Exploring the Nevada State Museum Reno

On List of Best Things in Reno

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View of Nevada State Museum Reno from the street.

The Nevada State Museum Reno is considered a top family-friendly place to visit. The museum features the rich natural and cultural heritage of the Silver State.  It's located in the heart of historic Carson City, about 32 miles south of Reno, near the California border. It is a well-organized museum, with rich collections, definitely worth a visit.

About Carson City, Nevada

Carson City saw a boom when the Comstock Lode silver strike took place in 1859. The major silver discovery was made by the Grosh Brothers but named for the American miner Henry Comstock. It sparked the area’s silver rush, only ten years after the California gold rush.

Silver mining camps sprung up all over, including nearby Virginia City and Gold Hill. The mines declined after 1874, while some underground mining continued until the 1920s.
Carson City is named after the frontiersman Kit Carson and is the capital of Nevada and has been since 1864. Carson City served as the hub for the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, parts of which are restored and run today.

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Carson City U.S. Mint Building

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U.S. Mint Underground Mine.

Visitors can make their way to the former Carson City Mint building, where coins were minted from 1870 to 1893. The impressive sandstone Mint building in Renaissance Revival style was completed in 1869. The Mint was established in Carson City to be close to the precious metal mines and mills on the Comstock Lode and other mining districts of the state. There is a historic weapons gallery and a realistic mine you can tour and learn about the area’s silver mining history.

Also on exhibit is a silver service set that was on the legendary U.S.S. Nevada battleship (BB-36). The beautiful, ornate tableware was fashioned from 5,000 ounces (417 pounds troy weight) of silver from the Tonopah mines (known as the Queen of silver camps). It is lined with gold from Goldfield - the boomtown, where gold was discovered in 1902. The silver service was presented to the U.S.S. Nevada at her commissioning in March 1916 and includes a 15-gallon punch bowl, fashioned by Gorham and Company in 1915.

Minting at Carson City U.S. Mint

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Nevada State Museum historical marker.

When visitors enter the Nevada State Museum Reno, they encounter the still-in-operation Coin Press No. 1 and a complete set of coins minted in Carson City. This Coin Press No.1 was manufactured by Morgan & Orr in Philadelphia. When it arrived at the Carson City Mint in 1869, a large number “1” was painted on the top of the press since it was the first press at that locality. The first coin was struck in 1870 and was a Liberty Seated dollar, bearing the distinguishing “CC” mintmark, which appeared on all subsequent 57 issues of gold and silver coins the Mint coined.

The press itself had a complex journey. After the Carson City Mint stopped minting in 1893, the presses were removed and sent to the Philadelphia Mint. Coin Press No.1 was later sent to the San Francisco Mint. It was purchased by the state of Nevada and returned to Carson City in 1958, only to be moved again to Denver, until its final return to the Carson City Museum in 1967 (Carson City Mint’s Press No. 1, Nevada State Museum pamphlet).

The coin press operates on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with demonstrations of coin minting. Visitors can purchase a planchet (coin blank) in the Museum Store and have it minted just for them. Planchets are one-half ounce of .999 fine silver.

Other Exhibits at Nevada State Museum Reno

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Nevada State Museum fossil horse.

Other parts of the museum hold additional permanent exhibits, including Nevada: A People and Place Through Time which walks visitors through a timeline of Nevada’s history. The Under One Sky exhibit shares artifacts and stories about Nevada’s original people. In the Changing Gallery, the exhibit Our Nevada Stories shares Nevada’s state symbols, minerals and special items from the textiles collection. Another exhibit, Fueling the Boom: Chinese Woodcutters in the Great Basin 1970-1920, tells the story of the Chinese woodcutters who cut down piñon (or pinyon) trees to supply charcoal and firewood to the mining camps of Aurora and Bodie from 1875 to 1915.

In the permanent exhibit Nevada’s Changing Earth, Nevada’s geologic history from 1,750 million years ago to 40 million years ago is told. More than 300 rock specimens, including a large smoky quartz crystal, native copper, silver and gold, original illustrations and field photographs tell the story. The fossil exhibit includes horn coral, ammonites, petrified and opalized wood and replicas of a fossil horse. A large Imperial mammoth found in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert has been reconstructed to show how he died in a mud-glazed water hole.

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Nevada State fossil, Ichthyosaur.

Also, a replica of the State Fossil, the Ichthyosaur, is exhibited on a wall. The approximately 55-feet-long original fossil (genus Shonisaurus) was discovered in Berlin, Nevada, east of Gabbs, Nevada. It is the only complete skeleton of this extinct marine reptile.

The Nevada State Museum Reno is located at 600 North Street in Carson City, catty-corner from the Carson Nugget Casino. From Reno, take I-580 South, to Carson City. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $8, free for children under 17.

This story about the Nevada State Museum Reno by Helen Serras-Herman appeared in the August 2021 issue of Rock and Gem magazine. Click here to subscribe!