For this week’s blog I reprint information from a circular issued in 1885 by the Pacific Bank of San Francisco giving the status of money in the state at the time and paying respect to the double eagle, in particular (excerpts):
On the Handling of Coin by California Banks
Gold. The double eagle, the almost universal medium of payments on the Pacific Coast, is generally kept in open trays of $20,000, or the same amount in canvas bags, of which each bank keeps a goodly supply; and in this case, each bag is carefully sealed, entered on a special book, is weighed, and is then stored away in the innermost coin vault, to which customarily the president, vice-president, and cashier alone have access. To correspond with the entry on the book, each bag bears inside a memorandum of date of filling, by whom filled, from whom received in payment or on deposit and whatever other items may be thought best to assist in subsequent identification, should such be necessary.
The gold, in trays, is in stacks of 20 pieces, making $400 to a stack, and there are 50 such stacks in a tray, arranged in rows, five one way and ten the other, making the $20,000 to a tray. The tops of the stacks come just flush with the top of the tray, so that an extra twenty dollar piece on any stack would be easily noticed, and is a precaution against making all the stacks with 21 or more or fewer pieces, instead of exactly 20 pieces. Beside the whole top, one of the shorter ends of the trays is also open, for easy withdrawal of the coin; but there are two grooves in each of the longer sides for the insertion of a thin slot, when the tray is full, which makes the four sides complete and retains the coin in place. In the gold trays, the bottom and slightly rounded sides project a little beyond the slot, in order to facilitate placing and handling the last rows of the coin. The top of the tray being open, the money is always in view, and accidental accretion or decretion in the piles is rendered practically impossible. In counting twenty-dollar pieces experience has shown them to be so uniform that only one pile is counted and the rest of the money is stacked and measured by this pile until the last pile will have been reached, which is also counted; in this way the counting proceeds rapidly. Gold, in smaller denominations, must always be counted or weighed, preferably the former…
For gold coins of lesser value than the double eagle, either suitable trays are used, or the coin is kept in bags. Gold is never wrapped in paper as is silver. It is contrary to the sentiment of Californians, as well as to their business experience, thus to treat gold. They consider it the mineral par excellence of nature, and worthy of most noble treatment. And certainly, the twenty-dollar gold piece is at once the pride and envy of the mintage of the world.
Silver. Silver was long the bane of the California banker’s existence, but since the United States Treasury has been forced by Congress to become the great dumping-ground of this artificially appreciated and practically impossible element of the so-called “double standard,” the banks are greatly relieved, and now handle, as far as possible, the Silver Certificates, interchangeable at will, for face value in silver or gold, by the National Treasury.
Of course, we all understand that this unnatural state of things is only produced by an unwise tax upon the Treasury and a sad sacrifice in the amount of gold in circulation, which foreign countries are only too ready to draw from in exchange for their depreciated silver. In former years, it would frequently be necessary for a bank in San Francisco to move into and out of its vaults from one to two tons of fractional silver coinage in a day and to take in and pay out that amount over its counters. The bulk of silver necessary to be handled is still large, for, since silver has been legislated equal in value to gold, it is now used extensively in payment of laborers; but the largest call for it in California is yet for its proper function, namely, making change, and for such ends, the half dollar has ever been the greatly preferred coin. These half-dollars are always kept in rolls of 40 pieces, making $20 in a roll; and these rolls are stacked in a tray holding 50 rolls, or $1,000…