ITHICA & CALIFORNIA MINING COMPANY
PIONEER GOLD COINS
In 1957, Henry H. Clifford purchased the only known numismatic specimen of the “Ithaca Mining Co.” – a $10 piece trial struck over an 1849 United States large cent. This acquisition was the beginning of an intricate and fascinating search for the origins and background of the company.
The Ithaca pattern was obtained from Mrs. Esther M. Culver of San Jose, California, who thought it had been handed down in her family from her maternal great-grandfather, Oliver Austin Olmstead. Living in California with Oliver was his son, Levi and brother, Jonas Reed Olmstead. Jonas was probably the “J. Olmstead” listed as one of the passengers on the ship Samoset which sailed out of New York harbor for California on March 21, 1849. Also listed as being on board was the Ithaca Mining Company and its supercargo. The Samoset sailed around the Horn and arrived in San Francisco just prior to September 13, 1849.
Circumstantial evidence indicates that Olmstead, the Ithaca Mining Co., and the pattern coin are all related. Information recently uncovered reveals that this is only a small part of a much more complex story.
Another Westerner, John B. Goodman, compiled a list of gold rush mining companies and, according to Goodman, an “Ithaca & California Mining Co.” came overland in 1849, its personnel splitting up before reaching California. Goodman asserted that the letters and journals of this company made no mention of any intention to coin gold. He also claimed to have uncovered another unrelated company called “The Ithaca Mining Company.”
But new information indicates that Mr. Goodman may be mistaken. The Ithaca & California Mining Co. did, in fact, purchase and transport coining equipment to use in California. They did not disband en route but actually reached San Francisco, and both the Ithaca & California Mining Co. and the Ithaca Mining Co. were one and the same company.
The detailed biography of I. N. Thorne relates the story of one of the members of this company. The reference states that Thorne was visiting his home in New York (Dutchess County) in the summer of 1848, at which time:
He heard of the gold discoveries, and during the following winter he
joined a company in Ithaca and came overland to the new El Dorado.
Leaving home about the last of March or first of April, he floated down
the Susquehanna on a raft and thence by canal to Pittsburgh. In the
company were fifty persons – some clerks and several doctors and
lawyers, - headed by Elijah White.
The biography follows Thorne’s journey from Pittsburgh to St. Louis and Independence. At that point Thorne wrote of the company: “They also purchased a portable mint in Philadelphia and shipped it around the Horn for coining their gold. . . .”
Here we now have an Ithaca company shipping a coining machine to California to coin gold there. Noting that the date of Thorne’s departure from New York was the “last of March,” it is quite probable that the machinery was shipped at approximately the same time. Since the Samoset departed New York on March 21 along with the “Ithaca Mining Co.,” a reasonable conclusion can be drawn. The Ithaca Mining Company probably struck a few trial pieces in Philadelphia or New York (accounting for Mrs. Culver’s coin) and then shipped their coining equipment around the Horn to California, accompanied by company member Jonas Reed Olmstead.
There is another reference to the company in an autobiography by W. B. Taylor, a member of the Ithaca Company, who gave the company’s full name and described its fate as well as that of its equipment. Mr. Taylor recounted in vivid detail his trip with the Ithaca and California Mining Company, which is similar to Thorne’s recitation. His account includes the same people as Thorne’s, including mentioning Thorne; the same itinerary; the same dates and identical incidents, such as a doctor curing a man of cholera with morphine in three days. Thus, the two companies (i.e., Thorne’s and Taylor’s) are the same.
Twenty-one members made it to Los Angeles in late November, many months off schedule. Two members, “Charles V. Stewart and Isaac N. Thorn [sic],” were sent to San Francisco by ship while the remainder of the party journeyed on land. Taylor continues:
Our agents arrived in San Francisco only to learn that the vessel (containing
their equipment) got there some six months before them, and after waiting a
reasonable time, the Captain sold the goods to pay freight, and this was the
end of our $10,000 worth of merchandise that was to form a nucleus for
business when we arrived.
The company continued to the banks of the Merced River, where Taylor ends his tale, leaving one to believe the company soon after disbanded and the participants left to dig for gold. Taylor’s biography raises two additional questions. First, the Samoset arrived in California in September, two months, not six months, before the main party reached the coast. Perhaps Taylor was mistaken as to the time of the ship’s arrival.
The second and more intriguing question is who purchased the coining equipment when it was sold in late September or early October? The section concerning Broderick & Kohler provides additional speculation.
--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