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    Description

    An Important Tiffany & Co. Silver Teapot Made with Silver from the Comstock Lode, New York City, circa 1865
    Marks: (double Gothic M), TIFFANY & CO, 550 BROADWAY, GOULD & CURRY SILVER MINE, QUALITY 925-1000, 1000, 759
    5-1/2 h x 9-1/2 w x 6 d inches (14.0 x 24.1 x 15.2 cm)
    25.79 troy ounces

    Examples of silver marked with the mine of the silver's origin are extremely rare and, excluding the Mackay service, only a handful of wares produced directly from the Comstock Lode are known to exist. This important and historic sterling teapot personifies both the fortunes made and lost in the mountains of Nevada and the characters which enlivened the American West.

    Perhaps no series of events shaped the American West more than the discovery of gold and silver. The California Gold Rush began in January 1848, and prospectors poured into the United States western territories by the thousands hoping to strike it rich. Gold was discovered in the mountains near Virginia City, Nevada in 1850, but the discovery of rich silver ore in 1859 catapulted the region to prosperity. During the first six years of the Comstock Lode mining operations, an estimated $50,000,000 was harvested from the region's claims (a figure exceeding over $1,000,000,000 today.)

    The Gould & Curry silver mine was located in Virginia City, Nevada and was the second richest mine in the Comstock Lode. Alva Gould was a placer miner in California during the 1850s, and moved to Nevada in 1858 to prospect in the territory. He discovered silver on the grounds of the future mine on January 6, 1859 between the Best & Belcher and Savage mines, about two miles northeast of Virginia City. Abraham "Abe" Curry owned a nearby claim and soon joined Gould in partnership. Gould sold his interests shortly after the discovery to Curry, who in turn sold his shares of the mine to a twelve-party San Francisco cooperative which included George Hearst (1820-1891), successful California prospector and patriarch of the Hearst family[1].

    Hearst built the company's headquarters around 1860 and industrialized the site, employing over 225 men at the height of its productivity[2]. In keeping with the swift-moving and volatile mining atmosphere in the 19th century, the Gould & Curry mill was described as "the most conspicuous monument of inexperience and extravagance ever erected in a mining district[i]" costing nearly $900,000 to build by the end of 1863. The extensive complex included refining and smelting facilities, grand offices, and landscaped gardens with sculpture.

    The mine became famous in pop culture after it was referenced in Mark Twain's novel Roughing It: "The Gould & Curry claim comprised 1200 feet, and it all belonged originally to two men whose name it bears. Mr. Curry owned two-thirds of it -- and he said that he sold it out for twenty-five hundred dollars in cash, and an old plug horse that ate up his market value in hay and barley in 17 days by the watch. And he said that Gould sold out for a pair of second-hand government blankets and a bottle of whiskey that killed nine men in three hours, and that an unoffending stranger that smelt the cork was disabled for life. Four years afterward the mine thus disposed of was worth on the San Francisco market seven million six hundred thousand dollars in gold coin."

    The opulence and relative scale of the mine reflected its high output. The discovery of the "D Street" tunnel of the mine in 1862 discharged the largest and richest body of ore found on the Comstock up to that time, and in just a two-year span, the operation yielded $11,500,000 in precious metals (comprising 4/5 silver and 1/5 gold.) Gould & Curry stock paid substantial dividends, having its first payout at $24/ft in December 1862, skyrocketing to $150/ft by June 1863[ii]. Speculation of mining interests was generally unregulated, and the mine's peak stock price reached a staggering $6,300/ft[iii][3]. For miners like Sumner C. Bagley, Gould & Curry also symbolized opportunity: "The best paying ledges in (t)his country is the Gould & Curry - Spanish - Savage Ophir - and a host about like the Ophir."[iv] Hearst continued to invest profits from his mining interests and formed Hearst, Haggin, Tevis & Co, the largest private mining firm in the United States[4].

    The abundant silver supply allowed creativity and innovation to flourish beyond the remote mountains of Nevada for those who dealt in the silver medium. The United States Mint opened a branch in Carson City, Nevada in 1870 and began producing silver and gold coinage including the iconic "Morgan" dollar[5]. Companies like Tiffany & Co., Gorham, and Whiting were able to produce some of America's greatest silverwares over the ensuing decades as bullion became plentiful. Mining magnate John Mackay moved into the Gould & Curry headquarters after a fire in 1875, and the building was subsequently known as the "Mackay Mansion." Mackay later commissioned Tiffany and Company to produce the grandest silver table service Tiffany would ever create, also using silver directly mined from the Comstock Lode[6]. The bonanza period for all mines in the Comstock Lode ended by 1880. Other minor ventures would continue to operate on various Comstock properties, mostly smelting poor quality trailings. The total production of the Gould & Curry Mine amounted to $15,600,000 (a figure equating to over $312,000,000 today.)


    [1] Curry would later serve as the superintendent of the U.S. Mint at Carson City and sold the land to the U.S. government upon which the Mint was built. Mine owners, not wishing to enrich Curry by selling ore to the Mint, and the region's railroad owners enacted a high tariff which made transporting silver bullion to San Francisco, hundreds of miles away, cheaper than the 15-mile average journey to Carson City.

    [2] Mark Twain related in his novel Roughing It, that the population may have been closer to 500 miners, though he may have been referencing the aggregate mining population of all Comstock Lode operations.

    [3] The volatility of silver mines in the region was largely criticized as the results of market manipulation by the San Francisco stock exchanges, much as it had during the Gold Rush.

    [4] Hearst subsequently bought the LeCompton, Merrimac, Ophir, and Potosi Mines in Nevada. With profits from those operations, he bought the Ontario Mine in Utah, the Homestake Gold Mine in South Dakota (America's most productive gold mine), the San Luis Mine in Mexico, and the Anaconda Copper Mine in Montana.

    [5] Most of the silver mined from the Comstock Lode was transported by rail to San Francisco, the financial center of the West Coast. The relatively small Mint operation at Carson City, short window of operation, and limited output, has resulted in high values of 19th century coinage from that branch today.

    [6] The service became known as the "Mackay Service" and consisted of over 1,250 pieces. The service was made from half a ton of silver from the Comstock Lode, and Tiffany employed 200 men over a two-year span to complete the set. It was exhibited at the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle before being delivered to the Mackay's Paris address, 9 Rue de Tilsitt near the Arc de Triomphe.


    [i] Eliot Lord, 124-25; Grant H. Smith, 85; "Mill Reduction and Works of the Gould & Curry Company," Sacramento Union, 14, Nov. 1862, Vol. 4, reprinting the Virginia City Union

    [ii] Mining and Scientific Press: "Mining Stock Report," Dec. 20-29, 1862; "The Mining Share Market," June 29, 1863, no. 4; "Cost and Result of Silver Mining," Virginia City Union, Jan. 14, 1864, Vol 1

    [iii] Mark Twain, Roughing It, American Publishing Company, Hartford Connecticut, 1872, p. 396-397

    [iv] Sumner C. Bagley, letter to his brother Alfred, January 11, 1864


    Condition Report*: Engraved Mary Annie Earl and Mary Earl to opposing sides, pin dent to lid from contact with handle, few scratches, age-related cracking to insulators, presenting well with wear commensurate with age and use.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

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    Auction Dates
    April, 2018
    25th Wednesday
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