Mystery of the Lesher dollars
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  1. #1
    Gypsyheart~ Queen of Rust

    Nov 2005
    304 times

    Mystery of the Lesher dollars

    Gazett - Colorado Springs

    Mystery of the Lesher dollars

    November 21, 2008 - 10:26 PM

    It's no secret that Victor and Cripple Creek
    produced millions in gold from mines dug on
    the back side of Pikes Peak.

    Starting with Bob Womack's discovery in Poverty
    Gulch in 1890, the Cripple Creek district
    exploded into a world-famous mining camp. Even
    today, mining goes on in Victor - using a
    cyanide drip to extract gold. But some say there
    is another fortune to be had. Silver.

    Not buried raw metal awaiting prospectors with
    picks and shovels.

    Silver, as in hundreds of coins minted in
    1900-01, distributed mostly in Victor and said
    by some to be missing ever since. Coins, known
    as Lesher dollars, which could be worth hundreds
    of thousands to the lucky person who discovers
    the stash. And it may be as easy to find as
    looking in an old coffee can or shoe box.

    Treasure hunter W.C. Jameson wrote about the
    stash in his book, "Colorado Treasure Tales."

    Parts of Jameson's theory are easily proved.
    Other parts, well, it depends on who you
    believe. Here's what is known.

    Pioneer miner Joseph Lesher, a native of Ohio,
    came to Colorado after the Civil War and mined
    around Georgetown, Leadville and in the San
    Juan Mountains, according to histories written
    by coin experts Farran Zerbe and Adna Wilde.
    Eventually, Lesher owned a silver mine near
    Central City, but he saw his business suffer
    when the federal government demonetized silver
    in 1873 and caused a crisis in the silver industry.

    Lesher followed the rush to Cripple Creek after
    Womack's discovery of gold in 1890, and he amassed
    wealth by investing in real estate.

    Lesher remained an advocate of silver and,
    though its value had crashed, he decided to
    try to spark interest in it by launching
    production in 1900 of his own silver coins,
    which became known as Lesher dollars.

    Lesher called his coins "referendum souvenir"
    medals and gave them eight sides to distinguish
    them from round U.S. currency. Since legal
    coins were scarce in the mountain West, merchants
    were glad to have any sort of valuable token
    customers could trade. So several in Victor
    agreed to accept them as money.

    But Lesher dollars were not legal, and his
    initial 100 coins caught the attention of federal
    authorities, who deemed them counterfeit and
    confiscated his dies.

    Lesher redesigned his tokens after consulting
    with the U.S. Attorney's office to avoid further
    legal trouble. On the new version, he stamped
    the name of A.B. Bumstead, a Victor grocer who
    agreed to redeem them for merchandise.

    In the next months, Lesher produced five types
    of "dollars" in 12 varieties with the names of
    grocers, jewelers and liquor stores in Victor,
    Cripple Creek, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Salida,
    Denver and Grand Junction, and even a merchant
    in Holdrege, Neb. He also produced one unique
    coin that he submitted for a trademark.

    Lesher told Zerbe in 1914, in an interview at
    his Victor home, that his Denver mint produced
    3,500 of the octagonal pieces, each made of an
    ounce of pure silver.

    To encourage merchants to buy them and accept
    them in lieu of U.S. currency, Lesher backed
    his $1 tokens by offering to redeem them for
    $1.25. Adding the names of businesses was a
    way to convince people of their value.

    But Lesher told Zerbe he lost interest in his
    silver scheme and quit production in 1901.
    A century later, experts such as Wilde could
    account for only about 1,800 of the silver
    coins. Before he died on Nov. 16, Wilde said
    his decades of research and collecting of
    Lesher dollars led him to believe Lesher
    exaggerated when he claimed he produced
    3,500 coins.

    "I can't confirm anywhere near that," Wilde
    said, noting that fewer than 500 have been

    But Jameson, the fortune hunter, says he
    believes Lesher was telling the truth.
    In fact, he believes hundreds of Lesher
    dollars, each worth anywhere from $1,300
    to $50,000, are out there, waiting to be

    In his book, which describes lost treasures
    throughout the Rockies, Jameson says Lesher's
    silver coins were hoarded by Victor
    businessman Zach Hutton.

    "Hutton did not quite understand the purpose
    and the intended temporary nature of the coins,"
    Jameson wrote in his book. "Hutton believed
    the Lesher dollars were actually produced by
    the United States government and he perceived
    them as real money."

    Jameson said Hutton kept the coins in two
    large coffee cans. "By the end of 1901, Hutton
    completely filled the cans with the dollars,"
    Jameson wrote. "Concerned someone might want
    to steal his collection of Lesher dollars,
    estimated to be several hundred by now, Hutton
    hid them someplace on his property."In
    January 1902, Hutton died of pneumonia.

    Jameson and his looters ransacked Hutton's
    business and home in Victor in search of the
    stash. They pulled up floorboards and ripped
    open the walls hunting for the coins.

    They were never found.

    In an interview from his Texas home, Jameson
    said he came upon journal notes and a diary
    that described Hutton and his stash of
    Lesher dollars.

    "I lived in Woodland Park about six years, and
    I spent time around Victor working on that
    story," he said. "I chased down some things,
    looking for historical connections,
    interviewing people. I was in possession of that
    story a good long time before I wrote it."
    Wilde said he'd never heard of Hutton or the
    stash in the coffee cans as Jameson described.
    Another coin expert with his own impressive
    collection of Lesher dollars said it's possible
    there are hidden coins awaiting discovery.
    "There definitely is a discrepancy between the
    number Lesher said he made and the number that
    have been verified," said Chris Marchase,
    president of Colorado Tokens Co. of Denver.

    Marchase is the grandson of former Colorado
    Springs mayor William "Bill" Henderson, who
    also founded Pikes Peak National Bank and was
    a key player in bringing the Air Force Academy
    and the American Numismatic Association
    headquarters to the Springs.

    After the ANA moved here, Henderson became
    interested in coins and amassed perhaps the
    most complete collection of Lesher dollars
    anywhere. He had 20 of the 21 varieties,
    including the one-of-a-kind trademark coin
    that Marchase said is worth perhaps $50,000.

    Marchase inherited his love of coins - and
    the Lesher collection - from his grandfather
    and has researched the topic. He took his
    closely guarded collection and visited Wilde
    in a Springs hospital just days before Wilde's
    death to talk about the coins and their history.

    "Experts like Farran Zerbe and Adna believe
    there were only 1,800," Marchase said. "But
    I don't dismiss the possibility there are
    more. It's feasible."

    One reason Marchase said he believes there
    are more floating around is because a new
    type of Lesher dollar was discovered in

    "It was in a shoe box," Marchase said.
    "There was a $10 silver dollar in the box
    and a Lesher piece worth $15,000." Marchase
    said most experts say they believe the
    missing Lesher dollars were melted down for
    their silver or were never stamped to
    begin with.

    But Marchase said some experts say they
    believe Lesher dollars might be discovered
    in places outside Victor. He notes a 1903
    advertisement that encouraged people to
    use the "famous Victor referendum silver
    dollars" and listed five "exclusive agents"
    who would exchange them for merchandise
    or cash.

    The list included agents C.W. Thomas of
    Florence, D.W. Klein of Pueblo, Boyd Park
    of Denver, J.W. Slusher of Cripple Creek
    and Sam Cohen of Victor.

    "Who knows what is out there?" Marchase
    said. "Personally, I believe there is a
    hoard in Florence. There is evidence that
    Lesher sent 100 to C.W. Thomas in Florence.
    They are probably scattered all around the
    state and in Nebraska, where Lesher
    had supporters."

    As for Jameson's story about Hutton and
    his coffee can stash of hundreds of coins,
    Marchase is skeptical. "Theoretically, it
    could be out there," Marchase said.
    "Collectors are always waiting for them to
    be found. But when they are, it's usually
    in groups of 10 to 15. Not hundreds. It's
    possible, but not likely. Who knows?
    contact the writer: 636-0193
    I go a great distance,while some are considering whether they will start today or tomorrow

  2. #2
    Oct 2008
    Colorado Springs
    3 times

    Re: Mystery of the Lesher dollars

    I have been in this store and actually held these in my hands. Every once in awhile he has some for sale.
    "Draw me not without reason, Sheath me not without honor"

         ~Found on old Spanish sword made by sword maker     Gallegos~

  3. #3
    May 2010
    8 times

    Re: Mystery of the Lesher dollars

    Quote Originally Posted by Native1858

    I have been in this store and actually held these in my hands. Every once in awhile he has some for sale.
    I know Ken hallenbeck myself, and I knew Bill Henderson, and Bill Henderson borrowed some of my rare Colorado Trade tokens, to take to Denver, so that his nephew (who was writing a book on the Colo Trade Tokens) could make photos of them for his new trade token book. And Bill Henderson left me one of the Lesher dollars as collateral. He told me it was okay to make a rubber mold of it, and I did, and I kicked out one copy of the Lesher, but have since sold it. I still have a bunch of wax models from the rubber mold. Intended to make some more copies, but have not gotten around to it yet.

    And I have a very very good guess, where Joe Lesher hid those Lesher dollars, as he was pretty mad at the federal boys who seized his Lesher dies...
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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