Monday, November 07, 2005

The lost spike has been found!!!

From: "Walter Gray"

David Hewes (1822-1915), a prominent San Francisco land developer and brother-in-law of Leland Stanford, is the man who gave the Gold Spike that was used at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869, to mark the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. The mold and casting of the spike(s) was done in 1869 by William T. Garratt, brass and bell founder of San Francisco, who then turned them over to Schulz, Fischer & Mohrig for finishing. The original Schulz et al invoice of May 4th, 1869, survives at Stanford University. It itemizes "Finishing 2 Gold Spikes, Engraving 381 letters at 4 Cts," and "1 Velvet Box." Most scholars have assumed that "Finishing 2 Gold Spikes" was the Gold Spike and the attached large surplus gold that filled the gate of the mold, known as the "sprue." Now we know that there were actually two Gold Spikes!

The first Gold Spike was engraved with 381 letters and the projected completion date of May 8th, 1869. E. P. Durant's UP train was delayed and the ceremony at Promontory did not occur until May 10th. The "sprue" was made afterwards into keepsake rings and small spikes and several of these still survive. Returned to the donor, the Gold Spike was presented to Stanford University in 1892 by David Hewes along with his considerable art collection.

The Stanford Gold Spike, or an inferior brass replica created for security reasons, have been displayed in the Stanford Art Museum for decades. CSRM has borrowed the original gold and Nevada silver spikes on many occasions since 1981, most recently for the September 9th-11th opening of the Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park.

The second Gold Spike was similarly engraved after the Promontory event. It bears subtle differences: the name "Central Pacific Railroad" in place of "The Pacific Railroad" and the actual completion date of May 10th, 1869. Five detailed photographs of this spike, with the sprue still attached, are on page 250 of a privately printed history of the Hewes Family edited by Eben Putnam and published in 1913. The Hewes Family and descendants have quietly held the second or "lost" Gold Spike for 136 years.

In April 2005, a brother and sister, fifth generation descendants of David Hewes, concluded to place the Hewes Family spike and other items on consignment with a Southern California dealer. CSRM began discussions, research and intense negotiations in May. This past week, Stephen Drew and Kyle Wyatt authenticated the spike on-site, consummated the purchase, and transported the Gold Spike to CSRM.

Kudos are due colleague Bill Withuhn, Curator of Transportation at the Smithsonian Institution, who alerted Museum Director Cathy Taylor that the spike was available. The purchase was made from the Museum's Opportunity Acquisition Fund managed by the Museum Foundation.

The spike and sprue measure 9-1/2 inches in length. The artifact weighs 444.5 grams which equates to 14.2 ounces. The spike is 17-6/10 carat gold, alloyed with copper.