Bits & Pieces... by David Sundman

The Beginnings of the San Francisco Mint

[photo: Lantern slide of the old San Francisco Mint]

Lantern slide of the old San Francisco Mint

I have been collecting early images of the various U.S. Mint buildings and machinery for many years, and occasionally feature some of them in our catalogs – like the lantern slide above from our collection. This undated photo shows two horse-drawn carriages passing the old San Francisco Mint on the street. The San Francisco Mint shown was the 2nd mint built in the city, and opened in 1874.

The original San Francisco Mint operated from 1854-1873 and was eventually torn down. This 2nd facility was one of very few downtown buildings to survive the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and still exists, but is not in use in any mint capacity at present. During its years of operation, it produced tens of millions of dollars worth of silver and gold coins, from half dimes to $20 gold pieces.

This mint closed in 1937, when operations moved to a 3rd San Francisco Mint which is still in operation. This image is from a magic lantern slide by the T.H. McALLISTER company of New York City, and was likely made circa 1874-1900. An 1870 advertisement by the company read: "MAGIC LANTERNS FOR SUNDAY-SCHOOLS, Public Exhibitions, and Parlor Entertainments. Priced catalog sent free. T.H. McALLISTER, 49 NASSAU STREET" Lantern slide shows were a popular form of entertainment dating back as far as the 17th century. A projector with an artificial light source would project transparent images on glass onto a large surface – perhaps a wall in a room. The use of photographic lantern slide shows began in 1849, soon after the introduction of photography.