BrianRxm Coins on Television 6/29
Death Valley Days - Raid on the San Francisco Mint (1965)
Ronald Reagan as banker William Ralston handles gold coins
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This episode of "Death Valley Days" shows United States gold coins in bank trays and also being handled
by the program's host.
The size of the prop coins indicates that they are supposed to be twenty-dollar gold pieces or
"double eagles", the largest coins made by the San Francisco Mint.
"Death Valley Days" was a half-hour television series which was produced for local television stations
and ran from 1952 to 1970.
All of the episodes had a host who introduced the story.
The first host was the "Old Ranger" (actor Stanley Andrews) who appeared as an old west lawman.
He was followed by film actor Ronald Reagan who wore a modern business suit when introducing episodes.
Ronald Reagan also stars in this episode, "Raid on the San Francisco Mint" which was first broadcast
on March 10, 1965.
This episode is about San Francisco banker William Ralston who, in 1869, "borrowed" a million dollars in
gold coins from the nearby San Francisco Mint to show his customers that his bank was solvent.
The Ralston incident is based on a story told in bank manager Asbury Harpending's autobiography
but has not otherwise been verified.
The mint in the program is the First Mint which was located on Commercial Street in the city's
"Barbary Coast" district. It operated from 1854 to 1874 and later as a sub-treasury or storage building.
Death Valley Days
1. Title
The program's logo of a Borax twenty-mule team was present on all episodes.
Actor Ronald Reagan appears in the opulent banker's office set and introduces the program:
Death Valley Days
2. Ronald Reagan tells the story
Love drives men to desperate lengths and desperate deeds, in most cases love of a woman.
This story though records nineteen hectic hours of courtship by a colorful adventurer
on behalf of his great love San Francisco, an adventure so colorful I couldn't resist
playing him - the man, William Chapman Ralston, was head of the city's leading bank.
Late in 1869 a national depression threatened the bank and the city he adored.
To save them he improvised a wild and incredible scheme risking his fortune, his freedom,
and his future with a raid on the San Francisco Mint.
A crowd forms in front of William Ralston's Bank of California.
The bank was located at California and Sansome Streets, very close to the San Francisco Mint on
Commercial Street, a happy fact to Ralston's advantage.
Death Valley Days
3. Crowd at the bank
William Ralston appears at the bank entrance.
Death Valley Days
4. Ralston reassures the crowd
Ralston assures the crowd that he has everything under control and that the bank will re-open
the next day at 10:00am.
He then talks to his chief cashier, Maurice Dory.
Death Valley Days
5. Ralston and cashier Maurice Dory
Dory informs Ralston that they have very little money.
Ralston sends a telegram to President Grant asking for gold coins from the mint.
The bank has gold bullion but needs coins to pay customers who will not take paper money.
Asbury Harpending, the bank manager, visits Ralston in his office.
Death Valley Days
6. Harpending visits Ralston
Harpending informs Ralston that the government probably will not approve the request.
Ralston tells him that he will visit the mint superintendent and get the money, but doesn't explain how.
Death Valley Days
7. The Mint and Sub-Treasury building
The Mint is also a sub-treasury which was a storage place for government gold.
When the mint closed in 1874 the building continued to operate as a sub-treasury for several years.
General Thomas Bradley, a soldier in the Civil War, is the Superintendent of the mint.
This character is fictional but the actual superintendent of the San Francisco Mint then was
a Civil War general, Oscar Hugh La Grange.
That evening Ralston visits the mint office to see the general.
Death Valley Days
8. General Bradley in uniform
General Bradley wears three medals, but they appear to be either prop medals or more modern ones.
Ralston knows that the general is hiding his age by dyeing his hair and refusing to wear glasses in public.
He hides the general's glasses, then shows him telegram implying that it authorizes the transfer.
Ralston proceeds to start the general to drinking toasts to various prominent Americans.
After the general passes out, Ralston and bank employees visit the mint and are allowed in
by mint employees.
Death Valley Days
9. Midnight at the mint
Guards are posted to allow the men to move the coins to the bank.
Death Valley Days
10. Picking up the goods
Ralston and his assistants move the gold to the bank.
Death Valley Days
11. The gold moves to the bank
The gold coins are packed in 50-pound bags, each of which holds approximately $15,000 in coins
(valued at $20 an ounce).
The coins are most likely twenty-dollar gold pieces or "double eagles" as these were the largest
gold coins produced by the mint.
A United States $20 gold coin:
United States $20 gold coin
12. United States $20 1864-S
This coin was minted at the San Francisco Mint in 1864 and would fit the period of the program.
Mission accomplished, Ralston and the bank employees return to the bank office.
Death Valley Days
13. At the bank office
Having moved the goods, Ralston invites his employees to the bank office for a celebration.
Next morning the bank is getting ready to open at 10:00am.
Ralston and Dory are ready.
Death Valley Days
14. A surprise for the customers
The gold coins are covered by a cloth.
A crowd has formed again and are let into the bank.
One first customer arrives who was very suspicious the day before.
Death Valley Days
15. Suspicious customer arrives
The cover is removed showing the gold coins, neatly stacked.
Death Valley Days
16. The gold is here
The first customer exclaims that the money is here and he will keep his in the bank.
He and the other customers leave satisfied.
General Bradley, now sober, arrives to confront Ralston.
Death Valley Days
17. The general confronts Ralston
The general is unhappy and threatens legal action for the raid.
The host Ronald Reagan then appears at the banker's office set.
Death Valley Days
18. Ronald Reagan holds the money
The coins are prop coins as they have smooth edges while real US gold coins have milled edges.
They also appear to be the size of United States silver dollars and larger than $20 gold coins.
Death Valley Days
19. Ronald Reagan epilogue
General Bradley did have Billy Ralston arrested for his midnight raid on the United States Mint,
however President Grant realized that his brilliantly improvised scheme had saved the city from
economic disaster so the White House withdrew all charges.
Freed once again, Billy resumed making important contributions to San Francisco, among
other things he built the internationally famous Palace Hotel which still stands as a
monument to the memory of William Chapman Ralston.
Next is shown the Palace Hotel as it was in 1965.
Death Valley Days
20. The Palace Hotel
The Palace Hotel is located at Market and New Montgomery Streets.
It was damaged and then demolished after the 1906 earthquake and fire and then rebuilt.
Ronald Reagan makes a final appearance.
Death Valley Days
21. Ronald Reagan announces next episode
Next week, another true story on Death Valley Days.
Not much is left of the First Mint but a small exhibit is open under the art museum at the location.
First Mint
22. San Francisco First Mint building
Ronald Reagan as William Ralston
Judson Pratt as General Thomas Bradley
Vaughn Taylor as Asbury Harpending
John Clarke as Maurice Dory
Director: Fred Jackman
Writer: Jerry D. Lewis
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