By Mary Ann Clements

Summary: It’s likely that Theodore Turley did help with making replacement dies for minting gold coins in Utah in the summer of 1850. This included a revised design for the $5 gold coin.

Many of us descendants of Theodore Turley grew up hearing a family myth about Theodore Turley minting coins in his native England.1 Although Theodore was trained in metalworking, there’s no evidence that he participated in coinmaking prior to his immigration to North America.2 A family story about Theodore Turley making dies for coins in the Utah Territory, however, appears to have merit.

Theodore was apprenticed as a “stamper, piercer, and toolmaker” in England. He worked in the northeastern Gun Quarter of Birmingham, so-named because of the extensive weapons manufacturing in the area.3 Based on his activities later in Nauvoo, it’s likely that Theodore became familiar with making parts for weapons during his apprenticeship.4 We know that he was trained in fine metalwork and had experience working with various types of metals.5

In 1971, Theodore Turley’s grandson, Joseph Ingersoll “Soll” Turley wrote a letter to the Theodore Turley Family Organization sharing many family stories he’d heard firsthand from older relatives. One of these stories concerned Theodore’s involvement in coinmaking after he arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. Soll made a curious statement about Theodore Turley making dies for the $5 gold coin that was minted in the Utah territory following the 1849 California gold rush.

I also brought Lawrence an issue of “Family Circle” magazine in 1942 when it published an article on the history of the coinage of gold going back to over 500 yrs. B.C. and they had a picture of the five-dollar gold piece coined by the church after the Calif. Gold Rush, for which Theodore Turley made the dies, with the beehive on one side and clasped hands of brotherhood on the other, and stamped with the letters G.S.L.P.G. (Great Salt Lake Pure Gold) at least one of which I have been told is in the museum at Salt Lake City.

1971 letter from Joseph Soll Turley to Descendants of Theodore Turley.

When members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints migrated west in the late 1840s, they faced a severe shortage of currency, both paper money and coinage. Eventually, members of the Mormon Battalion began bringing gold dust to the Salt Lake Valley from California, and church leaders decided to mint their own gold coins. The manufacture of this “Valley Coin” began in late 1848, while Theodore Turley and his family were still residing in Kanesville, Iowa.

As I looked into publications about the Deseret Mint, I didn’t see anything mentioning Theodore’s name.

  • “Brigham Young, John Taylor, and John Kay drew designs and inscriptions… for the $2½, $5, $10, and $20 gold coins.”
  • “Robert Campbell engraved the first stamps for the coins.”
  • “Alfred B. Lambson forged the dies…, punches…, and tools and collars.”
  • Martin H. Peck forged a drop hammer.
  • “John Kay engraved the dies and minted the coins.”
  • “William Clayton and Thomas Bullock served together as accountant and weigher.”
  • “Brigham Young, assisted by Dr. Willard Richards, oversaw the entire mint operation.”6

The first coins were minted in December 1848, but the crucibles used for melting the gold all broke shortly thereafter. New crucibles arrived in September 1849, and production of coins began in earnest at the mint, an adobe structure just east of temple square. Theodore Turley and his family members entered the Salt Lake Valley a month later, at the end of October 1849.7

So, Soll Turley must’ve been wrong about Theodore being involved in making dies for the $5 gold coin, right?

Well, one piece of evidence proved Theodore spent at least some time at the mint during the brief period he lived in Salt Lake. Theodore Turley got married at the Deseret Mint on 18 June 1850 to Ruth Jane Giles. Like, it literally says the word “mint” in the official sealing record. The record also noted that Brigham Young was the officiator, and the two witnesses were Willard Richards and Thomas Bullock. As indicated in the list above, all three men were associated with work at the Deseret Mint.8

What’s more, Brigham Young ordered new dies to be made for the gold coins in both March 1850 and July 1850. On 15 March Thomas Bullock recorded in the Church Historian’s journal, “B[righam] Y[oung] called in morning & gave orders about new dies.”9 On 9 July, Bullock recorded, “Prest. Young calls & assists J[ohn] K[ay] to stamp some 5 pieces, & gives orders about new dies, &c.”10

Bullock recorded in the historian’s journal that John Kay worked on the new dies several times over that summer.11 From that journal, you’d never suspect that any other metalworkers were involved in the creation of the new dies. The Deseret Mint account book, however, tells a different story. Theodore Turley is mentioned three times in those pages. Notably, the 2 July 1850 entry states that John Kay paid Theodore Turley “for dies.”12 The only other individual associated with the new dies in the account book is Joseph L. Heywood, who provided steel for the dies in March 1850.13

Account book for the Deseret Mint showing payment to Theodore Turley “for dies.” Full image available online at the Church History Library catalog.
  • 2 July 1850: “[John Kay] to Turley for dies” – $10 (image)
  • 2 August 1850: “John Kay for T. Turley” – $7 (image)
  • 7 October 1850: “John Kay to pay T. Turley (settle)” – $32.50 (image)

It’s clear that John Kay spent a lot of time himself working on the dies, but apparently Theodore Turley helped as well. Theodore’s training in stamping/piercing and toolmaking made him an expert creating and working with dies, and he likely assisted with the engravings. The new dies for the $5 gold coin had a couple changes from the original 1849 design (see below), which may explain why Theodore’s kids specifically recalled him working on that version. The designs for the $2½, $10, and $20 coins were unchanged.

Why would John Kay choose Theodore Turley to work on the dies rather than another blacksmith in the Salt Lake Valley? Convenience was likely a factor. John Kay resided next to Theodore Turley on South Temple Street, on the block between Fourth East and Fifth East.14

Residents of Block 62 in Plat B circa 1850. Note that John Kay and Theodore Turley had adjoining lots.

John Kay’s children recalled that their father would take the gold bars from the mint and bring them to his home on South Temple and Fourth East for safekeeping every night. His daughters “amused themselves [in the] evenings building little log cabins” with the gold bars.15 It seems likely that the two British metalworkers would have had neighborly chats about how the coining operations were coming along, and Kay likely requested some of Theodore’s assistance with the new dies.

FAMILY STORY VERIFIED!

Original $5 Gold Coin Design (1849)

1849 $5 Mormon (Regular Strike), PCGS AU58. Image from Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS.com).

Revised $5 Gold Coin Design (1850)

1850 $5 Mormon (Regular Strike), PCGS AU58. Image from Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS.com).

Resources about Utah gold coins and the Deseret Mint:

  • **Great color photos of the coins AND dies** Douglas A. Nyholm, Mormon Currency: 1837-1937 , 2nd ed. (n.p.: self-published, 2015), 114-132, Archive.org.
  • Donald H. Kagin, Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States (New York: Arco Publishing, Inc., 1981), 182-191, Archive.org.
  • Glenn N. Rowe, “Mormon Money,” Ensign (March 1979).
  • Robert L. Foster, “Self-Reliant Mormons Started Deseret Mint, ‘The Money Mill,'” HistoryNet, 20 Sep. 2018. Originally published in the December 2007 issue of Wild West.
  • Maria Young Dougall, “The Beehive Coinage of Deseret,” The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 2 (Jan. 1911): 35-38, Google Books.
  • Leonard J. Arrington, “Coin and Currency in Early Utah,” Utah Historical Quarterly 20, no. 1 (1952), Issuu.com.
  • Alvin E. Rust, Mormon and Utah Coin and Currency (Salt Lake City, Utah: Rust Rare Coin Co., Inc., 1984) – PHYSICAL BOOK ONLY.
Did Theodore Turley Make Dies for Gold Coins in Utah?
  1. See Fact vs. Fiction. This story apparently derived from the reminiscences of family member Ernest Turley, who was a source for Ella Mae Turley Judd’s biography of Theodore Turley in the red book.
  2. Fun fact: Although British coins were primarily minted in London, there was a private mint in the northwestern Birmingham metropolitan area. The Soho Manufactory, located in Handsworth, produced copper coins for England, silver coins for some of the British colonies, trade tokens, and medals. It was the first steam-powered coining facility.
  3. The shop of Theodore’s master, James Parkes, was located on St. Mary’s Row by the now-demolished St. Mary’s Chapel on Whittall Street. For more information on Birmingham’s Gun Quarter, see the Gun Quarter Wikipedia article.
  4. At a March 1845 meeting of the Council of Fifty, Theodore Turley was assigned to”go to work and make fifteen shooters and Bowie Knives.” Matthew J. Grow, Ronald K. Esplin, Mark Ashhurst-McGee, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Jeffrey D. Mahas, vol. eds., Council of Fifty minutes, March 1844-January 1846 (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church Historian’s Press, 2016), 346.
  5. Theodore’s master, James Parkes, likely came from a family who made gilt toys, though he was well known in the mid-to-late nineteenth century for manufacturing compasses and microscopes. When Theodore Turley moved to Canada, he advertised a variety of metalworking services in the local newspaper.
  6. Alvin E. Rust, Mormon and Utah Coin and Currency (Salt Lake City, Utah: Rust Rare Coin Co., Inc., 1984), 38-39.
  7. Related blog post: “In the Valley of the Great Salt Lake.”
  8. Nauvoo and sealing record “A”, 1846-1857, p. 773-774, sealing and marriage entry for Theodore Turley and Ruth Jane Giles, FHL 183374. Related blog post: “In the Valley of the Great Salt Lake.”
  9. Historical Department office journal, 1844-2012; Volume 13, 1849 November 11-1850 April 5; Church History Library, https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets/6a97bd34-762a-412a-b9ac-be58bf804d00/0/39, accessed March 2022.
  10. Historical Department office journal, 1844-2012; Volume 14, 1850 April 29-1851 November 30; Church History Library, https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets/bc04fe2c-dc46-4e7d-8bfe-ab1120057348/0/28, accessed March 2022.
  11. See entries for 30 May–7 June, 2 July-3 July, and 26 August 1850. Historical Department office journal, 1844-2012; Volume 14, 1850 April 29-1851 November 30; Church History Library, https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets/bc04fe2c-dc46-4e7d-8bfe-ab1120057348/0/16, accessed March 2022.
  12. Brigham Young office files, 1832-1878 (bulk 1844-1877); Gold Dust Accounts (Church Mint), 1848-1851; Account book, 1849 October-1851 July; Church History Library, https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets/3293c342-fea4-46ec-b94d-357bcb1c6053/0/29, accessed March 2022.
  13. Brigham Young office files, 1832-1878 (bulk 1844-1877); Gold Dust Accounts (Church Mint), 1848-1851; Account book, 1849 October-1851 July; Church History Library, https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets/3293c342-fea4-46ec-b94d-357bcb1c6053/0/19, accessed March 2022.
  14. Salt Lake (Utah : County); Recorder’s Office. Salt Lake (County) Recorder’s Office land records, circa 1847-1860 , https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/record/a405d340-e541-4fb8-aeac-44b16ece337d/f863a92a-4f96-4713-9e17-f5ed1076d82e?view=summary. Related blog post: “In the Valley of the Great Salt Lake.”
  15. Maria Young Dougall, “The Beehive Coinage of Deseret,” The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 2 (Jan. 1911): 37.

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