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Precious Metal

March 2023
1min read


The heroic statue of James Marshall had only to be set in place, in 1890, on a hilltop overlooking California’s Coloma Valley, and his finger would be pointing to the riverbed where the pioneer first spotted the glint of yellow metal that ignited the gold rush. Here, Marshall’s effigy, made of a less than precious alloy of lead, tin, and zinc, awaits its journey in front of the foundry that cast it. Frederick J. Simonelli, who uncovered this photo while dipping into the company’s archives, reports the following: “The people pictured are members of the Mainzer family, who came to the United States from France and Germany during the Franco-Prussian War. By the mid-1870s they were widely recognized in the United States as master craftsmen in the statuary and decorative arts. Their foundry was a family operation, with wives, children, and in-laws sharing their pride in the finished product. After they moved to San Francisco in the late 188Os, they secured commissions for most of the city’s civic and religious landmarks.” Some of the Mainzers’ best pieces—the statue that crowned the new San Francisco City Hall, for instance—were (along with City Hall) lost in the 1906 earthquake, but the business still thrives, now as the East Bay Brass Foundry, and the statue of Marshall that brought the workers such pride lives on at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, pointing eternally to the place where it all began.

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