Assayer Edward Ruhling's Presentation Ingot to William Sharon, circa 1869
This important silver ingot was first illustrated in the book, The Anatomy of an Ingot (Franklin, 2012, p. 12). It is ornately engraved "Presented to William Sharon, Esq. by E. Ruhling & Co., Virginia City, Nevada." It measures 2 1/4" x 1 3/16" and weighs 4.90 troy ozs. The ingot is perfectly rectangular, with the top and bottom corner edges beveled at the edges. It is blank on the reverse, highly polished throughout, indicative of its importance at the time.
This unique and significant silver ingot was made by Edward Ruhling and engraved by Nye & Co. of Virginia City in 1869, for William Sharon, the Infamous King of the Comstock and commensurate with the creation of the silver spike for the Central Pacific Railroad and the silver hammer for the Virginia & Truckee Railroad. (See biography of William Sharon by Michael J. Makley, 2006)
Edward Ruhling Background
Friedrich Wilhelm Eduard Ruhling was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1832 and arrived at San Francisco in 1850. Little is known about his early life in California which, like so many other pioneers, may have been spent in the goldfields.
Ruhling may have been assayer for the prestigious assay firm Wass, Molitor & Co., a well-known pioneer gold coiner, which later evolved into Wass, Uznay & Co, in 1856. It is documented that he was working at the California Metallurgical Works owned by Wass, Uznay & Warwick by 1858. Ruhling probably worked with and perhaps was trained by the famed assayer and metallurgist, Guido Kustel who was employed during the same period by this firm. By 1859 he was an experienced assayer with Harris, Marchand & Co. in Sacramento, one of the companies represented in the SS Central America gold ingot discovery. While working for Harris, Ruhling was among the first to report (October 1859) on the richness of the Comstock ore, analyzing specimens of "Washoe silver ore" assaying some $4000 per ton.
Grass Valley assayer Melville Atwood was the first to report on the Comstock high grade silver and gold ore on June 27th, 1859. Nevada City assayer J.J. Ott became the second a few days later. Ruhling, at Harris's Sacramento branch assay office, became the third assayer to report on the rich ore helping set off the great rush to the Comstock silver and gold deposits. Ruhling quickly left Harris to set up his own assay office in Virginia City in mid-1860 with Joseph Trench. Harvey Harris soon followed his former employee, Ruhling to the Comstock and eventually set up three assay offices in Nevada Territory.
The western assay business involved a variety of precious metals trading transactions. Dore, the melted product of the reduction of ores at a mill, mainly a mixture of gold and silver, was brought to the assayer for valuation. He, in turn, would pay the client in gold coin, return new ingots to the client, or ship the dore to a bank, smelter, or Branch Mint per the owners instructions. Being involved in converting ingots to cash, essentially a banking function, the western assayer was at the center of commerce during these early days. Entering the banking business was a logical next step for Ruhling.
With his partner H. V. S. McCullough, he established one of the early Comstock banks in 1862 associated with their assaying business. Over time, Ruhling expanded his business interests setting up branch assay offices in Gold Hill and Hamilton, Nevada. In 1871 he sold out to his partner McCullough and returned to San Francisco working as an assayer and joined the Assay Department at the San Francisco Mint by 1878. Ruhling died in San Francisco at the age of 66 in 1898.
Ruhling on the Comstock
As one of the pioneer assay firms on the Comstock, Ruhling quickly took control of a significant portion of the assay business after he opened his office at Virginia City in 1860. When the Bank of California opened their doors in that location with William Sharon at the helm in 1864, the bank required precise information on the mining interests to which they were loaning money. Ruhling was the "go-to" assayer for Sharon, keeping him abreast of the values of the mines and production, allowing him to make informed decisions on high risk ventures. Over the years, the two became close friends, according to several sources.
Sharon had envisioned a railroad link from the Comstock to the Carson River ore mills, ultimately connecting with the Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR) at Reno. The Virginia & Truckee Railroad (V&T RR) became the main artery from the Comstock to the mills and the CPRR, with Sharon leading the venture. Sharon and William Ralston (Bank of California president) controlled the mills through their privately owned Union Mill and Mining Co. When the first link of the V&T RR to the Carson River mills was completed in November, 1869, a special silver hammer was made for driving the last spike: "At Nye & Co.'s jewelry store, Virginia, this morning, we saw the hammer being finished there with which the last spike of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad is to be driven, in about ten days from now when the final celebration will take place. This hammer is of solid silver bullion, weighing 43 ounces, cast by Ruhling & Co., they furnishing the bullion, in which each mine on the Comstock is represented. It was forged by Haskins & Co., blacksmiths, and is being polished off and appropriately engraved by Nye & Co." (Gold Hill News 11/13/1869) Thus the Ruhling & Co., Sharon and Bank of California enterprises were closely woven, forming a unique bond. By 1871 Sharon and Ralston controlled most of the mines and mills on the Comstock making them the two most powerful financial figures in the West.
This ingot, most likely was engraved by the same Nye & Co. Jewelers as the Ruhling silver hammer, has been in the same family collection for more than 50 years. Other important Sharon personal artifacts left the family over time, including his personal gold quartz engraved walking cane now at the Bank of California Museum in San Francisco, and the Sharon document archive, now thoroughly distributed, which included deeds, checks and other documents.
Dating the Ingot
The Ruhling-Sharon ingot probably dates to the 1869 period, at a time when Ruhling also made the ceremonial silver hammer for the opening of the V & T RR and the silver spike for the CPRR. Ruhling was asked to produce the silver spike for the CPRR completion presentation at Promontory Point, Utah taking place on May 10, 1869. The "Nevada silver spike" was made at the request of Nevada Railroad Commissioner Fred A. Tritle, containing 25 ounces of silver. It assayed 942 fine silver and 050 fine gold. A leftover piece was given to the editor of the Territorial Enterprise, Mr. Goodman, the man who hired the famous Sam Clemens (aka Mark Twain) to write for that paper, etching his name in history. Another piece was given to Alf Doten, Editor of the Gold Hill News, who wrote in his Journal on May 7: "After I got back from the Hill I went to Ruhling & Cos office, Virginia, B Street, & got a little piece of the "last spike"--the silver spike of Nevada, that finishes the great railroad-- the spike was made at Virginia City and sent to the front yesterday --the spike was 4 or 5 inches too long - & this was part of what was cut off -- got about a half ounce of it-- David Sampson, the young assayer at Wiegand's assay office gave me a small, brick of silver bullion this PM, worth about $6." The Nevada Silver Spike today is owned by the Museum of the City of New York (see Tents of the Golden Spike, by our friend Bob Spude.) The Virginia & Truckee Railroad silver hammer was given by the Yerington family to the Mackay Museum in Reno in 1929. Its whereabouts today is unknown.
Sharon gave two important speeches in Virginia City and Gold Hill in early October, 1869 pressing the importance of the new railroad. On November 12, as the railroad neared final completion, he and Senator Jones made speeches of the upcoming successes for miners with the completion of the Railroad. That day, he wrote in his journal: "Gold Hill -- 1PM the track layers finished the railroad to Crown Point Ravine, & at 5PM in presence of big crowd the two construction trains passed over the big trestle bridge -- brass band playing on first locomotive --flags flying everywhere --big gun at Ft Homestead firing, whistles all blowing, people cheering, and hell of a noise generally-- After both trains passed over, speeches were made by JP Jones and Sharon and lots of cheers were given for RR & its successful projectors and all the most prominent persons connected with it-- Then there was a huge lot of champagne, lager, etc. drank" This would have been the time that Ruhling presented the ingot to Sharon in recognition of his great feat, the completion of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad.
This choice presentation ingot was made by Edward Ruhling, an assayer at two of the great California gold rush assay firms and a key Nevada assayer, for presentation to one of the West's most powerful men upon completion of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad. This is the first public appearance at auction for this very significant Ruhling-Sharon ingot. Virginia City, NV