Mary E. Hart and M. E. Hart’s Coins of the Golden West By William D. Hyder

While conducting research on Jules Charbneau with Jeff Shevlin, I found myself sidetracked by the identity of M. E. Hart of the M. E. Hart Company of San Francisco. Jeff and I had confirmed that Charbneau designed and sold the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition small gold medals included in Hart’s set usually referred to as the “Coins of the Golden West.” Without explicitly stating that the 10K native gold pieces were coins, they were marked as meeting the demand for original $1/4, $1/2, and $1 coins made from native gold, all of which were considered rare. A quick search of San Francisco business directories proved to be of little help, although they did point to a Morton E. Hart, an audiologist located down the block from the 560 Powell St. address and several Mary E. Harts in and around San Francisco.

Almost by chance, one search for Mary E. Hart returned a newspaper article about a Mary E. Hart in southern California working with California’s delegation to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Intrigued, my casual search in the midst of another research project became an obsession and I quickly learned that she became editor of a women’s literary magazine published in San Francisco and then sold her interest to journey to Alaska near the end of the Klondike gold rush. Mining for gold in Alaska does not make one a token manufacturer, but it seemed too convenient a coincidence to dismiss.

Mary E. Gibson was born in 1856 and married Frank H. Hart in Moniteau, Missouri on September 17, 1879. The couple was one of two Frank and Mary Harts married in Missouri that year and it makes tracing her history difficult at times. Mary E. Hart proves to be a common name and one must be careful to track the right woman through history. Mary related her own story in a presentation to the Missouri Women’s Press Association in May 1914. She started writing poetry while living on her parents’ farm and was hooked on writing when her first poem was published at age eleven. On May 8, 1890, the Los Angeles Times reported that Mrs. Mary E. Hart had become owner of The Pacific Monthly, an infant magazine aimed at publishing quality literary pieces mostly written by women.
As secretary of the Southern California Academy of Sciences, Hart agreed to organize ethnographic collections for the California Pavilion after infighting among the California delegation threatened to derail planned exhibits. Her work in Chicago brought her organizational and management abilities to the attention of others, yet I can find no evidence that she participated in the 1894 Midwinter Fair in San Francisco. Perhaps her magazine or other publication efforts diverted her attention. The few mentions I find all place her in the Los Angeles area active in the Pacific Coast Women’s Press Association, although there are mentions of her having a home near Santa Rosa.

Near the end of 1899, Mary E. Hart travelled to Alaska to write on behalf of a newspaper. After arriving in Nome when it was still a cluster of tents, in her own words she “got out on the beach and shoveled sand into a ‘long Tom’ rocker with the rest of the prospectors.” Working alongside the men, Mary in time became an owner in the Jupiter-Mars mine, the Cheauyemere mine, and the Lone Star mine among others. She established a home in Nome and founded the Alaska Academy of Sciences and the Nome Women’s Club. She made her fortune as a businesswoman, but learning was her primary passion. She reported that women used their club in Alaska to keep up to date by studying literature, languages, the habits of people, zoology, botany, and each other’s gowns.

While pursuing her mining interests in Alaska, Hart still had time to address the Southern California Federation of Women’s Clubs in April 1900. Hart, corresponding secretary of the Pacific Coast Woman’s Press Association of San Francisco opened the session with an address titled, “The California Business Woman.” She noted the opportunities for businesswomen in America in general and in California to be specific. In addition to positions in journalism, libraries, nursing, and teaching, Hart noted the prevalence of women as physicians, in farming and science, and a growing number of women in mining syndicates.

Mary’s interest in the sciences and promoting Alaska led the Interior Department’s governor of the District of Alaska to ask her to organize and serve as the manager of Alaska’s exhibits at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. One of the goals was to show the country that Alaska was more than a mining district. The territory developed its agricultural and stock-raising potential, while Hart was intent on showcasing the native peoples. Despite her varied interests, her personal collection of native Alaskan gold nuggets won a gold medal.

Although Governor Brady and Mary E. Hart had not met prior to the exposition, her reputation was certainly known to him. By 1904, she was travelling regularly between her homes in Alaska and the San Francisco Bay Area, her former home in Los Angeles, with layovers at her brother-in-law’s home in Tacoma, Washington. With her interest in the gold industry and her personal collection of Alaskan nuggets, I suspect she and Farran Zerbe made one another’s acquaintance in St. Louis. His “Pennsylvania Gold” tokens sold to promote sales of the U.S. commemorative gold dollars would have attracted her attention, although he may have be drawn to her Alaskan gold exhibit.

Hart continued her travels between San Francisco and Alaska over the next few years and served as a travel lecturer on the Pacific Coast Steamship Company’s steamer, Spokane. The 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition drew her back to Washington State. She served as the Alaska Women’s Commissioner to the exposition, organizing Alaskan exhibits for the exposition. While Mary E. Hart’s story is interesting in its own right, her participation in the A.Y.P.E. links her to Jules Charbneau and his 1909 Alaska gold pieces.

Jules Charbneau settled in Seattle in 1904 after marrying the daughter of J. E. Standley, owner of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop on the Colman Dock. Standley sold Native American and Eskimo artifacts along with a variety of odd and curious souvenirs. Those disembarking from ships arriving in Seattle could not miss the shop and it would be a surprise if Mary did not stop in on her transits between San Francisco and Nome. Her brother-in-law, Louis F. Hart, was a successful lawyer in Tacoma and later was elected the state’s Lieutenant Governor and later Governor. In 1909, most of the prominent men in the greater Seattle area knew one another. Even if her brother-in-law did not introduce her to Standley, she and Standley worked together in mounting the exhibits in the Alaska Building. Both prepared exhibits of Alaskan ivory arts, in addition to Hart’s efforts to tell the story of women in Alaska.

Just up the street from Ye Olde Curiosity Shop was the headquarters of Joseph Mayer and Brothers Jewelers. Mayer and Brothers were active buyers of Alaskan gold and producers of Alaskan gold jewelry. They held the commission for selling the official medals produced by the U.S. Mint at the exposition and they made the Alaska gold tokens for Jules Charbneau. Hart would have been familiar with Charbneau’s gold pieces if only through her friendship with his father-in-law. Given that Hart and Standley’s collecting interests overlapped in Alaskan artifacts and the fame of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, I find it hard to believe that Mary E. Hart would pass through the Seattle port on numerous trips and never once meet Charbneau at the popular store.

Farran Zerbe sold small gold tokens in 1904 in St. Louis as mentioned above and again in 1905 in Portland also to promote U.S. commemorative gold dollars. He also sold an unofficial medal featuring Lewis and Clark that was produced by Mayer and Brothers in 1905. He visited Seattle at the end of the Lewis and Clark Exposition. Since he had a business relationship distributing Mayer and Brothers medals, it seems likely that he also visited the Curiosity Shop and did business with Charbneau and Standley. In 1909, Zerbe complained in an article in The Numismatist that the Alaskan Gold tokens were being marketed at coins, but he praised their quality as being equal to the small gold pieces he produced for St. Louis and Portland.

Hart’s business investments in Alaska expanded in the next few years and she invested in a fur farm run by Native Alaskans. She founded the Alaska Cruise Club with membership limited to those participating in an Alaskan cruise with her on the Pacific Coast Steamship Company’s steamer, Spokane. Mrs. L. W. Moore, mother of C. C. Moore, President of the Panama-Pacific Exposition Company was a charter member. In a 1913 address in Los Angeles, Hart declared that Dawson was dead now that the great mining operations had arrived. Her interests had turned to new old discoveries in the area around Juneau and Ketchikan now that the corporate dredgers had “practically destroyed Bonanza Creek” and their company stores had driven out the individual miners.
Although Hart had her country home in Corte Madera, she maintained a residential apartment on Union Square in San Francisco and the Alaska Cruise Club met at the same hotel. The building had been demolished and a new hotel was under construction in 1915 during the Panama Pacific International Exposition. The address listed for M.E. Hart in 1915 is 560 Powell St., an apartment complex one block off Union Square and mailing address for several businesses selling souvenirs in 1915.
Hart managed the Pacific Coast Steamship Company’s Alaska exhibit in the Transportation Building at the PPIE and she organized events such as a Woman’s Day during the exposition. Given her many and varied business interests, I find marketing gold tokens within the range of possible business interests. The inclusion of Charbneau’s AYPE gold pieces suggests some relationship between M. E. Hart and Charbneau. I have demonstrated that Mary E. Hart certainly knew Charbneau and was familiar with his gold tokens. She must have known Joseph Mayer as well from her work in Seattle.
The question remains, who made the pieces included in the “Coins of the Golden West?” Jeff Shevlin and I have documented that Mayer and Brothers produced the AYPE tokens for Charbneau and they were active buyers of Native gold and produce Native gold jewelry. The Austin Seward photograph collection housed at the Museum of History & Industry, Sophie Frye Bass Library in Seattle, includes a draft page for a product catalog being produced in the early 1920s. Along with bevels for all sizes of U.S. gold coins, the draft page lists a bevel for Mayer’s own line of gold dollar sized souvenirs. While not absolute proof that Mayer made the gold pieces, it is certainly suggestive that they made more than the tokens for Charbneau.
Several sets of the “Coins of the Golden West” were sold in frames made by Shreve & Co. in San Francisco that closely match the frames Zerbe used for the Panama-Pacific commemorative coin sets. Zerbe purchased the remaining commemorative gold dollars at the end of the PPIE rather than return them to the mint and M.E. Hart marketed the dollars in 1916. Zerbe also had a prior marketing relationship with Joseph Mayer at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition. While Jules Charbneau had moved into the insurance industry at the time of the PPIE, it would not be a stretch to see Mayer, Zerbe, and Hart team up to market the gold souvenirs.
Why do we not hear of M. E. Hart Company after 1916? Did the business not prove profitable? While that is a possibility, we also know that Mary E. Hart developed a terminal illness at some point after the last 1916 mention of the M.S. Hart Company. On March 9, 1921, Mary locked the doors to her room in the house of a friend in Los Angeles, stopped the cracks in the doors and windows, and turned on the gas lamps without lighting them. Her obituary reported that she feared a pending serious operation made necessary by her illness.
Mrs. Mary E. Hart, Alaska gold miner, editor, and lecturer; First Lady of the Arctic; and the best-known woman of the Northwest proclaimed her dictionary. In addition to her involvement in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the 1904 St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition, the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, and the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, she marketed Eskimo native art and artifacts, furs, and promoted cruises for the Pacific Coast Steamship Company. That she either ran or lent her name to a business marketing gold souvenirs in 1915-16 seems well within reason. But, I have not yet found the fabled “smoking gun” and Mary’s story must remain a likely possibility. I invite readers to help confirm or disprove that M. E. Hart and Mary E. Hart are one and the same.

—, “175 Miles of Wire to Carry Speech,” University Missourian, May 19, 1914.

—, “How Women Writers Started Their Work,” University Missourian, May 25, 1914.

—, “Magazines,” Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1890, p. 4.

—, “Mrs. Mary E. Hart, President Woman’s Club in Alaska, Tells of What is Being Done in That Far Off Land.” San Francisco Chronicle, January 7, 1904, p. 14.

—, “Relates Her Experiences in Far North,” The San Francisco Call, January 8, 1904, p. 11.

—, “’Sourdoughs’ At a Tea in Honor of One From Alaska,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 26, 1914, p. 17.

—, “Steamer Spokane Has a Weird Trip,” The San Francisco Call, July 14, 1912, p. 46.

—, “The Man on the Wall,” The Bricklayer, Mason and Plasterer, 19(10):211, 1916.

—, “Woman Leader of the Arctic,” Los Angles Times, May 11, 1913, p. II.

—, “Woman Pioneer of Alaska Dies,” Los Angeles Times, March 10, 1921, p. 115.

—, “Women’s Clubs,” Los Angeles Times, April 18, 1900, p. 112.

Shevlin, Jeff, and William D. Hyder, Discover the World of Charbneau So-Called Dollars: An Illustrated Reference. So-Called Books, Carmichael, CA. 2011.

Shevlin, Jeff, and William D. Hyder, “Jules Charbneau’s 1909 AYPE Gold Dollars,” The Numismatist, 126(1):38-41, January 2013.

Zerbe, Farran, “’Coins’ That Are Not Coins,” The Numismatist, 22(5):147, May 1909.


Click here for the M.E. Hart Set for sale in the 2013 April Treasures & Tribes Auction


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