In the Stacks January 2011 New York Americana Sale there was an extraordinary offering of a 1830s style German or French vintage coin screw press [Lot 5231]. The consignor has done considerable research on this press and has discovered that this machine belonged to Eugene Deviercy along with Pierre Frontier, who formed a jewelry partnership in 1853 located in San Francisco.
A few of their coins (almost certainly struck on this very press) were recovered on the shipwreck of the SS Winfield Scott, which left the San Francisco port on December 1, 1853. The coins they produced had a 14k core of gold with copper, while they were coated with seven microns of 18K gold. Some of the California gold fractional coins produced by this firm have the initials “F.D.” below Liberty’s truncation, others were issued anonymously. It is believed Frontier and Deviercy also minted coins for other local jewels during these early days of the California Gold Rush.
Mechanically, this screw type press is operated by a long, hand-thrown centrifugal rod at the top, which causes a thick 2″ screw to be pressed down. As the screw presses down it pushes on a square shaped length of iron that moves up and down and imposes considerable force on the hammer die which is mounted at its base. An ingenious feature is the square shape of the iron driving rod, this mitigates the rotational force from the screw action that would otherwise torque the hammer die and cause uneven striking.
The direction of the hammer die is straight downward where it meets the planchet that is held in place by a collar and supported on the lower die, thus striking the impression into the planchet to create a coin.
In terms of originality the wooden base may be original, and appears to be of solid oak, with many scrapes and fissures the base was likely in use for many years. The all important mechanism of the arched iron or steel press itself appears original, with the screw intact and the seat for holding the hammer die is attached. No base to hold the anvil die is present, and the swinging arm that drives the press was recently replaced and machined to properly fit the tapered driving nut on top of the press.
The mechanism measures about 22″ high by 15″ wide and sits securely on the oak base. The oak base is 14″ wide by 12″ deep and about 30″ high. The base is easily separated from the press, but both are quite heavy.
This coining press stayed with the evolving firm of Frontier, Deviercy & Co., or was stored until the late 1880s when a San Francisco Mint employee purchased it.
The press was transferred to Philadelphia in the early 1900s at a time when such items were illegal to own privately due to their use in manufacturing counterfeit coins. This press next surfaced again in the 1970s when it was offered in a Philadelphia Municipal surplus auction. The press apparently did not sell and it ended up in New Jersey State Museum where it was later sold and eventually purchased by the consignor.
At the Stack’s Sale in 2011 this press brought $16,100 (includes Buyers fee).
According to Robert H. Lande who was the underbidder for the item at the time and wrote an article about it in the Society of Private and Pioneer Numismatics blog, documents that purported to show the provenance of the screw press were not made available prior to the sale. In addition Mr. Lande mentioned that he had asked David McCarthy of Kagin’s to examine the screw press and he said that some parts were missing and it was not operational.
In any case, it makes for an interesting piece of Americana related to the California Fractional Gold produced in San Francisco and something that anyone interested in Pioneer Gold would certainly love to own.