Lecture details excavations of unexpected history at Carson Mint

CARSON CITY, Nevada – In 1998, a landscaping project outside the Nevada State Museum turned into an archeological dig when the workers unearthed discarded coin dies that were used in the late 1800s when the museum building was the U.S. Branch Mint.

A coin die is a steel stamp used to strike a coin and it contains a reverse image of the design to be struck on the coin. The Carson City Mint produced millions of coins between its opening in 1870 and its closing in 1893. In the minting process, the coin dies would wear down or crack and also have to be replaced every new year.

The old dies would be “cancelled,” meaning they were altered with a gash across the image so they couldn’t be used again. Mint officials were supposed to send them back to the Philadelphia Mint for destruction, but the Carson City Mint opted instead to bury them outside the building.

“Luckily for us, they didn’t follow the rules,” said Gene Hattori, curator of anthropology at the Nevada State Museum, who will give a talk Saturday at 11 a.m. on the artifacts excavated from the former Carson City Mint grounds.

Hattori’s talk, which is part of the Nevada State Museum’s ongoing “Mint 150” celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Carson City Mint, is open to the public. Admission is $8 for adults; free for museum members and children 17 and younger.

The day’s event will also include pressing of the limited-edition Abraham Curry medallion on the museum’s Coin Press No. 1 starting at noon. The historic coin press was the first to be used in the Carson City Mint and is the only one of its kind still operational 150 years later.

Hattori said after the landscapers’ original finds in 1998, subsequent excavations on the property revealed a large deposit of the canceled coin dies along with other industrial and domestic artifacts from the Mint.

The Nevada State Museum is located at 600 N. Carson St., Carson City.