By Jesse Kraft for American Numismatic Society (ANS) ……
This is the second segment of a three-part series on the MACO Archives and the pending move of die shells and plasters from their present location in Mound House, Nevada to New York City.
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After the immense amount of preparation that took place during “Mound House to Manhattan, Part I”, the time had come to put the plan into action. On May 22, with laptop and overly-detailed Excel spreadsheet in hand and a solid strategy in mind, I boarded a plane destined for Reno, Nevada. My fine Hyundai Santa Fe rental then took me half an hour south to Carson City (just 6.5 miles east of Mound House), to the hotel I would call home for the next 13 nights.
That first evening, I had the pleasure of meeting Rob Vugteveen, self-proclaimed “creative problem solver” and former Northwest Territorial Mint employee, and his family. Rob graciously offered his services to the project. Over dinner, we discussed the goals I had set for the following two weeks: (1) to prepare nearly 20,000 die shells for absorption by the ANS upon their arrival in New York City, and (2) to better pack the 5,000 of the more delicate pieces in order to survive the 2,700-mile journey.
However, the magnitude of the collection (both in the vastness of the archive itself as well as the diameter of the individual pieces), proved challenging to these lofty goals.
The necessity of this trip to Nevada was evident early on. While compiling spreadsheets and estimating spatial requirements back in NYC, I had been under the impression that the boxes housing these die shells were all the same size: 24” x 24” x 18”. This was largely due to the lack of calibration target in the images or the ability to compare box sizes to surrounding points of reference. In reality, five (5) different-sized boxes were used, and none of them were the aforementioned measurements. Fortunately, the adjusted space requirements were minimal, but this game of theoretical Tetris proved a point: that the ANS was not ready to simply ship this material to its new home without (at the very least) a basic visual inspection to fully prepare ourselves for what we were about to undertake.
If you recall from Part I, I had gone through many, many images in order to make preliminary decisions of the die shells, entering my thoughts into an Excel spreadsheet by highlighting the cells either red or green. With this document, Rob and I began to go through the collection (Fig. 1).
Pallet-by-pallet, we compared them to the MACO spreadsheet and used red and green sharpies to mark the individual item labels with their respective color. From there, we were essentially able to ditch the spreadsheet and work directly from the boxes. We now began on an item-by-item level, opening each box and separating the “reds” and the “greens” from one another, placing each category into a new box, and sealing it when it reached its max weight (ca. 50 pounds). This left most boxes grossly (but necessarily) under-packed.
We had gone through 12 pallets (192 boxes) before suddenly realizing that, at this rate, we would run out of time without even starting on our second task. One achievement from the process, however, was that by the time we were through those 192 boxes, there were only 182 boxes left on the pallets, as we were able to condense those initial boxes by about 5%. Even greater efficiency was found in the fact that we were able to stack the boxes five high (as opposed to four high, as they previously were) due to information garnered from the shipping companies. This simple change saved an astounding 25% of space.
Though it was now clear that we could not work on an item-by-item basis, the savings we found by working on a box-by-box level proved significant. Instead of having pallets that contained all “greens” and others with all “reds”, we knew that some boxes would be what we called “orange”, those with both red and green pieces. Art teachers need not comment.
With efficiency still in mind, the plan shifted to include a gradient of “oranges”. Essentially, we set up all the “reds” on one side of the room and all of the “greens” on the other and then filled in the gap. Just after the “pure reds”, we began to place boxes that had all “reds” and only one “green”. Once we found all of those, we began to pallet boxes with all “reds” and two “greens”, followed by those with three “greens”, and so on. Eventually, the last remaining boxes were those which were all “green” but only had a single “red” piece. By the time we were through, we had an order of “red”, mostly red “orange,” mostly green “orange”, and “green” (Fig. 2).
Getting through this arduous task was a relief as, not only was this dusty and backbreaking labor, but in the end, it had also provided me with the order for which everything will be brought back to New York: as many “reds” as possible destined for our storage facility in Brooklyn and the “greens” to our headquarters in Manhattan. As I mentioned my relief of knowing this order, Rob joked, “Jesse can sleep easy tonight,” as if the grueling work we just completed wasn’t enough to knock a man out in its own right.
But I’m happy to report that it wasn’t all work and no play. Fortunately, halfway through this business trip, I was able to take a day off to explore… and what better way to spend the day in Carson City than at the Historic Carson City Mint and Nevada State Museum! Friend and ANS Member Rob Rodriguez treated me to a tour of the facility and exhibits, followed by an afternoon in Virginia City. Rodriguez’s knowledge and love for the area are apparent. At the Mint, we were able to see “Coin Press No. 1” in action (Fig. 3).
This press was built in 1869 by Morgan & Orr and was the original press used at the Mint to strike many of the Carson City rarities; pieces that numismatists from all over now cherish. Still in operation today, the press strikes half-dollar-sized medals for visitors – currently in the process of creating the Nevada State Capitol Sesquicentennial Medallion. Virginia City is known as the epicenter of the Comstock Lode, where Samuel Clemens failed as a miner, began work with the Territorial Enterprise newspaper, and changed his name to Mark Twain. It was because of the Comstock Lode that the Carson City Mint existed. Seeing the geographic connections between the Lode, Carson, and even Reno and San Francisco was a very nice numismatic sidebar to the entire Nevada work-trip.
Other highlights included dinner at the fabulous Mangia Tutto Restaurante in Carson City with friends and ANS Members Howard and Kregg Herz, and a 0.6-mile hike up to the Kings Canyon Falls, one of the natural springs that regulate the height of nearby Lake Tahoe. Lastly, I acquired some authentic western attire from historic Virginia City (our office’s “Western Wear Wednesday” will never have looked so good) (Fig. 4). Refreshed, I was back to work.
The next day’s focus was on task number two: repacking what truly needed to be repacked. Due to time constraints in 2018, only about 15,000 of 20,000-odd die shells were photographed, individually wrapped, and safely packed into boxes. At that time, the crew was unable to complete the final 5,000 objects of the collection, so (out of necessity) they were hastily stacked into boxes directly on the pallet. Packed for a quick six-mile jaunt from Dayton to Mound House, they would not likely survive the 2,500-mile journey they are about to make. Sadly, even now, we found pieces that were clearly broken in their prior transit, not before.
Most of these objects are epoxy die shells (Figs. 5 & 6). Epoxy die shells were introduced in 1975 as a cheaper and quicker alternative to copper galvano die shells. Unlike the hardy copper die shells made by MACO, the epoxy die shells are quite fragile and if one were dropped on the floor, it could easily shatter on impact. Not only were these most-fragile die shells in direct contact with each other, but each box weighed far beyond their intended capacity.
While I have gone through the MACO material numerous times on paper, digitally, and with the finished medals, the physical die shells are an entirely different beast. Navigating the added weight and cumbersome size and shape of each piece added an unexpected amount of time to the process and, in the end, the clock ran out. I am happy to report that Rob Vugteveen and I achieved 95% of what we had hoped to before the time came for me to leave. Thankfully, Rob lives nearby and is able to wrap everything up before the trucks arrive. All in all, the second phase of getting the MACO die shells from Mound House to Manhattan was a success.