Butterworth, Samuel F. (1811-1875)
Retained Copies of a Series of Highly Detailed Letters in which Butterworth, Superintendent of the U. S. Assay Office in New York, Reports to Treasury Secretary Howell Cobb on the Expediency of Establishing a Branch Mint in New York City, 1860

quarto, three letters, 32 pages, Butterworth's retained copies of this series of letters, on thin tissue like paper, in very good clean and legible condition.

$ 850.00 | Contact Us >
Butterworth writes to Cobb a series of highly detailed and informational replies to Cobb's requests for information on the possible establishment of a Branch Mint of the United States in New York City:

     "United States Assay Office, New York, Mar. 9, 1860

      Sir,

           I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 27th ... enclosing a copy of a Bill submitted to the Department by the Committee of Commerce of the House of Representatives for the establishment of a Branch Mint at New York, and requesting my views as to the expediency of establishing such Branch, the expense of putting it in operation, and the annual expense of carrying on the operations thereafter, including an estimate of the probable cost of the necessary buildings &c; also asking a statement of the operations of the Assay Office since its establishment, including the annual cost of carrying on the operations, with such further information as I can procure on the subject.

        In complying with your request, I propose to notice in their order the several topics embraced in your letter.

     1. With respect to the Bill referred to you by the Committee of Commerce, I would remark that it has been framed without a proper recognition of the functions of the Assay Office already existing. Its effect, should it become a law, - would be to establish in New York another Assay office with a coinage department added. In no part of this Bill is there anything to indicate that the existing Assay Office is to be merged in the Branch Mint. On the contrary, leaving the Assay Office undisturbed, it provides for another establishment, "in connection with the Assay Office" it is true, but having a corps of officers whose titles & duties will be identical with those of the existing Assay Office, though with a lower grade of salaries. The only new office which it creates is that of Chief Coiner, except indeed that it provides for "one Melter and one Refiner", while in the Assay Office, as in the Mint, these titles are combined and indicate one & the same officer, called the "Melter & Refiner".

        The Assay Office at New York, established by the Act of March 4, 1853, needs only the addition of a coinage department, and the legal authority to coin money, to make it a complete Mint establishment. I respectfully suggest therefore, that instead of erecting a distinct institution, or of disturbing the existing one, it would be a much simpler procedure to add a Coinage Department to the Assay Office. I enclose a form of Bill framed in conformity with this suggestion.

     2. Of the expediency of establishing a Branch Mint in New York, particularly if accomplished in the manner above indicated by the addition of a Coinage Department to the Assay Office, I think there can be little doubt. I do not undertake that I am called upon to express an opinion respecting the location of the existing Mint establishment of the United States. The amount of their business respectively must be the measure by which to determine the extent to which they are severally ministering to the wants of commerce. But whatever may be the claims of other localities, no argument is necessary to show that New York is preeminently entitled to all the advantages which a Government Mint is designed to afford. The same reasons that have determined the location of Mints at London, Paris, & Vienna indicate New York as at least one of the points for a Mint of the United States. It is not only the commercial metropolis of the country, but by its maritime and inland connections is the focal point of the particular commerce in the precious metals. Were the question of the location of the Mint of the United States a new one, the opinion would be unanimous in favor of New York. It is true that the Assay Office now affords in a good degree to the commerce of New York the privileges of a mint; but this is effected only by the assumption by the Government of the expense, delay and risk of transporting the bullion to the Mint at Philadelphia to be returned again in coins....

          A mint of the largest capacity has been deemed necessary at New Orleans, and during the twenty two years that it has been in existence its business has amounted to an average of a little over three millions per annum; while at New York the business of the Assay Office during the five years of its existence, has reached an annual average of about twenty-one millions. This amount would doubtless have been considerably increased if the power of coinage had been conferred upon the Assay Office. ...

         I would remark in conclusion that by existing laws the Assay Office is in as full connection with and subordination to, the Mint of the United States, and is as completely governed by the laws relating to the Mint and to the coinage generally, as are any of the Branch Mints. The design of the bill which I enclose is simply to clothe the Assay Office with the power of coining money, of course in strict conformity with all the laws made for the government of the Mint and its Branches. If it should at any time be deemed advisable to change the title of the Assay Office to that of Branch Mint, it can readily be done without in the least disturbing its existing organization..."

         Butterworth continues to press for the establishment of a Branch Mint in New York in two further letters, which are also highly detailed and carry statistical tables the second dated April 10, 1860, the third is undated but probably shortly thereafter.

         Samuel F. Butterworth was born in 1811 in Newburgh, New York, he died May 6, 1875 in San Francisco. He was a graduate of Union College, studied law privately under Edward Tompkins in New York City. He was U. S. district attorney for Mississippi during the Van Buren administration, confirmed justice of U.S. Supreme Court but did not accept, superintendent U.S. Assay Office New York 1857, went to California in 1864 in connection with a suit against the New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Company, of which he was president until his resignation in 1870, president of the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company at the time of his death. Butterworth was elected Honorary Regent of the University of California 1868-1876, resigned 1873, author of Regent's resolution eliminating student tuition fee and author of Regent's resolution admitting women to the University.

          Howell Cobb (1815-1868) lawyer and politician, served as Secretary of the Treasury under Buchanan. He resigned his Cabinet post December 10, 1860 and returned to his native Georgia and lobbied for immediate secession. He joined the Confederate army in 1861 as colonel of the 16th Georgia Infantry and rose to the rank of major general. After the war he advocated resistance to congressional reconstruction measures.

     American National Biography, vol. 5, pp. 99-100; Dictionary of American Biography, vol. II, part two, pp. 241-244