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California symposium put focus on gold

The presentations were as good as gold at the California State Numismatic Association's Eighth Annual Northern California Educational Symposium.
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The presentations were as good as gold at the California State Numismatic Association's Eighth Annual Northern California Educational Symposium.

Hosted by the Vallejo, Calif., Numismatic Society, it was held Oct. 27 at the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum. More than 60 people attended.

Harry W. Davis and Alton Pryor

The symposium's theme was "The Golden West: Gold Rush, Gold Coinages, and the Golden Gate Bridge." This year's presenters were Alton Pryor, California historian and author; Dr. Donald H. Kagin, former American Numismatic Association governor and numismatic expert; Robert R. Van Ryzin, Coins editor; and Dr. Michael F. Wehner, scholar of San Francisco numismatics.

Pryor, author of more than 10 California history and Western lore books, presented "Those Lusty, Dusty Gold Camps of California." Pryor explained that gold camps were famous for their names, many of which had no relationship to the locale or gold mining. "Bed Bug" was one example he gave. "Dry Town" had 26 saloons. "Nevada City" earned its name before Nevada became a state.

Pryor punctuated his talk with humorous but factual stories that generated laughs throughout his program. He encouraged those present to tour the famous Gold Rush Country in California's Sierra Nevadas by driving
Highway 49.

Dr. Donald H. Kagin and Dr. Michael F. Wehner, enjoying a lunch and time to meet and to mingle.

Because Pryor was recovering from the flu, he was unable to finish his prepared script. Harry W. Davis, symposium moderator, stepped in to carry out the presentation.

Kagin's presentation was titled "California Gold Coinages." Using slides of rare pieces from his private collection, he talked about the patterns in Pioneer gold coinages and classed them into patterns, counter strikes, restrikes, fantasies and counters.

Robert R. van Ryzin, Michael S. Turrini, and Bill Waycison

Beginning with the first gold discoveries in North Carolina and Georgia and progressing into the mid-1850s and Oregon, Kagin showed virtually every known example of Pioneer gold, with emphasis on patterns and non-gold strikes. Samples included all known and little known private coiners such as J.H. Bowie, Columbus and Company, Kohler, More and Clark, Baldwin, Pacific and Ithaca Mining.

These private Pioneer coiners operated in three different recognized periods until 1854 when the San Francisco Mint was established and began production. He also included the rare Mormon gold coinages and Oregon's "Beavers."

Left to Right: Dr. Michael F. Wehner, Dr. Donald H. Kagin, Freydis Grant,
Harry W. Davis, Robert R. van Ryzin, James W. Hunt, James E. Kern, and
Michael S. Turrini

Kagin remarked that he accepted the invitation to present at the symposium more than a year earlier, before learning that the dates conflicted with the Hawaii State Numismatic Association annual convention, which he attends annually.

"Talking gold here can compensate for not having sand on Waikiki's beaches," he laughed.

Van Ryzin's presentation revolved around his book, Crime of 1873: The Comstock Connection. His talk was titled, "A Tale of Mines plus Trade and Morgan Dollars." He had access to the long-hidden correspondence of William C. Ralston, the historic founder of the once-mighty Bank of California and original California entrepreneur. Van Ryzin

Robert R. Van Ryzin with William Ralston on the screen

established that Ralston was the real influence for the numismatically provocative Coinage Act of 1873.

Since the fabled Comstock produced silver and had more than 200 saloons in Virginia City alone, Ralston was quick to cash in and make money. While he enjoyed luxury and an estate, miners toiled for $4 a day. Ralston's Bank of California - now merged into the Union Bank of California - controlled most of the mines and 60 to 65 percent of the retrieved ore.

Overextended and unable to have gold coins readily available to meet bank depositors' demands, Ralston's vast empire collapsed in August 1875. Ralston also collapsed at age 49. He suffered a massive heart attack while swimming the San Francisco Bay. Rumors still circulate that his swim was actually suicide.

Dr. Michael F. Wehner makes a point on a Golden Gate Bridge medal that
depicts the famous 1930s PanAm Flying Clippers.

Van Ryzin distributed a pamphlet to complement slide illustrations.

Wehner's presentation was titled, "The Golden Gate Bridge on Medals and Tokens." May marked the bridge's 70th anniversary. Over the years medals and tokens have used the Golden Gate as design themes. A complete roster of these has yet to be compiled. Many times after finding medals, tokens and woods at various tourist sites near the bridge, Wehner said he should have purchased the cheap mementos since they were not available at his next visit.

The Golden Gate Bridge has become the iconic symbol of San Francisco and California, even though the name "Golden Gate" actually refers to the straits between Marin County, to the north, and San Francisco. The name was coined by John C. Fremont, a noted American West explorer and adventurer.

Dr. Michael F. Wehner honored by Symposium Moderator Harry W. Davis

Each speaker was presented with an engraved medallion, a "Token of Esteem," a mounted certificate and a copy of Images of America - Vallejo, written by James E. Kern.

A door prize drawing was held after the presentations. Van Ryzin donated three autographed copies Crime of 1873: The Comstock Connection. Winners were Freydis Grant, CSNA president, who donated the book to the Vallejo Numismatic Society; James W. Hunt and Robert E. Luna. Irene Carrillo and Edwin Hoffmark each won a $50 gift certificate for the museum's gift and book shop.

Carrillo and Robert W. Belleau Sr. worked at the registration desk this year. Among the dignitaries attending were Grant of Highland, Calif.; Bill Waycison of Timmons, Ontario, Canada, who represented the Canadian Numismatic Association; David W. Lange of Florida, a respected national author; and James W. Hunt of Chula Vista, Calif., CSNA's director of education.

"I was certainly impressed with the symposium, the museum and its helpful executive director, the coordinator, 'Stan' Turrini, and his legendary hospitality, and the four presenters," Hunt said.

Michael "Stan" Turrini is a California-based coin hobby activist, writer and speaker. He is the newly appointed American Numismatic Association Representative Program national coordinator.

Symposium sponsors were CSNA, the California Exonumist Society, the Vallejo Numismatic Society and Turrini.

The 2008 symposium is scheduled for Oct. 25 at the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum. The theme will be "Northern Numismatics."
Confirmed speakers are Richard Jozefiak, speaking on "Alaskan Numismatics: 1784 to Today;" Paul R. Johnson, speaking on "Canadian Coinages: Stories and Facts;" Robert E. Sather speaking on "Norwegian Coinages and Norse-American Commemoratives;" and Merle Avila, speaking on "Northern California Tokens: History and Fun."

Information about CSNA may be found at, or by writing P.O. Box 1181, Claremont, CA 91711-1181.

Information about the Vallejo Numismatic Society may be obtained by e-mailing, or by writing P.O. Box 4281, Vallejo, CA 94590-0428.