1043

Original Wiegand & Co. Assayer Sign

Currency:USD Category:Collectibles / Mining Start Price:5,000.00 USD Estimated At:10,000.00 - 20,000.00 USD
Original Wiegand & Co. Assayer Sign
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A truly fabulous piece of Comstock and Nevada history: an original sign from a famous Virginia City assayer, Wiegand & Company.

Physical Characteristics

This impressive sign measures 75" x 18" x 2."

Chocolate brown text against brown background: "WIEGAND & CO./ ASSAYERS. S. DOWLING/ MANAGER. 38 No. C St."

No identifying marks on the reverse.

This sign was originally purchased from a prominent antiques dealer in Carson City, who acquired it from a Virginia City property owner who found it in his attic.

Condition: over a hundred years in the dry Nevada climate has caused the paint to be very fragile and chip. The winning bidder may want to apply a sealant or protectant to slow or stop this process. We have not done any restoration. Please inspect. Special pick-up arrangements must be made by the buyer.

Importance

This sign serves as a physical marker for an important transition in the mining history of the Comstock. The peak production of the Comstock had occurred in 1877. By 1880, the boom and excitement from the discovery of the Big Bonanza in 1873 was fading, and the mines were undergoing a "barrasa" (Spanish for a mining depression). Concurrently, the unexpected, suspicious suicide (or murder) of noted assayer Conrad Wiegand in 1880 allowed for the rise of his long-time assistant Samuel Dowling. Each man’s life was not without difficulty.

Two Important Nevada Mining Figures

CONRAD WIEGAND BIO (excerpted from “A Western Assayer of the Mark Twain Period” by Fred Holabird)

Conrad Wiegand was a boisterous man who was born in Philadelphia, worked for the US Mint, and came to the California Gold Rush in the early 1850’s. He went to work for the US Branch Mint in San Francisco at or near its inception in 1854.

Wiegand was small in stature, but big in ideas, and even stronger still in his opinions. He was a devoutly religious person who saw such injustice in the world that he undertook the publishing of his own newspaper—two of them, in fact. His other passion was the metals question, particularly his political stance generally held by most miners that money should be in the form of circulating hard specie—gold and silver coinage and ingots. Wiegand’s outspoken nature repeatedly got him into trouble, especially during his life on the Comstock. …

After being forced out of the mint in 1864, Wiegand immediately went to work at the newly constructed huge mill of the Gould & Curry Gold & Silver Mining Company located at the intersection of Six and Seven Mile canyons about a mile below Virginia City. The Gould & Curry had struck a bonanza ore deposit in 1862-3 which vaulted the company into becoming the leading producer of gold and silver in America. A new mill was built to handle the ore, and the company was so big at the time that it employed about a third of the local work force. Louis Janin, the mine and mill superintendent, must have been happy to have one of the key assayers from the Branch Mint helping manage the company’s operations. Wiegand had been recommended by Thomas Starr King of San Francisco, the brother of James King, of William, assassinated in 1856. But Janin, a well trained mining engineer of the Freiberg School of Mines, was a tough taskmaster, and probably did not tolerate Wiegand’s antics…

Wiegand’s job with the Gould & Curry lasted only a few months. With business booming on the Comstock, Wiegand went into business for himself. At that time he must have decided to open his own assay office on the Comstock, and began preparations to relocate to Gold Hill, Nevada, just south of Virginia City.

Wiegand opened the Gold Hill Assay Office on May 14, 1865…He was financed by the Bank of California through his friend William Chapman Ralston, whom he had befriended in San Francisco. Ralston’s agent on the Comstock was William Sharon, who had full charge of all the affairs of the Bank in the Virginia City region. Sharon had tight control over Comstock mines and businesses. This control, and conflicts created by competing business interests, would soon work against Wiegand…

Wiegand’s main concern was for the plight of the small miner and businessman, many of whom were overrun by big business interests. The press, controlled in large part by the Bank of California, suggested Wiegand was crazy and some of the public bought into the idea, though those that knew him said otherwise…

In early 1870, Wiegand began publication of the Peoples Tribune, a newspaper he started to further moral issues with the public, including the exposure of fraud and scandalous activity on the Comstock.

Always the inventor, as were other members of his family, Wiegand patented a new process for slimes and tailings reduction machinery in 1874. A few years later he was involved in a new mercury and silver separation process.

In the mid to late 1870’s Wiegand taught assaying classes in Virginia City that included blowpipe analyses and mineralogy.

Wiegand hung himself on June 14, 1880 in his office. Though there were injuries to the body and blood was found in unusual places in his office, his death was ruled a suicide by the Storey County Coroner. He was suffering serious debt, though his wife felt it was under control. He also suffered fits of what he himself considered insanity, and he feared that mental condition as an ultimate fate at old age.


SAMUEL DOWLING BIO

Born in Maine in 1839, Sam Dowling was a long-term assayer on the Comstock. Before arriving to Nevada, however, he was lucky enough to survive the fire and sinking of the S.S. Golden Gate on its way from San Francisco to Panama. By 1864, Dowling had made it to the Comstock. The 1864 Collins directory lists him as a fireman for the Gould & Curry Mill, at the same time Wiegand is listed as an assayer. This could have been the first meeting of two. In 1865, Dowling was working at the Ogden Mill at the bottom of the hill below Virginia City which was owned independently by San Francisco banker W. C. Ralston, who incorporated it. The 1868/69 Nevada directory lists Dowling’s occupation as “melter,” living on High Street in Gold Hill. By 1870, he lists his occupation as “assayer” on the census.

In 1867, Dowling married a young lady, Sarah, and, by 1900, the couple had four children (Herbert, Netti, Edith and Zuma), according to census records.

Dowling had worked for several mines before settling is as the key assistant to an aging Conrad Weigand; the 1878 VC directory lists him as working with Wiegand and living in Gold Hill. Dowling took over or bought Weigand’s business shortly after Weigand death in 1880. He continued the Gold Hill Assay Office for a short time, perhaps just a year, getting contracts with several mining companies free of the politics that bogged down Weigand. Dowling sold out to Chris James late in 1880 (who eventually sold to W.S. James). However, Dowling still operated the Virginia City office for at least a few years (as evidenced by his listing in 1883/84 McKinney’s Pacific Coast Directory at this address).

It is uncertain how long Dowling stayed at the Wiegand office. The 1886/87 McKenney’s Pacific Coast Directory lists the office but not Dowling. What we can find of Dowling in newspapers and census lists is sparse over the next few decades. On June 28, 1886, he accidentally shot through his right hand, with newspapers reporting “amputation at the arm will probably be necessary.” Even with this injury, the 1900 census still lists him as an assayer (living in Virginia City). In 1892, he unsuccessfully ran for Republican Assemblyman. On June 2, 1896, he was thrown from his horse and off a bridge at the bottom of Six Mile Canyon, though his injuries were not severe. By 1910, he had moved to Carson City and was working as an assayer for the U.S. Mint, according to the census. (After closing its doors in 1893, the Carson City Mint had become the U.S. Assay Office for Gold & Silver in 1895.)

Dowling died from a stroke on July 26, 1919 in Reno and was buried in Carson City.



City: Virginia City
State: Nevada,
Date: c.1880-1883

FHWAC#: 25301

If you want to see an enlarged image, click on the thumbnail image in the lower left of the main image.
You can download a higher resolution image by clicking on the title below the enlarged image.
You can request extra images to be added by contacting HWAC at uwe@fhwac.com or by calling 775-851-1859