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83. Del Norte County. Bret Harte Signed Mining Stock83. Del Norte County. Bret Harte Signed Mining Stock, Alta No. 2 Copper Mining Company, Del Norte County, CA 22-Sep 1863

Frank Bret Harte as Secretary and S.A. Parker as President. There are two vignettes:  the state seal at top center and a group of deer at left. It is uncancelled, datelined San Francisco, and has Del Norte County printed beneath masthead. Printed on light pink paper, with black print. Printers-Towne & Bacon. There is a revenue stamp at top left corner, which is initialed by Bret Harte.

Francis Bret Harte was born on August 25th, 1836 in Albany, New York and was the son of a teacher by the name of Henry Harte and his wife Elizabeth Ostrander. Francis was in poor health as a child and turned to literature as a source of solace. After his father’s death in 1853, the family moved to Oakland and his mother remarried. Francis worked as a teacher and also worked in mining for a while, but his passion was writing and he became a journalist in 1860, when the Gunther's Island Massacre occurred. He barely escaped safely after writing a story in a fit of editorial rage and the locals ran him out of town. Francis then moved to San Francisco and started working as a typesetter for “The Golden Era” journal. It is then he began signing his works as ‘Bret’ or the ‘Bohemian’.

The following quote comes from an article on the internet referencing the Diaries of Count Cipriani: “Members of the emperor’s family were said to be Freemasons. I suspect Dillon was a Mason, as was Bret Harte, the Californian writer and poet . . .  Bret Harte described himself as a Bohemian, and wrote the ‘Bohemian Papers'. He is one of alleged founders of the Bohemian Club of San Francisco that evolved into the most exclusive private club in the world where the powerful and rich come to meet once a year and renew their secret bond in a wild three-day celebration. Some say these revelers are the Illuminati. I must say I agree . . . Bret Harte was also the patron of William C. Ralston who became a millionaire partner in the Anaconda mine, striking it rich in the gold and silver mines of the West. Harte was a frequent guest at Ralston's palatial home . . . I am sure these two men were friends. Ralston was the founder of the Bank of California and the builder of the Palace Hotel.”  This is an interesting summary of his life at the time because reportedly Bret Harte made very little money at the journal, and therefore accepted the position of Superintendent’s Secretary of the United States Mint. In 1862, the same year, he married Anna Griswold who would go on to mother his four children.

Bret Harte soon broadened his literary reach to “The Californian,” (1867) where the bulk of his work was based on life in the California mining camps, a genre he soon mastered.  In that same year he became editor of “The Overland Monthly,” a literary journal where his story “The Luck of Roaring Camp” brought him fame and accolades. On March 3rd, 1871, Mark Twain referred to Harte as "the most celebrated man in America today . . . the man whose name is on every single tongue from one end of the continent to the other" (Fischer and Frank, 1995:338).

Flushed with new found success, Harte left California early in February 1871 and headed east to Boston, the literary capital of New England (Merwin, 1967:219). Twain reported that: " . . . his journey east to Boston was a perfect torch light procession of éclat & homage. All the cities are fussing about which shall secure him for a citizen." (Fischer and Frank, 1995:338). When Harte reached New York on the 20th of February en route to Boston (where he arrived on 25 February 1871), even the New York Tribune acclaimed ". . . the fame of Bret Harte, . . . [who] has so brilliantly shot to the zenith as to render any comments on his poems a superfluous tasks" (quoted in Merwin, 1967:222). In Boston he became well acquainted with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as well as others in the writing profession.  In the early 1870’s he contracted with the “Atlantic Monthly” to submit a year’s worth of articles, and received a huge advance of $10,000. At the end of that time, however, his publisher William Dean Howells was not pleased and the readers were losing interest, so Bret Harte moved on, returning to his native New York to write freelance. Neither his novel Gabriel Conroy in 1876, nor his collaboration with Mark Twain on the play “Ah Sin” in 1878 were financial successes. In fact, C.D. Merriman writes: “He and Twain quarreled bitterly amid rumors of his belligerence, spendthrift habits, drinking, and womanizing which would haunt him for years to come.”

Francis went on to be appointed United States Consul, in 1878, in Crefeld, Germany, then Glasgow, Scotland until 1885. Though finances were better they still did not allow enough income to support his wife and children to move and join him in Europe. After his service he spent most days in London. Francis Bret Harte died on May 5th, 1902 of throat cancer in Camberly at the Van De Velde estate. He lies in St. Peter's Churchyard, Frimley, England. “Death Shall Reap the Braver Harvest” appears on his gravestone. [Biography by C.D. Merriman, for Jalic, Inc., 2006.] 

While Bret Harte was a huge figure in the literary community during the mining booms of the west, and worked for the U.S. Branch Mint as Secretary to the Mining Superintendent, his position as Secretary of the Alta No. 2 Copper Mining Company was previously unknown, and this is the first mining stock certificate we have seen with his signature.  Copper was noted by early published mineral discussions in California, particularly by State Geologist, J. B. Trask from 1851-1854. These discussions resulted in hundreds of prospectors looking for copper around the state. Some of the largest early copper discoveries were in Calaveras County and other nearby counties all surrounding “Copperopolis.” In 1866 J. Ross Browne noted the 13 most important copper districts that had been discovered up to that point in the western states. Among these was the Alta in Del Norte County. The Alta district was located in what was known as “The Low Divide” which was a plateau on a ridge between the Illinois River in Oregon and the Pacific Ocean, according to Browne in 1867. In the center of the district the town of Altaville was established, 15 miles northeast of Crescent City. Much is written on the district in Browne’s 1867 Resources of the States and Territories West of the Rocky Mountains; pp 153 to 155. This stock is Extremely Rare due to the fact that is bears the signature of Francis Bret Harte and the condition is Extremely Fine. $7,500.

© 2013. Donald Kagin. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Neil S. Berman is an expert numismatist and a dealer in rare coins and currency. His business is located in Westchester County NY.  For professional advice about most collectables contact Neil. Comments and questions are welcome.


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