“Failure causes ruin and disaster” California State Quarter Coin

Today, the California State Quarter Coin remembers the San Francisco market failure of December 2, 1886.

On that day, 129 years ago, the panic caused the failure of at least 14 leading stock brokers in the area.

The Sacramento Daily Union provided insights into the activities of the day.




San Francisco, December 2d.—The 2 o’clock session of the Stock Board was looked forward to with deep anxiety by the bears and with considerable interest by the bulls.

The fact that several brokerage firms (one or two of them of considerable importance) were on the ragged edge because of being short on the market, and that others had failed for the same reason and were making desperate efforts to alleviate their disaster as much as possible, caused a very general belief that a concentrated effort would be made to break the market, especially as prices had stiffened up between the Boards.

When the session opened the Caller announced the suspension of J. Greenebaum.

A heavy raid was made by the bears, and notwithstanding the heavy buying by the bulls the prices of the more prominent stocks went down with a plunge.

Alpha dropped from $6 to $3.75, Belcher from $7.75 to $3.75, Best & Belcher broke to $19, but closed at $23, Consolidated California & Virginia closed at $41, Confidence dropped from $15 (the closing price at the first session) to $8.50 at the close of the market, Crown Point dropped from $8.50 to $4.75, Gould & Curry from $13.50 to $8.75, Ophir from $30.50 to $26, Potosi from $10.625 to $6.875, Savage from $18.75 to $15.75, Utah from $9 to $6, and Yellow Jacket from $11 to $6.50.


San Francisico, December 2d —p. m. —The excitement which prevailed today in mining shares has not been equaled since 1878.

The old stock speculators who thought the glory of the Golden State had departed with the new Constitution, braced up and looked on with amazement at the crowds that besieged the brokers’ offices.

The fact that Consolidated Virginia had reached nearly $50 served only to whet their appetites to get more, and when the more prudent ones told them that the tide was about to turn, they only laughed in their faces, and said, “No, it is good for a hundred.”

When the morning Board opened, Ophir was sent to $31.50, the highest prices reached since the big Sierra Nevada deal, when it sold for an even $100.

Gould & Curry, not to be outdone, went to $13.75, and then Con. Virginia, which closed last night at $49.50, opened at $52.

At this moment, everything boomed, and fortunes were to be had for the asking of them.

The session, however, had hardly closed when the news arrived from Virginia that the Frankels had gone for a million.

This was a staggerer, and the weak ones hauled off.

Hardly had they recovered from the blow when the announcement was made that R. C. Hooker, one of the staunchest brokers of Pine street, and son-in-law of ex-Senator Stewart, of Nevada, had pulled down his blinds with liabilities running up into the hundreds of thousands.

Had this latter announcement been quickly followed by another of an equally grave character, the result would have been a general stampede all along the line, bringing ruin to many.

Fortunately, none took place, and those who were playing for their “all” were given a few minutes’ breathing-time before the worst overtook them.


When second session opened Con. Va. dropped to $42.

The news was quickly communicated to the street, and for a second time during the day a serious panic seemed imminent.

The agony was rendered still more acute when the announcement went forth that Greenebaum & Straus had suspended for nearly a million.

They were correspondents of Frankel, of Virginia, whose failure had been announced in the morning.

When, on top of all this, it was publically stated that two other prominent speculators—R. F. Morrow and Maurice Schmidt—had gone to the wall, it was generally believed that the beginning of the end had come; and things were by no means improved when it was learned that Con. Va., after rallying a point, had closed at $40, the lowest touched during the day.

The statements that Morrow and Schmidt are embarrassed are positively denied, and, as far as can be learned, the liabilities of each have been promptly met.


San Francisco, December 2d—p. m. — The failure of Captain Win. L. Duncan, a member of the Stock Exchange, was reported late this afternoon, as a result of the failure of Greenebaum & Straus. The extent of his liabilities is not known.


Virginia City, December 2d. —Frankel & Co., the oldest stock-broking firm in Storey county, filed a petition in insolvency this morning. The liabilities foot up to $915,000; assets nominal.

The following are the names of the heaviest sufferers through the suspension: S. L. Jones, Superintendent of the Crown Point and Belcher, $205,000; General Keating, Superintendent of the Savage and Hale & Norcross, $50,000; Colonel E. D. Boyle, of the Alta, $20,000. The list includes the names of scores of miners and clerks, with a liberal sprinkling of young ladies and matrons.

  1. B. Frankel, the senior partner of the firm, retired from active business pursuits several years ago.

He is reputed to be a millionaire, and as his name still appears on the sign over the office, the creditors have a faint hope of recovering at least a portion of their losses.

The three youngest brothers, Sol., Jacob and Louis, levanted this morning on foot.

Great excitement prevails in the community over the failure, and, if the members of the firm had not slipped out, unpleasant consequences might have resulted.

The brothers are supposed to have secured an ample fortune by holding out nearly every cent of the coin deposited with them since the rise in shares began.

Their business was enormous, the receipts in a single day sometimes footing up $60,000, deposited for the purchase of mining shares.

Greenebaum & Straus were the San Francisco correspondents of the firm.


The firm has been doing business for more than twenty years, and doing one-half of the stock brokerage on the Comstock. It was considered safe and sound.

It is generally believed the cause of the failure is that the firm shorted the stock market.

The suspension has caused widespread disaster and ruin in this community.

For a time there was a general run on all the brokers, but demands were promptly met.


The California State Quarter Coin shows above a view of the financial area of Montgomery and Pine Streets, circa 1866.

California State Quarter Coin