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The failure in 1855 of the two major banking and express houses of Adams & Co. and Page, Bacon & Company gave rise to the supremacy of Wells, Fargo & Co. Express.  This firm was an outgrowth of an express business started in New York in 1849 by Livingston, Wells and a few others.

On March 18, 1852, the company incorporated in New York as Wells, Fargo & Co. with a capitalization of $300,000.  By the next year the company had extended its operations to fifty-three cities in the United States.  By July 1852, this firm had extended its activities to San Francisco, where, at its office at 114 Montgomery Street, it sold exchange on Eastern banks, bought and transported gold dust, and received deposits.

Express companies like Wells, Fargo & Co. and Adams & Co. initially were different from the private coiners and assay offices.  The latter would supply coins in absence of the U. S. Mint products, whereas the former would transport gold to the assay offices and mints.  Later, some of the express and banking companies combined both activities and issued their own ingots of specific values which were probably circulated as money. Additionally, some of the express companies (Wells, Fargo & Co. and Adams & Co.) also entered banking.

Sometime in 1854, Wells, Fargo & Co. evidently contracted with Wass, Molitor & Co. to make ingots out of gold dust.  Since the only such ingot is of the $325 denomination, and displays signs of handling, we can assume that this piece at least saw limited circulation as money.

Probably because of the strong financial connections in the East and because they were not overextended in California, Wells, Fargo & Co. was able to weather the financial crisis which caused other San Francisco bankers to fold in February 1855.  It eventually absorbed the Pioneer State Company, the Holliday Overland Mail and Express Company and the Overland Mail Company.  By the 1860s, Wells, Fargo & Co. was operating 147 offices in California.  In 1878, the banking house and the express company were separated, the former merging in 1924 with the Union Trust Company to be known as the Wells Fargo Bank & Union Trust Company.  Today, the Wells Fargo Bank headquarters are located at 464 California Street.

--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