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BLAKE & CO. GOLD COINS

For many years the origin of this company was a mystery. Recently uncovered references, however, while shedding some new light, also provoke new queries concerning this firm.

Gorham Blake was born in Boston on May 26, 1829. In 1851, he became Superintendent of Iron Mines in Vermont, later moving to California by way of Panama in 1852, where he was soon employed by Adams & Company in Placerville. He later was engaged by Wells, Fargo & Company to purchase dust. Evidently Blake was quite ambitious, for by 1853 he became principal owner and superintendent of the Shaws Flat Ditch and had principal ownership in the Dardanelles Mine of El Dorado County.

In 1854 Blake moved to Sacramento and opened an assay office where he issued ingots under the name “G. Blake Assayer.” He subsequently formed a partnership with John Agrell, and together they operated a gold melting and assaying plant in Sacramento from November 12, 1855, until December 27, 1855. First mention of this venture was printed in the Sacramento Union on November 12:

ASSAY OFFICE
No. 52J Street, Between 2nd and 3rd
Sacramento
Blake and Agrell

Having established themselves in the business of Melting, Refining and Assaying of Gold and ore of every description, are now prepared and well qualified to execute business entrusted in them, faithfully and on the most
reasonable terms.

Our assaying department is conducted by Mr. David Lundbom, who has been employed as Assistant Assayer in the U. S. Assay Office, San
Francisco, from September, 1853, to January, 1854, and from that date to the present month as First Assayer at Messrs. Kellogg and Co. Assay Office, San Francisco [Kellogg dissolved in October].

We guarantee the correctness of our assays, and will pay all differences arising from the same with any of the United States Mints.

We respectfully refer to D. O. Mills & Co., Hon. S.A. McMeans, St. Tr., S. W. Langton & Co., Sacramento; Hon. J. M. Howell, Hon. B. F. Keene, A. W. Bee, Esq.; El Dorado County, Hon. J. E. Hale. Hon. H. R. Hawkins, Placer County.

A notice in the Alta California of November 25 mentions an influx of assay offices, one of the largest being Blake and Agrell.

Owing to the periodic closing of the United States Branch Mint in late 1855, Blake and Agrell (like Kellogg & Co. and Wass, Molitor & Co.) began issuing gold coins and ingots to fill the needs of the community. They presumably issued coins for little more than one month. The known pieces, however, bore the names of Blake and “Agnell.” Why? It may have been a mistake and been impractical to change one letter on the dies, especially when they were a large company known by most citizens in Sacramento. This situation is similar to the misspelling on the “Shults” & Company pieces.

On December 27 Blake and Agrell dissolved their partnership by mutual consent. The following was printed two days later in the Union:

DISSOLUTION – The Copartnership heretofore existing under the name of
BLAKE & AGRELL is this day dissolved by mutual consent.

GORHAM BLAKE,
JOHN AGRELL

Sacramento, December 27th, 1855
The business will be continued on No. 52J Street under the name of BLAKE &
CO.

In that same issue was printed the identical ad that had been running for the previous month and a half, but with the replacement of “Blake & Co.” for “Blake & Agrell.”

Blake & Co. was evidently Blake and W. R. Waters, which issued $20 gold pieces dated 1855, $20 patterns dated 1856, and 1856 ingots. The 1855 issues probably were issued between December 27 and the new year. By the beginning of the new year, however, the United States Branch Mint in San Francisco, previously plagued by a lack of necessary acids, was back in full production and private mints like Blake & Co. were no longer necessary.

It is interesting that none of the California newspapers mention the Blake & Agrell or Blake & Co. pieces, but, then, neither do they mention some of the other issues known to us today. The company did not coin for very long, probably producing few specimens, which is one of the reasons why these examples are so scarce.

Sometime in 1859, Blake retired and Waters reformed the company as Waters & Co. One account mentions that Blake “went East and started in business but returned to California finally to give his attention to investments which he had made here.” He became one of the principal owners and superintended Shaws Flat Ditch. Later he became one of the owners of the Dardanelles mine in El Dorado County. On December 17, 1897, Blake died of apoplexy in Oakland, California, having lived in the area for a few years.

--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.

Sources and/or recommended reading:
"Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia Of U.S. And Colonial Coins" by Walter Breen

"Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States" by Donald H. Kagin

 
 

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