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Coins and Currency in Early Utah

Utah Historical Quarterly

Vol. XX, 1952. No. 1


A PRIME DUTY of government is to provide a sound monetary system. When government is in the hands of ecclesiastical leaders, as in early Utah, it becomes necessary for them to interest themselves in a matter which is usually considered to be outside the scope of religion. The steps taken by leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to establish and maintain a satisfactory circulating medium in the first few years after the initial settlement of the Great Salt Lake Valley in 1847 demonstrate a versatility and resourcefulness in temporal matters that is unique and noteworthy.

That the leaders of the Latter-day Saints should have been concerned with the economic welfare of the Great Basin colony does not come with great surprise to the student of Utah history. Mormon theology from the very beginning gave equal emphasis to the temporal and the spiritual, and regarded them as two related aspects of a fundamental unity in nature, social affairs, and the infinite. In taking the measures necessary to assure an adequate supply of money for Utah's early settlers, Mormon leaders were merely assisting in the completion of their oft-declared objective —building up the Kingdom of God in the mountains.

The basic monetary problem in early Utah was the shortage of United States coin and currency. It was this shortage which Utah's pioneer leaders sought to correct by manufacturing and issuing "valley" coin and currency. Valley currency was printed in 1849 and, although "sound" from the standpoint of backing, its circulation was limited to use within the territory. Valley coins were minted under the direction of President Brigham Young in 1849, 1850, and I860, and were used not only as a medium of exchange in Utah, but also as a means of payment outside the territory wherever Mormons made purchases.

All frontier communities were short of cash, but early Utah was particularly so. The Mormon Pioneers of 1847 and after were driven from their Nauvoo, Illinois homes with such speed that few of them were able to salvage anything from the property they left behind. What little they were able to secure was used, as one would expect, in the purchase of food, livestock, wagons, and other equipment on the way to Winter Quarters, Nebraska, preparatory to crossing the Great Plains. According to Bancroft, "about $50" brought by Brigham Young in 1847 was at that time virtually "the only money in Utah" to care for the needs of some 1,700 Mormon Saints. When the 1848 Mormon companies swelled the population to some 4,200, this monetary stock was replenished with $84 in small change brought by Brigham Young from Winter Quarters. Later arrivals brought proportionately small sums.

Of course, quantities of cash were brought into the valley from California. Detachments of the Mormon Battalion had wintered at Pueblo, Colorado, in 1846-7. They joined the main group of Latter-day Saints in the Salt Lake Valley in August 1847. Wages were due them and this money finally was brought to Salt Lake Valley from California by Captain James Brown in November, 1847. It consisted of $5,000 in Spanish doubloons, which were gold coins worth about $5.00 each. But this money did not remain long in the hands of the Saints. As Frances Foster wrote: "Putting the gold into circulation was like spilling a precious canteen of water on the desert sand . . . within a short time little wasjeen of the doubloons." Brigham Young sent almost immediately a party of men to California to buy cows. They spent some $3,200 and thus disposed of part of the Saints' gold supply. Another $1,950 of it was used early in 1848 in purchasing the site of the present City of Ogden from Miles Goodyear.

Although the members of the Mormon Battalion who had gone on to California were discharged in the summer of 1847, a considerable number of them remained in California during the winter of 1847-8. Some of them were in the company which discovered gold at Sutter's Fort in April, 1848. Many of the Battalionists engaged in mining operations and in other ways earned money which they took with them to Salt Lake City in 1848-9. Late in 1848, for example, thirty-seven Battalion members brought a considerable quantity of gold dust into Salt Lake City, and this served as a convenient, if wasteful, circulatingmedium for a temporary period. The following year a group of about twenty young men were "called" by Church officials to go on a "mission" to California and mine gold. Although not entirely successful, these men did send back to Utah several thousand dollars worth of gold in 1850. Henry Bigler, for example, earned $1,572, of which at least $340 was sent back to Utah. Not much California gold, however, was brought to Utah—though millions of dollars worth of it came through Utah. The economics of this situation was appreciated by Brigham Young, but not always by Church members. "It may seem strange even to the Saints abroad," wrote Brigham Young in 1851, "that there should be any lack of cash at this place, since it has been trumpeted to the ends of the earth that California is full of gold and running over to all nations. . . ." There are two explanations of the seeming paradox of gold-plenty in California and gold-famine in nearby Utah: (a) few Mormons joined in the Gold Rush, because of thestrong stand taken by Church leaders against the "desertion" of members to California; and (b) the inability of Utah to produce goods or services for export to California until after 1851, and the small quantity exported after that date, made it impossible for Utah to earn in a commercial way much of the gold needed for purchases in the East. By the time of the Gold Rush, Utah had not yet built up her productive capacity to the point that a surplus was available for outside trade, and the constant stream of immigrants coming into Utah made certain that most of the increased production would be consumed within the territory. The immediate economic effect of the Gold Rush was to increase the supply of food, clothing, and equipment in Utah without the usual corresponding drain on the money supply. "Forty-niners," after crossing the plains heavily-laden, were glad to stop over in Salt Lake City and trade provisions and equipment for fresh oxen and newly-repaired wagons in order to speed their journey to the land of bonanza.

Utahns were unable to earn dollars in the East for a similar reason. The exportation of goods and services to the East was effectively inhibited by costly transportation and by the lack of a type of specialized production which could bring in returns from that area. Furthermore, eastern investment in the territory was appallingly small. The United States government made some payments in the pioneer period for building construction, for Indian campaigns, and for the salaries of public officials. Moreover, a few small eastern capitalists came into the territory; but these, almost without exception, were merchants or "speculators" who wanted to make a quick dollar and move on. Venture capital of the type which built up Colorado, California, and the Midwest was almost totally lacking in the Great Basin. Utah was generally regarded in eastern financial circles as a forbidding desert—a territory with an inhospitable environment where only intense industry and frugality would enable a group to survive, and an area settled by a "peculiar" people whose chief desire was to be let alone.

Looking backward one-hundred years, the student can see no way by which pioneer leaders could have improved the balance of payments of the Basin region without violating the spirit of Zion-building. Unable to acquire sufficient United States coin and currency in the normal commercial way, pioneer leaders were faced with the choice of doing without money or manufacturing their own. In making the decision to manufacture money late in 1848, Church leaders were cognizant that barter was a crude and inconvenient method of making exchange, and that it would be desirable to provide a local (preferably paper) circulating medium. They also recognized the necessity and desirability of providing means of payment for the machinery, equipment, and supplies without which the Promised Valley could not be developed. The non-Mormon dealers in St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia who sold such equipment would accept only U. S. coin and currency, or "specie" of recognized fineness and weight. It was to provide this specie, as acceptable exchange in eastern trading centers, that Brigham Young and his advisers established a "Money Mill" to manufacture Mormon coin.


The Mormon Battalion, whose members began to arrive in Salt Lake City from California in the latter part of 1848, introduced gold dust into Utah. This "dust" had been used as a means of payment in California and it achieved brief vogue in Utah. Dust was sometimes exchanged by weight and sometimes by "pinches." Larger transactions were by weight, but difficulties in handling and wastage in weighing, particularly when small values were being traded, made the pinch common in the case of smaller purchases. Professor Cross describes the pinch as "the amount of gold dust that could be raised between the thumb and the forefinger," and he describes its importance as follows:

Whenever a clerk was hired, the employer would ask, "How much can you raise in a pinch? The larger the pinch, the more valued the clerk. Thus, originated one of the questions customarily asked in the financial world. A bartender customarily wet his thumb and forefinger before dipping it into the miner's bag of gold dust. The dry dust would be dropped into the saloon's till; the dust that clung to his fingers would be rubbed off in his vest pocket, an addition to his daily wage. Some avaricious merchants dipped their hand in water before reaching into the miner's pouch, thus collecting particles of gold dust on the back and palm of the hand as well as getting the necessary number of "pinches."

It is difficult to imagine gold dust currency remaining in circulation under these conditions for any lengthy period. The Mormon Church aided in the transfer of gold dust by setting up an office in which Willard Richards, trusted member of the Church First Presidency, weighed the gold dust of Battalion members and others and did it up in paper packages containing from one to twenty dollars of money. Among trusted friends, re-weighing was then an unnecessary part of subsequent transactions.

Every advantage was to be gained by converting the dust into coins of uniform weight, fineness and value. Minting was not an expensive undertaking. The Church, which was also the sovereign political authority, could not shirk its duty to provide a sound and economical money medium. A sizeable portion of the imported gold dust went into the coffers of the Church as tithing and as donations for aiding poor emigrants to come to "Deseret." Before more than a few thousand dollars worth of gold dust were brought to Utah, Brigham Young, in November, 1848, commissioned John Kay to coin the dust. President Young was particularly interested in this effort because he thought it could be used to an advantage in trading with non-Mormon importers. For example, November 15, 1848, Brigham Young wrote Thomas L. (Peg-leg) Smith:

The coined money I have not now on hand, but we are prepared to put the gold dust into coin without any alloy, which if you are disposed to take you can have out the value; but if you choose the American coined money we can probably get it by the time you want it. If not, it will probably save me some little trouble.

Ten days later Brigham Young, John Taylor, and John Kay worked out the inscription for the proposed "Deseret coins." On one side the phrase "Holiness to the Lord" would encircle the emblem of the priesthood, which was a three-point Phrygian crown over the All-seeing eye of Jehovah. On the other side, the words "Pure Gold" and the denomination would encircle clasped hands, the emblem of friendship. The stamps for the coin were engraved by Robert Campbell.

Public announcement was made that preparations were underway to coin gold dust and quantities of it were turned in and weighed, beginning December 10, 1848. The first deposit was made on that day by William T. Follett, a Battalion member, of 14 1/2 ounces of gold dust, credited at $232 or $16 an ounce. According to White the price of $16 an ounce for placer gold had been established by public ruling in California, September 9, 1848.

When the dies were completed in mid-December, John Kay minted twenty-five ten-dollar gold pieces which were paid out at a premium of fifty cents apiece. "A week later twenty-one pieces were coined and charged out at par to Brigham Young." This effort at coinage, however, proved a failure. The crucibles were broken for all of the dies by December 22, 1848. It was impossible to make any more coins until materials were ordered from the East. This technical failure was a disappointment to the public. The Journal History of the L. D. S. Church records on December 22 that "Many of the brethren came to the office to exchange gold dust for hard money, but no business was done on account of President Young not having any coin."


Realizing the need for a provisional circulating medium superior to gold dust, President Young and his secretary, Thomas Bullock, sent out notices on the twenty-seventh of December "calling the brethren together to regulate the currency." A meeting was held the next day at the stand in the Temple Block Bowery in Salt Lake City, after which Brigham Young reported as follows: "I offered the gold-dust back to the people, but they did not want it. I then told them we could issue paper till the gold could be coined. The municipal council agreed to have such a currency and appointed myself and Heber C. Kimball and Bishop Newel K. Whitney to issue it." Thomas Bullock opened a box of paper for the purpose of preparing paper currency and Brigham gave him instructions as to size, number, paper to be used, etc. The bills were to be about two inches wide and four inches long. They were written or printed on plain white paper with pen and ink. There was no printing press in the valley at the time, so it was necessary to make out the bills by hand. The next day, the 29th of December, while Thomas Bullock was cutting out the paper and making $5.00 bills, Robert L. Campbell, a clerk in the office of the president of the Church, made out $1.00 bills. About 100 bills were made out and signed by Brigham Young that day. On the thirtieth of December Bullock wrote out $3.00 bills. Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball of the First Presidency and Newel K. Whitney, Presiding Bishop of the Church, were all busy, along with the clerks, during the following day making out and signing bills.

New Year's day found Bullock engaged stamping the bills with the private seal of the Twelve Apostles. This seal consisted of the emblem of the Priesthood encircled by sixteen letters: P. S. T. A, P. C. J. C. L. D. S. L. D. A. O. W. which was an abbreviation for "Private Seal of the Twelve Apostles, Priests of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in the last Dispensation All Over the World." On that New Year's day the first $1.00 bill of valley currency was paid out. The next day the President's office was busy paying out additional notes to depositors and receiving gold dust. All of the notes in this first issue bore the date January 2, 1849. Denominations of 50 cents, $1.00, $2.00, $3.00, and $5.00 were distributed. A total of 830 notes with a total value of $1,365 were the product of this first issue. Five hundred of them were of the $1.00 denomination.

When this first issue of handwritten bills was exhausted a second issue was prepared bearing the date January 5, 1849, and these bills were distributed on that date. This issue consisted of 735 separate bills with a face value of $1,217.50. Fifty-cent and one-dollar notes constituted the bulk of this issue. However, the supply of paper currency, even after this second issue, was still insufficient. Handwritten bills seemingly could not be produced fast enough. The Church had a supply of the notes of the Kirtland Bank which had failed in the Panic of 1837. These notes bore the signatures of the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith— who was cashier of the bank—and Sidney Rigdon, First Counselor to the Prophet. Rigdon was president of the bank. Church leaders in Salt Lake City decided to issue the Kirtland notes. Not only would they be a convenient medium of exchange which could be easily and cheaply introduced, but their re-issue would fulfill "a prophecy of Joseph that one day they would be as good as gold." They were countersigned by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Newel K. Whitney. Thomas Bullock also put a "private mark" on these bills to authenticate those which were issued against gold dust. The Salt Lake City Council immediately authorized the placing of these bills into circulation "for the accomodation of the people." One hundred thirty-five of them, in $1.00 and $3.00 denominations, were placed in circulation immediately, beginning January 10, 1849, and two hundred fifty-six were in circulation before fall. These notes had a total face value of $1,331, and most of them were of the $5.00 denomination.

In the meantime some type had been made by Truman Angel, Church architect, who also made a press with which to print paper currency. This press aided in stamping the Kirtland bills and also made possible the printing of a third series of paper currency modeled after the handwritten ones. The third series was intended to consist of one thousand each of 50 cent, $1.00, $2.00, and $3.00 bills and was dated January 20, 1849. Not quite a thousand of any of the four denominations was distributed, however, perhaps because of the discovery of flaws in some of them. Brigham Young and Thomas Bullock set the type for the first bills, which were of the 50-cent variety, and Brigham H. Young, nephew of the Church president, ran the press. This was the first printing done in Utah. A total of 3,329 bills were in this printed issue, with a value of $5,529.50.

Showing President Young's concern with the currency problem, the Journal History records that the president was occupied in his office receiving gold dust and paying out handwritten paper money every weekday from the 28th of December, 1848, when the decision was made to issue paper currency, until the 19th of January when the last handwritten bills were distributed. He also spent a very considerable portion of his time from January 20, 1849 to April 23, 1849, supplying printed currency to the Great Basin colony. The Church historian noted on January 31 that President Young and Thomas Bullock were engaged all day in paying out bills. The business was so brisk that the "office was full of people all day." A total of 5,150 notes, with a value of $9,443, was issued between New Year's day, 1849, and the middle of April the same year. All of these notes, both the printed and the handwritten ones, were signed personally by Brigham Young, Newel K. Whitney, and Thomas Bullock.

Although the great mass of the colonists seem to have been happier about the paper than about the gold dust which it replaced as a means of payment, the paper was not universally accepted at first. At least one of the licensed butchers (and perhaps others— the record is not clear on this point) refused to sell meat for the paper currency. The Salt Lake Council found it necessary to require acceptance upon penalty of revocation of license.

One difficulty—the absence of small change—was met by instructing the tax collector "to give due bills for sums less than a dollar, and redeem them when presented in sufficient amount." These "instructions" were presumably given by Brigham Young.

There was little reason to expect an overissue or decline in the value of these notes. Any comparison between them and some of the notorious "wild-cat" bank overissues of the same period is unwarranted. Fox found that:

The Salt Lake Valley notes were secured by at least an eighty per cent reserve of gold. . . . By April 2, 1849 notes had actually been paid out in excess of gold deposits by an amount of about $1,700. But the excess was amply secured by anticipated receipts on Church account.

It is, of course, possible that some of the gold dust on reserve was used by the Church in paying for important imports while the paper was still outstanding. If so, it was readily replaced by tithing gold. For example, September 29, 1849, Thomas Grover arrived in Salt Lake City bearing $3,000 in gold dust and $1,280 in American coin as tithing from Saints in California. This money had been collected by Amasa Lyman who was specially sent to California for the purpose of collecting tithing. This tithing should have been sufficient to redeem any of the paper currency presented for redemption after that date.

Because of its gold dust basis, the currency is best designated by the phrase, "gold-backed treasury notes." The "treasury" referred to, of course, was the Church treasury, supervised by the Trustee-in-Trust, Brigham Young. All of the notes except some of the Kirtland Bank bills might be more accurately described as "warehouse receipts for gold dust."

The general acceptability of the treasury notes, even among "outsiders," is revealed by Fox in a record of dealings between the "bank" and Thomas L. (Peg-leg) Smith, mountaineer trader of Bear River Valley. In a letter to President Young, Peg-leg "signified a willingness to take Mormon currency in exchange for $300 in small coins, as well as for skins, furs, and robes." In June, Smith deposited both notes and gold dust in "the bank." The records show, under date of June 11, 1849, a deposit of notes of $274.50, and on June 19 a deposit of $357.50 in notes and $81.30 in "dust." The record carries the significant notation "for redemption when Dust is coined."

On the whole, the paper currency seems to have served a real need and made community exchange larger and more convenient. The "General Epistle of the First Presidency," signed March 9, 1849, read: "Money is very abundant, owing principally to the gold dust accumulating here from the coast, upon the deposit of which bills have been issued by the presidency." Parley P. Pratt writes in his autobiography under July 1, 1849, "Money and gold dust was plenty, and merchandise of almost every description came pouring into our city in great plenty."



While the Church Mint was being readied for coinage in September, 1849, the notes were redeemed and destroyed. On September 10, between $3,000 and $4,000 worth of this currency was destroyed by fire. By the next spring nearly all of it had been retired. Of the original issue of 5,150 notes, only 184 were outstanding in May, 1850. Out of a total issued value of $9,443, only $269 had not been redeemed. The following table shows the status of the paper currency as of May 20, 1850:


It is obvious from the table that the Church had desired and made every effort to retire all the paper currency at the time gold coins were minted. The redemption without doubt was made with gold dust and/or gold coins. No more treasury notes were issued by the Church itself until the emergency presented by the Utah War of 1857-1858, during which almost $100,000 in notes were issued by an association organized by the Church, using livestock as backing.

How does one account for Brigham Young's (and apparently his followers') unwillingness to continue the circulation of their paper money? Why was the paper currency regarded as a temporary expedient, for use only while new equipment was being ordered for the minting of gold coin? How does one explain this passion for "hard money" among, of all people, "Saints?" Why was a permanent paper currency not maintained? Why should Brigham Young have insisted on redeeming every piece of paper currency when gold was coined? The answer to these questions is probably to be found in the fact that the Mormon and non- Mormon colonists and traders had come from the East and South where unfortunate experiences had been had with paper which, in those areas, consisted largely of notes issued by state-chartered banks and other business houses. No United States Treasury notes were in circulation before the Greenback issue of 1862-3. The bank notes which made up the currency of "the States," representing a variety of sizes and designs, were often insufficiently secured; and state controls in many instances were lax or nonexistent. Counterfeiting was common. It is common knowledge that the public had to resort to published tables to ascertain the value of the notes in their possession. It was difficult to keep these tables up-to-date. The United States was flooded with paper money and traders suffered loss time after time from worthless paper. The Mormons, like other migrants to the Far West, were suspicious of paper currency. They welcomed—indeed, demanded—metallic money, when the discovery of gold by members of the Mormon Battalion in California made that precious metal available. In addition, it must be noted that the Mormons could not forget the thousands they had lost with the failure of the Kirtland Safety Bank in the Panic of 1837. Although some of these notes were put into circulation "at par" and subsequently redeemed with gold coin, the bitter memory could not be erased nor suspicion allayed.


Mormon Church authorities never lost sight of one of their original objectives in relation to monetary matters, which was to provide specie for use in eastern trading centers by coining the dust which members of the Mormon Battalion and others were bringing in ever-larger quantities from the California gold fields. In the spring of 1849, at the time that the last series of treasury notes was finally distributed, the Church First Presidency wrote Orson Hyde, Church agent in Iowa, and ordered "one dozen nests of the best crucibles for the melting of the most precious coins," and also some acids. This equipment arrived in September of that year. While it was on its way dies were prepared for $2.50, $5.00, and $20.00 gold pieces. It will be remembered that dies for the $10.00 coins had been completed in December, 1848, and some coins of that denomination had been fashioned at that time. A slight change was made in the design for the new dies. The words "Pure Gold" were represented by the initials P. G. and the letters G. S. L. C. (for Great Salt Lake City) were added.

Coinage began the twelfth of September, 1849. Records show quite clearly that President Brigham Young actively supervised the operations of the mint. Principals in melting gold dust, rolling bars, cutting out coins and stamping them were Thomas Bullock, who kept the accounts, and John Kay, who did the mechanical part of the work. A. B. Lambson later testified that he forged the dies, punches, etc., with the exception of the drop or hammer, which was forged at the shop of Martin H. Peck. The mint was a small adobe building which stood on the north side of South Temple Street in Salt Lake City, approximately where the Hotel Utah garage is now located. It became the "Bikuben" Printing Office and was finally torn down early in 1900. Because of Bullock's connection with it, the mint was sometimes referred to as "Bullock's Money Mill." Free and unlimited coinage seems to have existed. Twenty-five grains of gold were the equivalent of a dollar. The lower-value coins were minted most frequently; few of the $10.00 and $20.00 coins were placed in circulation. The coins at first were minted without any alloy. Because of this purity they wore rapidly and thus deteriorated in value. A few months later a small percentage of silver was added to increase hardness.

Six hundred dollars worth of silver was purchased for this purpose in November, 1849, after which the fineness was .899. The assay value of the Deseret $5.00 gold piece was $4.63 and the assay value of other coins was in proportion. All of the coins were lettered alike.

They had on one face clasped hands in the center, the date below the words, "Two and a half dollars. G. S. L. C. P. G." next to the rim, and the rim was a very narrow plain ring. The edge was not milled. The sheets of gold were not very even, but were cut out the exact weight before they were stamped. The work was very crude. . . . The opposite side had the "all-seeing eye" in the center and "Holiness to the Lord," around the edge in plain letters. The eye was a very poor one, surmounted by what might be taken for a clover leaf or a back view of a very thick-necked, small-headed man with large ears.

A coining press with fixtures and other equipment was sold at an auction, August 12, 1850. This press was from the Church Mint but evidently it was "bidin" by Kay and mint officials because coinage operations continued uninterruptedly. This sale has caused many to infer wrongly that mint operations ceased in August, 1850. Bullock's Journal, however, mentions many occasions in 1850 and 1851 upon which coins were stamped after that date. As a matter of fact, business at the mint was quite brisk. Bullock and Kay were almost constantly at work at the mint from September 12, 1849, until the end of 1850. The effect of the business at the mint upon the floating capital of the community seems to have been immediate. Toward the end of October, when the mint had been in operation only forty-five days, Elder William I. Appleby wrote in his Journal, "Money, gold in particular, is quite plentiful. . . ." A reporter for the Deseret News made the following observation in the October 5, 1850 issue: "We stepped into the mint, the other day, and saw two or three men rolling out the golden bars like waggon tires ready for the dies. This is what makes trade brisk."

The Journal History of the Church contains scores of references by Thomas Bullock to his work at the mint. In the course of these Bullock mentions specifically rolling 151 bars of gold. He mentions the number rolled in about half of his references to it. Thus, we may crudely estimate that he and John Kay rolled some 300 bars of gold by the end of 1851. Evidently these bars were of a uniform shape for placing in the stamping machine. In one of his references he mentions melting "14 bars of gold weighing 3279.49. . . ," The figures given could not be ounces, for the bars would have been almost twenty pounds in weight; nor could the figure be grains, for all fourteen bars would have weighed slightly more than half a pound. Evidently the figure represents the value which the weight of the bars represented. Thus, on that particular day, they melted fourteen bars worth $3,279.49. At $16 per ounce, the fourteen bars would have weighed approximately seventeen pounds, or an average of something like a pound and a fifth each. If these bars were representative of all the bars, Bullock and Kay coined something like $70,000 in gold pieces from 1849 to 1851. This figure does not seem very large, but is at least consistent with the evidence available. Unfortunately, there is no other estimate with which to compare it. That the coinage was adequate is borne out by the lack of necessity for paper money. It seems also to have been sufficient to have brought a measure of prosperity to the struggling community, as indicated by Appleby's reference given above and by a similar statement in the Missouri Republican, November 28, 1849.

Some of the coin moved east rather quickly in payment for materials needed in the valley. The Journal History mentions that $20.00 gold pieces of valley coin were passing for $18.00 in St. Joseph, Missouri in May, 1850. Another reference to its circulation in Iowa and Missouri is the following advertisement by Church agents in the Frontier Guardian of May 16, 1851: "We have a few hundred dollars of the above [valley coin]. It passes in the Salt Lake County at par. Here there is a discount upon it. It belongs to the Perpetual Emigrating Fund. All the friends of the poor who go to the valley of the Salt Lake with money may do a good deed to the poor without injury to themselves. Call at this office and exchange your money with us. It is worth the same there as gold."

Brigham Young mentions that by the summer of 1851 valley coin had practically disappeared from the local market. He wrote: "The Saints generally have been attending to the business of raising grain, building homes, planting vineyards and orchards preparing to receive their brethren and friends when they arrive while the money has gone to foreign markets to procure such things as we have not time and means to manufacture here."

Not all the gold dust which came to Salt Lake City was exchanged or coined at the Church Mint. A large share of the dust went to the firm of Livingston and Kinkead, non-Mormon merchants, who brought a large assortment of goods to Salt Lake City in 1849. On the date of their opening this firm is reputed to have taken in "all the circulating medium in the city; this was mostly gold coin." It was perhaps this fact which spurred Church leaders to proceed with their intentions to coin gold. In the fall of 1850 Brigham Young went down to Livingston's store to see their teams start for the East. According to the report of the Church historian, their wagons were "loaded with more gold dust than had come to the mint that fall. In one box there was as much gold as a man could carry and there was a box of silver that required three men to lift it into the wagon." We can well believe that such a sight was not calculated to make Brother Brigham very happy.

Sometime later—perhaps in 1852 or 1853—John and Enoch Reese, who had been mining for gold in Nevada, allegedly bought or secured possession of the press and stamp at the Church Mint. They brought gold from Carson Valley and minted coins with it. According to merchant William Jennings, the Carson Valley gold was worth only $11.50 per ounce, while the California gold was worth up to $18.50 per ounce. Nevada gold evidently contained more impurities than the California gold. The Reese brothers, however, according to Jones, were minting the Carson Valley gold with the same weights as if it were California gold. Angered by the possible fraud involved, Brigham Young had the coins called in and redeemed. To prevent a recurrence of such an episode, which reflected somewhat on the reputation of the Church Mint, the dies were destroyed. The destruction of these dies, and the exhaustion of the California gold fields, are probably casual factors in the failure of the Church to engage further in the business of coining gold during the 1850's.


The last minting of gold coin by the Church Mint was in 1860. The new dies were made by J. M. Barlow, a Salt Lake jeweler, assisted by Dougall Brown. Only the $5.00 denomination was coined, the design of which was much prettier and more artistic than that of the 1849 coins. On its face the coin had a crouching lion in the center with three mountain peaks in the background and a little stretch of water in the foreground. Around the rim was "1860 Holiness to the Lord." The phrase "Holiness to the Lord" was written in symbols of the Deseret Alphabet which enjoyed a temporary vogue at the time. The reverse side had an eagle with outstretched wings and a beehive on its breast. An olive branch and arrows were in its talons. It closely resembled the United States $5.00 gold piece of the time. Around the edge was "Deseret Assay Office, pure gold 5 D." The quantity of the 1860 issue is not known, the lowest estimate (undoubtedly way below the mark) being $1,000. The issue of the coins ceased almost immediately after it began as the result of a prohibitory order by the new Governor, Alfred Cumming, in 1861. Nothing is known of the disposition of the dies, stamping machines, and other equipment. Undoubtedly they were destroyed under the order of President Young in order to prohibit their use in counterfeiting.

The $5.00 coins in the 1860 issue appeared to have circulated at par among the Mormons. It was not popular, however, with the non-Mormons, a considerable number of whom had come to Utah during and after the Utah War. The following "General Order" was issued in January, 1860 to Federal troops at Camp Floyd in Utah, and published in The Mountaineer, January 14, 1860:

Hdqts, Camp Floyd, U. T. 10 Jan. 1860.

Gen. Orders No. A, the Commanding Officer has been informed that there is a large amount of gold coin— several thousands of dollars, purported to be worth five dollars, commonly called "Mormon Coin," about to be put in circulation in Fairfield.

As this coin is understood to be worth only (about) 4 1/2 dollars, he recommends to the soldiers not to receive it for more than that sum and better still, not to take it at all. By order of Breft. Col. C. F. Smith,

CLARENCE E. BENNETT 2nd Lieut, and Adjutant 10th Infantry and Post Adjutant.

The Church minting and gold-backed currency experiment was officially concluded February 26, 1862 when Apostle Wilford Woodruff and Thomas Bullock delivered to Brigham Young a "Small box containing gold dust, Kirtland Bank Bills and Mint papers." Most of the contents of this invaluable box do not seem to be now in existence. This episode brought officially to an end the coinage of gold in Utah—almost four years before the United States Government, in the Act of June 8, 1864, officially forbade the "private" coinage of gold.

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