Riverboat Collection - Heritage 4/2014:5416, $64,625
Varieties of Norris, Gregg & Norris Gold Coins:
I. 1849 $5
A. No Period After ALLOY
1. Plain Edge
2. Reeded Edge
B. Period After ALLOY
1. Plain Edge
2. Reeded Edge
II. 1850 $5
No Patterns or Die Trials are known for the Norris, Gregg & Norris coins
History of the Norris, Gregg & Norris Gold Coins:
The first company answering the plea for a coinage in California is generally believed to have been Norris, Gregg, & Norris. Historian Edgar H. Adams claims they were first on the grounds that they were the first coiners to be cited in the California newspapers. The firm is also the first company mentioned in Eckfeldt and Dubois’ book, New Varieties of Gold and Silver Coins (1850). Some private gold coiners, however, never were cited in California papers. Any one of them could have issued products prior to those from Norris, Gregg, & Norris. There is a possibility that Bowie & Company and Meyers & Company might have preceded Norris, Gregg & Norris.
On May 31, 1849, in the first known reference to private coinage to appear in any of the California papers, the editors of the Alta California observed:
"We have in our possession a Five Dollar gold coin, struck at Benicia City, although the imprint is San Francisco. In general appearance it resembles the United States coin of the same value, but it bears the private stamp of "Norris, Grieg & Norris", and is in other particulars widely different."
One of the interesting features of this article is the spelling of the middle partner’s name. For many years there has been some question as to its proper spelling. The article spelled it "Grieg," but the United States Assayer in California, Augustus Humbert, spelled it "Grigg." Historian Edgar Adams relates that among Humbert’s effects, which were sold in 1902, was found one of these coins wrapped in a sheet of paper with the note "From my friends, Norris, Grigg & Norris." To further complicate the situation, the names of all three partners are found in the Directory of New York City of 1849 as Thomas H. Norris, Hiram A. Norris, and Charles Gregg. Adams mentions a book published in New York in 1849 carrying an advertisement for the firm of "Norris, Gregg & Norris." The ad explained that the firm, located at 62 Gold Street between Beekman and Fulton Streets, New York, manufactured and dealt "in Wrought Iron Pipes, and Fittings of all kinds."
It is fairly certain that the firm in New York is the same as the one in California. H.A. Norris is mentioned as a passenger on a vessel leaving New York in 1849, bound for California. While both the New York directory and the advertisement spelled Gregg’s name differently from Humbert or the newspaper article, one must question the latter two sources’ accuracy. Due to the nature of the newspaper reporting and publication, their accuracy sometimes is a problem. This was especially true of papers published in the nineteenth century. Humbert’s spelling, like anyone’s, easily could have been in error. While directories were not always perfect in their spelling ,they were generally correct since the subscribers were paying for their listing. The spelling of a sponsor’s name in his paid advertisement probably is the most reliable source in this regard since paid advertising copy is usually checked by the subscriber before it is run.
Another question is posed by the newspaper article previously cited, which states that the coins of Norris, Gregg & Norris "resemble the United States coin." The design of extant Norris pieces is radically different from the federal coinage. This may suggest that an undiscovered type, with usual Liberty head and eagle design similar to that on U.S. coins of that period, preceded the varieties known today.
It has never been determined where in Benicia the first Norris, Gregg & Norris coins were minted. The late San Francisco historian, Roy Hill, published an article by L.P. Marshall, written for the February 1912 issue of Out West. In it the author states that while he was roaming the region around Benicia with his sons in 1852-1853, he was told of an old house which he proceeded to occupy. Marshall continues, "In and about the house we found appliances for the manufacture of counterfeit coins, such as crucibles, dies, copper, etc. It is supposed that a band of counterfeiters had found the place deserted and had taken possession of it." If Marshall is correct in his assumption, however, then why would the coiners abandon their equipment, without any apparent justification?
It is possible that this house was indeed occupied by counterfeiters, although according to Eckfeldt and DuBois, no counterfeits were ever found (i.e. known to them in the 1850’s) from among the California gold coins. The home could also have been a proposed site of the Mormons, who at one time planned to settle there. This, however, is highly unlikely because no mention is made in the Mormon journals of a proposed mint in California. It is possible that Marshall may have used the word "counterfeiter" for anyone other than the government who made coins. Until positive evidence to the contrary is forthcoming, the house Marshall discovered may be assumed to be the site of the Norris, Gregg & Norris mint.
It is now believed that Norris, Gregg & Norris moved to Stockton from Benicia sometime in 1850. One source states that A. Reimers of San Francisco, a close friend of Mr. Kuner, told some coin collectors that Kuner insisted that Norris, Gregg & Norris were businessmen in Stockton. Significantly, in 1947 a specimen was found with the word STOCKTON on the die and dated 1850. This piece might very well have been made after Norris, Gregg & Norris moved from Benicia to Stockton. An article in the Stockton Times of April 6, 1850, mentions the presence of a coining operation of Norris, Gregg & Norris in Stockton.
The coins seem to have been well received by the general populace. An article by E. Sprague in the April 20, 1850, Stockton Times explained the necessity and desirability of the Norris coin. He further stated that the people and merchants were desirous of the issues and and that only gold dust brokers who wished to retain the depressed gold market and continue to reap high profits from reselling th gold at much higher market value were against the new coins which would raise the gold’s value to its proper level. These brokers raised the question of the value of Norris pieces.
Norris effectively replied to this charge in an article published in the Stockton Times by stating, "1st--All the gold coin stamped by me is, as it purports on its face to be, of pure placer gold without any admixture or other substances. 2nd--These coins, on average, weigh 1 percent heavier than the U.S. Half Eagles. 3rd--The coins sell in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and New Orleans at a premium of 1 percent." The first two points later were substantiated by Eckfeldt and DuBois.
It is not known when Norris, Gregg & Norris ceased their operations, nor what the proprietors did afterwards. Since the Stockton specimen is unique, it is likely that not too many were issued, and coining ceased soon after the April 20 article. This company’s coins are not mentioned in later newspaper references to private coins, so that as early as 1851 they were no longer found in circulation in either the San Francisco or Sacramento areas.
--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 62-64.
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