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BALDWIN & COMPANY GOLD
1850 Baldwin & Co. Ten Dollars
Images courtesy of Superior
Stamp & Coin
Rare - two varieties are known.
Popular Cowboy design - beware of restrikes from
Rare - about a dozen known.
THE HISTORY OF BALDWIN & COMPANY
Baldwin & Company bought out F. D. Kohler &
Co.'s coining operation on March 15, 1850. The first reference to this
new firm, however, was not reported until May 1, 1850, when a notice
appeared in the Pacific News:
BALDWIN & CO.
Successors to F. D. KOHLER &- CO.
Assayers, refiners, and coiners
Manufacturers of jewelry, etc. George C. Baldwin and Thos. S.
All kinds of engraving. Our coins redeemable on presentations
The undersigned, having disposed of their stock in trade,
machinery, etc., to Messrs. Baldwin & Co., would
cheerfully recommend them to the confidence of the public.
F. D. Kohler & Co.
Kimball's San Francisco Directory of 1850 lists
"Baldwin & Co., jewelers & watchmakers, Clay Street on
the Plaza (George C. Baldwin)." Baldwin & Co. initially
were jewelers and watchmakers, evidenced by this listing and their
advertising logotype or trademark (a watch).
It is not certain from where Baldwin and Holman had
come. It is possible that the "G. W. Baldwin" on the
passenger list of the steamer Empire City, that sailed from New York
July 17, 1849, for Chagres, is an error for G. C. Baldwin.
Baldwin & Co. struck an incredible number of coins
in $5, $10, and $20 denominations, whose appearance suggests that they
were struck from dies engraved by Albert Kuner. The San Francisco
Herald cites figures for January through March 1851 of $600,000 for
the Assay Office and $590,000 for Baldwin.
It is possible that Baldwin planned to coin money
before he went West, or shortly thereafter, for he ordered equipment
sent from the East Coast which later was sold because of his taking
over Kohler's equipment prior to the arrival of his order from the
East. An ad appeared in the Alta California of April 14, 1850:
- a few medium-sized gold scales, with weights, Brownmaker
N.Y., just received and for sale; also two counter balances
and one spring do., also one superior power lathe, one small
do., two heavy screw plates, with set of taps complete,
magnets, spyglasses, spectacles, etc. al2-4
BALDWIN & CO.
Baldwin was at first applauded for supplying the
citizens of San Francisco with low denomination coins - $5, $10, and
$20 - which were badly needed to carry on day-to-day transactions. The
coins were generally accepted at face value probably as a result of
expressed support from financial institutions such as Edward E.
Dunbar's Banking and Exchange Office. Evidently Dunbar allowed Baldwin
to run a notice for six weeks to the effect that the banker would
receive Baldwin's coins. Other merchants such as Tucker & Reeve,
jewelers, advertised that they would receive Baldwin's coins at par.
In late March 1851, James King of William, having
submitted several specimens of private coins to U. S. Assayer Humbert
for valuation, published the assayer's findings in all the local
newspapers. The assay showed that Baldwin's $20 pieces were worth only
$19.40 (a 3 percent discount). The $ 10 pieces averaged a value of
$9.74 (2.6 percent discount); the $5 specimen was slightly better at
$4.91 (1.8 percent discount). The plain implication was that the
public should not take Baldwin's larger coins. In any event, King's
report left a trail of outraged newspapers behind it, as this Pacific
News (April 9, 1851) editorial well illustrates:
GOLD SWINDLE - It is perhaps a matter of no special wonder
that the community feels outraged because of the fact that
nearly all the gold coin put in circulation by the private
manufacturing establishments is short of weight. A citizen
last evening went to BALDWIN'S establishment, and, presenting
two of their own Twenty Dollar gold-pieces, asked their
redemption in silver. These were taken, and thirty-eight
about as cool a piece of direct shaving as has come under our
eye, touching upon the short-weight gold swindle. Why should
the community suffer this to go on longer? Why not refuse
every dollar of Baldwin's coin? . . . The only way to stop
this swindle seems to be to refuse the coin altogether, not
only that issued from Baldwin's mint, but from every other
that proves a short weight and not to be redeemed on
Private gold coiners usually made their cost (and
projected profits of operation) in the discount at which they
purchased the dust for minting. Some charged a service fee (seigniorage)
in lieu of, or in addition to, discounting the price at which they
purchased dust or nuggets, which served the same purpose. Their only
motive in issuing lightweight or heavily alloyed (debased) coins was
therefore surreptitiously to increase profits.
As a result of continued public denunciations, all
confidence in Baldwin coins soon disappeared. Merchants refused the
coins except at sizable discounts:
trash is taken by the merchants at five per cent discount; but
when a bill is to pay, they try to shove it off at par. A
printer’s bill for instance! (Sacramento Union, April
Baldwin denied Humbert’s assay report, stating it
was incorrect and citing a much more favorable report by Assayer
Kohler. Baldwin claimed that bankers and the rival coiner Moffat &
Co. were deliberately trying to discredit him and his coins.
There was evidently an attempt at a further issue by
Baldwin to regain public confidence in his coins, but this new issue
never materialized. The same day Baldwin’s reply was published,
Tucker & Reeves again announced they would accept coins of Baldwin
& Co. at face value. This did little to rekindle public acceptance
of Baldwin coins, and on April 17, 1851, Pacific News contained this
final article concerning Baldwin:
We hear a story, which is pretty well
Baldwin & Bagley, the manufacturer’s of "Baldwin’s
Coin," left in the Steamer Panama on Tuesday (the 15th) for
the Atlantic States. This is of course what might have been
anticipated as the finale of so magnificent a financial
operation as the coinage of one or two millions of circulating
medium upon which they have pocketed a profit of from ten to
fifteen percent the expense of manufacturing the stuff.
Unable longer to impose their false tokens upon the community,
an outraged public will now pocket the loss and congratulate
themselves that the swindle has been exposed even this early.
The amount of this coin in circulation is not less than
$1,000,000 and probably nearer to two million. But suppose that
the smaller sum be correct, the profit to the manufacturer is
one hundred thousand dollars. Whose swindling false token
establishment is next to be chronicled amongst the
"departed for Panama?" (Emphasis by author.)
This is the only reference to Bagley who, at some
point, must have taken Holman’s place as Baldwin’s partner. Most
of the coins were quickly sold at a discount or melted by those who
wished to cut their losses and recover what bullion they could. In
addition, the merchants were quick to encourage the depreciation of
the Baldwin coins, as it allowed them to discount the same 20 percent,
thereby giving them a tidy profit when they sent their coins to the
mint or assay office to be melted. Many of the Baldwin coins were
received by the U.S. Assay Office and melted, and by December there
was little Baldwin coinage left in circulation.
If one is to accept the findings of Kohler and
Eckfeldt and DuBois over Humbert’s March 26, 1851 report, then the
Baldwin coinage was not nearly so debased as James King and others
reported. It is important to realize, however, that the merchants and
bankers perceived the coins as being fraudulent and as a result the
latter, whether justly or not, lost the confidence of the mercantile
The excessive notoriety of Baldwin & Co.’s
coins, clandestinely cultivated by the merchants for private profit,
coupled with the growing feeling of unreliability in all private gold
coins, caused the private mints once again to cease issuing coins in
1851. The United States Assay Office was the only California mint
which continued to issue coins until the following year, a state of
affairs which was the major contributor to a severe economic
depression in California that lasted over a year.
--Reprinted with permission of the author
from Donald H. Kagin's, "Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the
United States", copyright 1981, Arco Publishing, Inc. of New
York, pp 109-112.