In January, 1999 Cassinelli Construction Co. was employed by Nevada State Public Works Department to remove a portion of Carolyn Street at the Nevada State Museum to construct a parking lot and build a small park facing Carson Street. It was during excavation for this project that my company and I discovered over 900 coin dies from the Carson Mint buried on the site.
After the coin die discovery, the Museum staff made a daily routine of coming out to see what relics we may have dug up during the day. We were constantly digging up old tools, V&T railroad spikes and other artifacts on the construction site at the former United States Branch Mint. I felt I knew the museum people well enough by that time that I decided to play a harmless little prank on them. Well, I thought it would be harmless, but as it turned out, a lot of people got mighty upset with me and my sick sense of humor
Our company always had a large ingot of lead solder lying around the shop of our business in Moundhouse. It did have the shape of a bar of silver bullion. I got the bright idea that it might be funny if I made the lead bar look like a silver bar from the old Carson City Mint and left it half-buried at the construction site. I knew it would not be long before some of the museum staff would make the discovery.
I used a set of lettering dies to stamp a message on the lead bar for the museum staff. In large letters across the middle of the bar, I stamped “U.S. MINT—CARSON CITY, NEV., 1876.” In smaller letters in one corner of the bar, I stamped “TO NSM STAFF, CASSINELLI CONSTRUCTION 1-1999.” To make things more interesting, I stamped the last message in reverse. It read “9991-1 NOITCURTSNOC ILLENISSAC, FFATS MSN OT.” I then stained the bar to make it look tarnished and threw it into a pile of muddy soil at the construction site for some unsuspecting artifact hunter to “discover.”
Sure enough, just before quitting time on a Friday afternoon, a maintenance worker at the facility came out to see if we had dug up anything interesting during the day. Almost instantly, he spotted the bar and pulled it up from the pile of mud and dirt.
“Hey, what do you suppose this is?” he asked.
“Gosh, I don’t know. It looks like a silver bar to me,” I said.
“No,” he replied. “It’s probably just a bar of lead.”
With that, I thought the prank was over. It appeared the worker was not fooled at all by my well-planned surprise. When we arrived back to work after a three-day stormy weekend, there were several cars from the Nevada Historical Society, State Public Works, The Historic Preservation Office and other agencies parked at the museum. Judy Hendrix, acting director of the museum at the time, sent word to me that the prank had just been discovered and that many people were very upset. A written reprimand soon followed.
It seemed that the phony silver bar had fooled nearly everyone who looked at it. Because I had found the coin dies in the same location, and everyone thought that was a tremendous discovery, they were especially gullible for another major find. The museum staff was so convinced the bar was a genuine silver bar that they called the United States Mint offices in Washington, D.C. and in San Francisco to help them break the mysterious coded message stamped on the bar.
Geophysics companies were contacted to determine if other treasures were still buried on the site. The Mackey School of Mines at the University of Nevada, Reno performed a spectrographic analysis to determine the composition of the bar. Experts from the State Historic Preservation Office and the Nevada Historical Society were contacted to assist with the investigation of this “major find.” The State Public Works Office was contacted to see if it could shut the construction project down until an in-depth archaeological study could be completed.
All of these things caused the professional staff members at the museum considerable embarrassment when the prank was finally discovered. Many professional feathers got ruffled, some feelings of anger surfaced and everyone involved was embarrassed because so many other people were contacted before the thing was found to be phony.
It was Cindy Sutherland who finally wrote the message down and decided to read it backwards. Despite the ruffled feathers and the hurt feelings of some of the staff, I was privately told by some of them that this was the funniest thing that ever happened at the museum.
By the time the project was completed, most of the people involved had forgiven me. However, I’m sure they’ll never forget the incident. I continue to be a volunteer at the museum to make amends for the prank.