Adams & Co. expands into banking

As Adams & Co. added to a growing express business that already delivered more gold than anyone else it moved naturally into banking as well. It established a system of assays that set the value of gold from different mining districts from fourteen dollars and fifty cents for gold on the Mariposa to nineteen dollars and fifty cents for the mines in the lower Yuba region. This was the price, less a small discount to cover expenses, which Adams & Co. was willing to pay for gold. The currency it used to pay for the gold was gold coins privately minted in San Francisco. Because of the confidence in the company, wherever it opened a new branch, the price of gold in the area rose. And, due to the lack of postal facilities, it also did a large business by carrying both letters and money not just in California but also to the east coast.

Adams Express Company

Then on January 17, 1854, because of a mistake in the returns for shipments of gold to the east there was a run on the bank in San Francisco and over four hundred thousand dollars was paid out without any indication that Adams & Co. was about to fail. When the error was explained the next day the panic ended and customers again deposited their money with the bank. Later that year the original eastern company was merged with the California operation with Daniel Haskell and Isaiah Woods as general partners and Alvin Adams as a special partner. James King of William then closed his own San Francisco bank and was retained by Adams & Co. as a cashier. Woods then succeeded Haskell as head of the express business, at that time reported to earn upwards of fifty thousand dollars a month. Adams & Co. was the financial leader in California.

Adams Express Check



  1. What an interesting series this is on Gold Rush banking! Thanks for posting the information, John!

  2. Hi there. I am just now learning about Adams and Co. after purchasing a few of what look like stamps. They are very heavy paper, a mans face on the front, and “Adams and Co’s Express” around the face. The number “25” is in the corner. They are uncut, and about 6 on the sheet. Am wondering if these are a type of paper tokens? Interesting little item. Cant seem to find much on them.

    • They could well be stamps. Adams was an express company and their California business and the banks there were separate from the rest of the company. That part of the company survived after the banks failed and shipped packages all over America, much like UPS does today. You may have something pretty special.

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