Previous Issuer | Next Issuer | Pioneer Gold by Type 
Previous Coin on the "Cool Coins" Tour | Next Coin on the "Cool Coins" Tour

Obverse of Parsons & Co. $2-1/2 Gold     Reverse of Parsons & Co. $2-1/2 Gold


JOHN PARSONS & COMPANY
GOLD COINS

During the early summer of 1859, extensive gold deposits were discovered in the South Park section of Park County, Colorado (six miles northwest of present day Como and 150 miles southeast of Denver). By the winter, miners were extracting from $10 to $25 in gold dust each per day. When the snow melted the next spring, the miners again flocked to the South Park towns of Hamilton and Tarryall. By August, a virtual stampede to these mines ensued and the population of Hamilton swelled to 6,000.

One of those pioneers was Dr. John Parsons, a native of Indiana, who had spent some time in Quincy, Illinois, before emigrating to Colorado in 1858. The doctor possessed an excellent background in metallurgy and manufacturing. Soon after his arrival in Hamilton, he ordered dies and coining equipment. Author James Smiley, writing at the turn of the century, mentions that: "He [Parsons] set up his mint at Tarryall near the mouth of the canyon northwest of Como where the railway now passes up to cross the range to Breckenridge." Perhaps the dies were not ready for use until late June 1861, because he first issued $20 gold ingots dated 1860. On the 27th of June, Parsons began to prepare to strike coins. The Rocky Mountain News (June 27, 1861) reported that:

Parsons & Co. of Hamilton [South Park], are preparing to begin the coinage of gold at that place. The issue will be in quarter and half eagles of handsome and original design. We have seen facsimiles [patterns?] of the coins.

Subsequently, $2 and $5 pieces were issued. The mint, which may have been located on the back of a wagon, operated only until October.

Smiley estimated in 1901 that Parsons issued between a third and a half as many $2 and $5 pieces as Clark, Gruber & Co., although the coins were so scarce that he could not find one to sketch in his book. This estimate is highly doubtful, since Parsons had neither the time nor the facilities to issue anywhere near that number.

During his final month of operation, Parsons issued less than $500 worth of coins. This was probably due to the fact that the "Phillips Lode," whence Parsons obtained his gold, was "played out." There is one account which indicates that Dr. Parsons was considering moving his coining equipment to the town of Buckskin Joe, but there is no evidence of this ever having occurred.

The coins of Parsons & Co. were readily accepted, although Parsons is rumored to have made almost 20 percent on each coin, presumably a large proportion of that from their debasement. Parsons probably designed the coins himself, although he evidently overlooked the obvious emission of the letter "S" on his surname when engraving the dies. Possibly their manufacturer just ran out of room on the dies.

Another question centers around the word "oro," which appears on the coins. "Oro" is Spanish for gold, but further study has determined that the word was used in connection with the town of Oro City in California Gulch, near the present town of Leadville. This town may have been where Parsons planned to eventually locate.

Parsons was a versatile man, and after his coining adventure he moved to Denver where he wrote a handbook on Colorado mining. In 1871 he became involved in a scheme to construct an aqueduct across the Platte River. In this regard, he formed and became president of the "Denver Aqueduct Company." It was in this venture that he lost most of his money - In addition, Parsons ran a boarding house for invalids to whom he gave board and medical advice.

Dr. Parsons was also a botanist and had an interest in dairy farming. In July 1872 he organized the "Parsons Expedition" to explore the Gunnison country, also known as Elk Mountain. During this excursion, Parsons tested for agricultural potential and mineral resources. Around 1878, Parsons moved to Utah Territory where he died at Browne's Park on January 12, 1881.

--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, pp 219-223.


Images courtesy of The American Numismatic Association

From the Frederick R. Mayer collection of Colorado Pioneer Gold

Varieties:
1860 $20 Gold Ingot
(1861) $2
Gold - Extremely Rare (6 known)
(1861) $5 Gold - Extremely Rare (5 known)

Patterns and/or Die Trials:
(1861) $2
overstrike on a U.S. Half Dime
(1861) $2 overstrike on a U.S. Dime
(1861) $2 overstrike on a U.S. Half Dollar
(1861)
$2 in Copper
(1861)
$2 in Copper
(1861) $5 in Bronze (thick or thin planchets)

Sources and/or recommended reading:
"Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States" by Donald H. Kagin