Until [1981 it had] been assumed that Dunbar & Co. was the successor to Baldwin & Co., but a thorough analysis of primary sources does not support this theory. Edward E. Dunbar seems to have left New York on December 23, 1848, on the steamer Crescent City, arriving at Chagres January 2, 1849. Having walked across the Isthmus of Panama in nine days, Dunbar sailed to San Francisco, arriving February 28 on the California.
Within two months after arriving, he had become a commission merchant and auctioneer located on Washington Street near the foot of Sacramento in San Francisco, where he also stored baggage and insured gold dust. On April 18, Dunbar moved his wholesale operation to the corner of Kearny and Sacramento Streets, and in November opened up the Merchants’ Exchange and Reading Room in San Francisco, which was located on the second floor of a building on Washington Street. It is probable that the warehouse he used for auctions was in the same building. Both his store and reading room were “blown up with gunpowder …at the time of the great fire” in San Francisco sometime in early 1850.
Dunbar re-established himself in business by September 1850, operating Dunbar’s California Bank in Howard & Green’s building on Montgomery Street. The “bank” bought and sold gold dust and insured dust shipments to New York via the Isthmus of Panama. In November of the same year, Dunbar expanded the operation of his California Bank to include an exchange office where city, county, and state scrip was bought and sold.
The next month an article appeared in the California Courier stating that Dunbar would redeem at par the coins of Baldwin & Co. Some scholars have interpreted this only as an indication of an attempt to lend credibility to Baldwin’s coins. Baldwin’s coins were not discredited until three months later. It is also probable that Dunbar offered to redeem Baldwin’s coins to stimulate business, as the pieces were everywhere—with over $1 million worth being in circulation.
Some time between December and April, Dunbar obtained coining equipment and dies to issue his own coins. The engraving on the dies is in style of Albert Kuner, the principal engraver in San Francisco. It has been thought that the equipment was obtained from Baldwin, but the San Francisco Herald of April 2, 1851, reveals that Dunbar was issuing coins at least a month before Baldwin & Co. ceased its operations.
As noted earlier, in March when James King of William sent privately struck coins to be assayed, which began the decline in confidence of all private issues, a specimen from Dunbar was not included in those assayed and subsequently criticized. Dunbar soon after sent specimens of his $5 coins to Humbert to be assayed. No doubt eager to stay out of the mounting controversy, the United States assayer refused his request, but a Dunbar $5 later tested by former State Assayer Kohler proved to be worth $5.13.
In spite of the favorable report, Dunbar probably stopped issuing his coins sometime in April or May and decided to lie low until some of the adverse publicity concerning all private gold coins had blown over. Evidently things did not improve and Dunbar headed for New York and ultimately came up with a new currency manufacturing scheme in the form of the Continental Bank Note Company, which later merged with the American Bank Note Company.
--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