JOHN PARSONS & COMPANY
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, $2½ 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 $2½ 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
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
the Frederick R. Mayer collection of Colorado Pioneer Gold
1860 $20 Gold Ingot
(1861) $2½ Gold - Extremely
Rare (6 known)
(1861) $5 Gold - Extremely Rare (5 known)
Patterns and/or Die
(1861) $2½ overstrike on a U.S. Half
overstrike on a U.S. Dime
overstrike on a U.S. Half Dollar
(1861) $5 in Bronze (thick or thin planchets)
Sources and/or recommended
"Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States" by
Donald H. Kagin