With the imminent opening of the San Francisco Mint, the United States Assay Office ceased operations on December 14, 1853. At that time no private firms were coining gold. The United States Assay Office, under contract to Messrs. Curtis and Perry, was being reconverted to house the authorized United States Branch Mint.
The only coins that were still circulated were Assay Office $50, $20, and $10 coins, along with the Moffat & Co. issues; the other private issues had been discredited and melted long before for recoinage into official "ingots." The closing of the Assay Office, the lack of private firms issuing coins, the shortage of coins surviving the Second Series issues, and the exportation of what coins there were led to a disastrous financial situation in California before the branch mint opened. High-grade gold bullion continued to flow into the area with no place for it to be coined into money, while the United States customs offices hoarded all the coins which they received. It was under these circumstances that John G. Kellogg and G. F. Richter, cashier and assayer of Curtis, Perry and Ward, were implored by California bankers to open their own assaying office on December 19, 1853. When Curtis, Perry and Ward ceased operations, Kellogg, along with another of the employees, Assayer G. F. Richter, opened his own office on December 14, 1853. Curtis, Perry and Humbert all endorsed Kellogg's operation and integrity. Kellogg operated a gold melting and assaying office in the basement of J. P. Haven's building, No. 106 Montgomery Street.
John Glover Kellogg was born in Marcellus, Onondaga County, New York, on December 3, 1823. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in Auburn, New York. Before practicing, he joined the eighty-member Cayuga joint Stock Company which left New York for California on February 13, 1849. Kellogg sailed on the bark Belvedere around the Cape and reached San Francisco on October 12, 1849.
The coining firm of Moffat & Co., operating on the corner of Clay and Dupont Streets, soon hired Kellogg. The latter remained with them through their move to Montgomery Street, during their service to the United States Assay Office, and during the transference of operations to Curtis, Perry and Ward.
In mid-January, several banking houses in San Francisco and Sacramento, feeling the deleterious effects of the coin shortage, wrote an urgent request to Kellogg & Richter to supply private coins until the U.S. branch mint went into operation. Approximately two weeks later, on January 31, Kellogg & Richter replied that they could comply with the bankers' request within ten days.
True to its word, the firm issued its private gold coins on February 9, 1854. These were $20 pieces which Kellogg claimed his firm could issue at the rate of $20,000 worth per day. The dies for the coins, which greatly resembled those of the United States issues, probably were cut by Kuner.
When the United States Branch Mint finally opened on April 3, 1854, its operations were erratic. Owing to constant shortages of alloy and parting acids, it ceased production several times. As a result, the coining business of Kellogg & Richter soon assumed very large proportions with about $6 million of the $20 pieces being issued. Under the circumstances, these new coins were almost universally accepted.
The importance of this private mint to the financial community was illustrated in at least one newspaper editorial (Prices Current, March 31, 1854):
"We question whether there was ever a fortnight since the California mines were discovered during which so much gold-dust came down to San Francisco as during the fortnight just passed, and in connection with the product of gold, and in intimate public attention to the admirable manner in which the Assay Office (Kellogg & Richter) in this city is conducted, and the very important part it has performed during the past month in preventing any disarrangement of our financial matters; for without the coining of the dust which it has done we might have found ourselves forced to return to weighing it out for payment."
Most of the banking houses chose Kellogg & Richter to mint their coins and their confidence was not unfounded. When the run on the banks occurred in 1855, it was Kellogg & Co. and Wass, Molitor and Company who supplied $400,000 worth of ready gold coins to avoid disaster.
Early in October, Kellogg & Richter dissolved their partnership. Kellogg continued to conduct business by himself for awhile, and on April 24, 1855, a notice in the Herald announced the formation of the new assaying and coining firm of Kellogg & Humbert (the latter being the erstwhile United States Assayer) with its operation continuing at No. 104 Montgomery Street.
In 1855 the new San Francisco mint was still unable to meet the coinage needs of the area, and an article in May of that year mentioned that Kellogg & Co. was supplying over 50 percent more coins than the United States Mint. Indeed Kellogg & Co. issued more coins in 1855 than in the previous year; often from $60,000 to $80,000 daily. A large number of these coins is thought to have been lost when the steamer Pacific sank on a trip from San Francisco to New York.
Kellogg & Co. also planned to issue coins of a $50 denomination. All known specimens are proofs, giving rise to the theory that these coins only reached the experimental stage.
It is not known for certain when Kellogg & Co. ceased issuing $20 gold pieces, but it was probably at the end of 1855 when the United States Mint was back in full operation. No further issues were contemplated by this firm.
Kellogg & Humbert was dissolved in 1860, and Kellogg organized a new partnership with John Hewston, Jr. and J. H. Stearns, conducting an assaying business at the old 416 Montgomery Street location. Kellogg, Hewston & Co. operated with much success until they sold out in 1866 to the San Francisco Assaying and Refining Works. That firm conducted the business until the financial crisis of 1875, when it passed into the hands of the Selby Lead and Silver Smelting Company.
Kellogg went back to New York for a time but soon returned to manage the Pacific Refinery and Bullion Exchange. He died April 21, 1886, leaving a legacy perhaps best stated in the Alta California, whose editors contended that had it not been for Kellogg & CO., the financial community of San Francisco might have been bankrupt.
--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.