be called Mint Plaza.

When it opened, in 1874, the second San Francisco Mint was the pride of the city, having been built, according to the Nov. 6, 1874 issue of the Alta California, for less than $30,000 of $1.5 million appropriated for the project. The newspaper raved that:

"The Fifth-street front [of the mint] is strikingly majestic, yet theSFMInt.jpg huge columns, which cannot fail to command the attention and admiration of visitors, are finished with so much delicacy of workmanship as if they had been touched with the carpenter's plane."

The Granite Lady served the nation as a mint into the 1930s and is remembered for having been one of the few public buildings to survive the 1906 earthquake and fires that swept through the city. It was also instrumental in the city's recovery.

In the 1970s, when the Granite Lady was being restored and reopened as a mint and a museum, there were some interesting pictures taken of a tour of the facility with then Mint Director Mary Brooks. One of my favorites is shown here. Brooks is pointing to circular indentations on the wall of one of the mint's lower-level vaults, which, according to the caption on the photo's back, were made by pressure from bags of $20 gold pieces once stacked there.

I can confirm that from my visit that the marks still exist, though I was unable to top this picture.

If you care to learn more about what is being done to revitalize the area around the mint, check out Nolte's story. Likewise, if you're interested in the future plans for the Old Mint, visit the Mint Project Web site.

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About the Author
Robert R. Van Ryzin has been a coin collector for 30 years. He has served as editor of Krause Publications Coins and Coin Prices magazines since 1994. He joined the firm in 1986 after obtaining a master of fine arts degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Prior to becoming a magazine editor, he worked on World Coin News as a staff member and later served as managing editor of Numismatic News. Van Ryzin, whose specialty is U.S. coinage history, is also the award-winning author of the book Crime of 1873: The Comstock Connection (Krause Publications, 2001), as well as two earlier titles, Twisted Tails: Sifted Fact, Fantasy and Fiction from U.S. Coin History (Krause Publications, 1995) and Striking Impressions: A Visual Guide to Collecting U.S. Coins (Krause Publications, 1992).

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