Coins and Currency in Early Colorado

You’re probably aware that Denver is home to one of the United States mints.  But do you know the history behind coinage in Colorado? It has a lot to do with Colorado being a metal mining state.
Gold brought the earliest white settlers to Colorado territory, and gold dust was used as currency during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. However, some people tried to pass off brass filings as gold dust, so three men from Leavenworth, Kansas, started Clark, Gruber & Company in Denver and began minting their own coins. (You can see some original Clark, Gruber coins at the History Colorado museum). At this time, the Federal government had no laws against the private production of currency — but during the Civil War, such a law was passed, and Clark, Gruber sold their minting equipment to the government.  Such was the origin of the U.S. Mint in Colorado.

But Colorado’s role in the story of American currency goes much further than the Mint. From the late 1870s to the early 1890s, silver mining became one of the state’s most significant industries. Under the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, the United States government purchased silver for coinage, and many fabulous fortunes were made on the metal. This only lasted until 1893, however, when the Act was repealed — and Colorado’s economy plummeted.

Eventually Colorado recovered from the Crash of 1893, although silver never again became a sought-after commodity in the state.  Gold mining returned in the early twentieth century, and coal mining became one of the state’s dominant extractive industries.  Meanwhile, however, after serving as an assay office for several decades, the U.S. Mint became official when a new building was constructed in 1904, and coin production began in 1906.  Today, the Denver Mint produces over 50 million coins per day!

You can read more about the history of coins and currency in Colorado by checking out several great resources from our library.  The Quest for Gold and Silver: Including a History of the Interaction of Metals and Currency is a book from the Colorado School of Mines that discusses the history of bimetallism in the U.S. and Colorado. For a more in-depth look at Colorado specifically, see the article “Currency, Coinage and Banking in Pioneer Colorado” in the May 1933 issue of Colorado Magazine. Information on Clark, Gruber & Company coins can be found in the November, 1937 issue of Colorado Magazine.

A Clark, Gruber & Company coin, minted in 1860, featuring an image of Pikes Peak. From the History Colorado Collection.