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J. S. Ormsby – Sacramento – 1849

Learn About J. S. Ormsby and Company

The first private gold coin minter in the Capital city of Sacramento was J. S. Ormsby & Company. The firm was comprised of the two Ormsby brothers and a clerk who assisted them. The brothers left for California from St. Joseph, MO, in April of 1849 by way of the wagon train. Arriving in Sacramento in late September 1849, they worked to immediately open a gold meting company as well as they began to strike their own private gold coinage.

The coins were struck by the old-fashioned method of using dies and a sledgehammer. The gold planchets that they created for their coinage were poorly annealed (heated) and that meant that they were not uniform. They had problems refining the gold properly so they hired a dentist who they felt could solve the problem, but after a short time in their employ, he left to seek his fortune in the gold fields.

Rather than locating themselves in San Francisco as others did, the Ormsby were closer to the actual gold miners and that proximity brought substantial business to the brothers. They were not bashful about the charges they imposed on turning gold dust and ore into coinage. In addition, their $10 gold coins had an intrinsic metal value of only $9.37 so between the seigniorage and the value of their gold coins, the brothers made a very substantial amount of money – at least for some time.

The obverse of the $5.00 Gold coins had “J. S. O.” in the center of the planchet. The periphery displayed “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and “CAL.” at the bottom periphery.  The reverse of these coins has the denomination “5 DOLLS” in two lines on the center of the coin. Surrounding the periphery were 20 5-pointed stars.

(1849 J. S. Ormsby $5.00 Gold Coin, Obverse [left], Reverse [right].)

The Ormsby Mint began striking coins in September of 1849. But the dies and sledgehammer were very crude and the assaying that the Ormsby brothers did was irregular and generally always in their favor. As these facts became known, fewer and fewer miners would turn their dust over to them. As assays were conducted on their coins, they all were found to be wanting.

The overwhelming majority of coins struck were struck in late 1849 because by 1850, they had ceased operations. The Ormsby coins were turned into assay offices and melted in huge quantities.

There are only FIVE known specimens of Ormsby gold coinage known today.

DateTypeMintageFine ValueXF Value
(1850)$5 Denomination, Plain Edge1 KnownPricelessPriceless
(1850)$5 Denomination, Reeded Edge1 KnownPricelessPriceless
(1850)$10 Denomination3 Known$325,000$700,000

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