Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Asbury Harpending and His Busy July 11, 1898 Check

As with most examples of the early use of R153, this check comes from the far west, this example from the National Bank of D. O. Mills & Company.  Darius Ogden Mills was a tycoon who built his great wealth from the Comstock Lode in Nevada, and the Virginia and Truckee Railroad built to get the silver out of Nevada to California.  He owned a self-named building in New York's financial district housing many NYSE firms.

But while the use of two R153s on a far west check and Mr. Mills' bank and his role in the US economy might be interesting, the signature on this check is from a man perhaps more intriguing than Mr. Mills or the use of the stamps.

A. Harpending signature from check

Asbury Harpending in 1915 when he was 76 years old.  

Harpending published his autobiography, The Great Diamond Hoax and Other Stirring Episodes in the Life of Asbury Harpending - An Epic of Early California, in 1917.  The stories are remarkable, including time as a mercenary "freebooter" or filibusterer in Central America, making a fortune in mining in California and Mexico, joining an 1861 attempt to create an independent Pacific Republic out of California, and backing Confederate interests during the Civil War.  His autobiography's title, The Great Diamond Hoax, speaks to his involvement in the artificial creation by seeding, of an alleged diamond mine in Wyoming in 1872. 

From the preface of his book:

On my return to California, after an absence of many years, my attention was called, for the first time, to the fact that my name had been associated unpleasantly with the great diamond fraud that startled the financial world nearly half a century ago. Plain duty to my family name and reputation compelled me to tell the whole story of that strange incident so far as my knowledge of it extends. I sincerely trust that a candid reading of these pages will satisfy the public that I was only a dupe, along with some of the most distinguished financiers of the last generation. Concerning two of the historians who maligned me, I am without redress. They are dead. The latest author, Mr. John P. Young, repeated the accusation of his predecessors in his history of San Francisco. This gentleman has admitted that he merely copied the story of the earlier works, having no personal knowledge of events at that period, and has handsomely admitted, over his signature, that he unconsciously did me an injustice.

To the diamond story I have added, at the request of friends, some of my experiences and reminiscences of California of the early days.

Asbury Harpending.

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