My mother, Phyllis, was one of the first female blackjack dealers in the state of Nevada. She and her sister, Clare, worked for Harolds Club in Reno in the early 1940’s. General Manager, Raymond “Pappy” Smith was the first Nevada casino owner to hire women blackjack dealers to work in the clubs. His reasoning was that if casinos hired female dealers, more GI’s from the Reno Army Airbase would be attracted to the clubs.
In those days, casinos used composition chips as much as they do today. However, they also used the common medium of exchange in Nevada at that time, the silver dollar, for many of their table games. Winnings were paid out in silver dollars and tips and even wages were sometimes paid that way.
When I started school in Sparks, hot lunch for the week was 20 cents per day or one dollar for the whole week. Every Monday, Mom, being a blackjack dealer, would give me one silver dollar for my weekly lunch. I soon noticed that in addition to the Peace Dollars minted from 1921 through 1935, many were the much older Morgan dollars minted off and on from 1878 through 1904 and again in 1921.
I was fascinated that so many of the silver dollars given to me for lunch money were made back in the 1800’s. One day, I noticed to my surprise that one of the silver dollars she gave me was a Carson City silver dollar dated 1890. I went all week without lunch and kept the old silver dollar. I can honestly say I still have the first dollar I ever saved.
Later in my illustrious career, I worked on our family farm on Glendale Road in Sparks, weeding onions and working in the potato fields. My uncle, Chester, was the bookkeeper and paymaster for the farm/ranch. At that time, wages for farm laborers was fifty cents per hour. At the end of each workday, boys I went to school with and I, along with other laborers, were paid for our work. Uncle Chester stood at the edge of the field with a cowboy hat full of silver dollars. As each worker passed by, he gave each one of us five silver dollars for the ten hours of work.
Now, before you think we were getting ripped off back in those days, you should consider this amazing fact. If I was paid those same five silver dollars today, each one would be worth approximately twenty dollars. This means the wages for one day of work would now be $100. I could almost live on that.
In 1999, my crew and I uncovered the amazing stash of coin dies that had been buried in the ground at the old Carson City Mint building, now the Nevada State Museum. Over 500 of the rusty dies were recovered and many of them that have been cleaned are now on display at the Museum. I honestly believe that were it not for my fascination for silver dollars, the buried coin dies would not have been noticed.
If you visit the Nevada State Museum, you can see the original coin press No.1 that was used to mint many of the Carson City coins and also the amazing collection of one of each of nearly all the Carson City gold and silver coins ever made. On the cover of my book, Chronicles of the Comstock, are color photos of several of my Carson City silver dollars, including the unusual Trade Dollars that were coined at the Carson City Branch Mint. The book has many stories about the Comstock era and and the historic old mint.
In a future article, I will tell about the hoard of silver dollars found in the basement of millionaire Lavere Redfield after his death in Reno in 1974.
This article is by Dayton Author and Historian, Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at denniscassinelli.com.