Monday, May 24, 2010

Philadelphia Mint

As Henri de Büren, explorer, naturalist and artist was making his way down the East Coast, he stopped for a time in Philadelphia. He considered it the most beautiful American city, and while he was there he visited the mint. In a letter home he remarks at how impressed he was by the mint's steam machinery and the speed of its production.

Philadelphia, 1852
"I was able to go to the mint, which is located in another neighborhood, and had a very interesting visit. What is especially remarkable is the beauty of the steam machines, which here replace the old system. They melt a great quantity of gold coming from California, which I saw as it is, picked by the gold diggers, and then melted into ingots with a value of six thousand dollars each. These are then beaten into strips that go through a punch which cuts the coins, and on to another machine which stamps the effigy. Each coin is worth twenty dollars and 80 coins are produced each minute."

Second Philadelphia Mint, built in 1829.

Illustration of the inner workings of the mint from 1852.

The twenty dollar coins that Henri saw being minted.

Historical Information on the $20 coin from the Numismatic Guarantee Corporation

America's largest circulating gold coin was the Double Eagle or $20 piece, born in the exciting years of the great California Gold Rush. The new mines yielded the greatest mass of gold in recorded history. Vast quantities of the yellow metal helped to speed development of the American West and had far-reaching effects on the world's coinage.

The first California gold to reach the Philadelphia Mint was dispatched by the territory's Governor, Col. R.B. Mason to Secretary of War William L. Marcy. Most of this shipment of just over 230 ounces was coined into Quarter Eagles, $2.50 pieces given an incuse stamp CAL over the eagle. This coinage was small, but it soon became obvious that the sheer mass of gold reaching the mints was going to require a much larger denomination than the quarter eagle, half eagle and eagle then authorized. North Carolina Congressman James Iver McKay, a powerful member of the House Ways and Means Committee, had already prepared legislation authorizing the smallest U.S. gold coin, the gold dollar. Acceding to the pressing need to mint gold into larger coin form, McKay was quickly persuaded to amend his bill to include another new gold coin at the opposite end of the spectrum, the Double Eagle or $20 piece. The authorizing statute was passed by Congress on March 3, 1849.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Please help save Swissinfo

Swissinfo was instrumental early on in giving my project validity and well as some much needed press. I owe them a considerable debt. is to suffer FATAL budget cuts which will prevent them from operating in the future. is the 21st century equivalent of the old "Swiss Radio International" and pro
pagates news from a neutral, Swiss perspective, in a multitude of languages.

Eliminating swissinfo altogether would be akin to silencing the voice of Switzerland. Please help to keep alive, visit the link below and sign the petition. Thank You in advance for your help.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Havana, Part 2

While reading Henri's letters I was struck by the poetry of his correspondance from Cuba. The following excerpts are from a letter to his uncle, most likely his uncle Sillem in Geneva.

Havana, 1853

Havana, 1854

Havana, December 4, 1852
"At last here I am, in a country which, through its nature, its poetry, its originality, its sky and land, its cities and its locals, its morals and its physics, is willing to reward my journey and pay me back a little for such a long and distant separation from my country. The separation from my family and friends, as well, often puts me in such a deep sense of loneliness that I need something great, beautiful and new, to give me a relief which I rarely encountered during my journey across the United States. Here I am now on this beautiful island of Cuba, and its magnificently picturesque capital."

Henri must have sent a pencil drawing along with his letter, most likely for his cousin, as the following paragraph helps give a sense for the color and vibrancy of Havana.

"Here is the drawing, if you wish to color it and turn it into a painting. Imagine the greenery and the vegetation, paint the forts in warm yellow tones that I have only seen used in the paintings of our Riviera. The city, composed of houses of all colors, blue, red, and especially white, which are well adapted to the Moorish style they all have. Color the ships ivory with white hatches and adorn them with flags of many nations. Paint all the rowboats in different colors, let them sail in all directions, with or against the wind, and load them up with oranges and other fruits. Cover the whole painting with blue skies that only exist in these latitudes, and you will indeed have one of the most beautiful spectacles that nature can offer, one that my clumsy and unskilled hand cannot describe correctly."

Finally he describes a bit of Havana nightlife.

"The Alameda, which is the most beautiful promenade in Havana, is busy every night with many volantes, mostly occupied by ladies who, I have to tell you, never go on foot, most of the time, they ride by three, the linda mina, which means the prettiest, sitting in the middle, but since they are usually all good looking, they must often be embarrassed to figure out who the most beautiful among them is."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Taking those you love with you

In honor of mother's day I thought it appropriate to post a beautiful passage from Henri's first letter home to his parents. It is important to stress that Henri was Albert and Catherine de Büren's only son, and the only person to take over the castle of Vaumarcus. It was a great act of love and faith on his parent's part to let him leave Switzerland on a journey he could have very easily not returned from. His acknowledgment of that faith and love are contained within these lines of enthusiasm, reminiscence and reassurance.

Boston, 1852
"Not a day goes by that I don’t feel countless new sensations. These are a natural result of my long and interesting voyage thus far. I will try and share some of my experiences which are all so new and exciting it is hard to remember them all. I think of you and the family often, what you are doing, what you are thinking, and how I would like you to share in my adventure. I feel that your thoughts are with me, they give me strength and confidence to participate in all the new sensations and experiences that the new world has to offer. Alas it must be said that not all of my experiences are positive. The path of a traveller is like that of life, a coin with two sides, a flower with thorns. Please be reassured however that I have not hurt myself too deeply on the thorns, and I do my best to keep my eyes on the beauty of these new flowers."

Saturday, May 1, 2010


As mentioned in previous posts, Henri de Büren took part in the 1853 expedition of German emigrants led by Damain de Schütz to populate the small amazon village of Caballococha, Peru. Almost all of the emigrants to arrive at Caballococha would eventually leave to go down river to Brazil or return to Lima.

While the settlement of Caballococha would be a failure, de Schütz was still under contract with the Peruvian government to bring more emigrants to Peru. The most important legacy of de Schütz is the town of Pozuzo, Peru. Swiss photographer Luca Zanetti made a visit to Pozuzo in 2008 and the following images are from his time there. For more images please visit his site (

83-year-old Bernardo Müller Hoffman with his nice Jesli Eliana Gonzalez Müller.

3 month old Jonathan Witting Schuler with relatives

Catalia Witting Koell

National Day Parade

Geographical isolations has been one of the guarantors of traditions

Overview of Pozuzo's History from Luca Zanetti's website
Living conditions where hard in most of Europe and 180 Tyrolese first followed the call to find a new home. Around half of the people came from the Oberinntal towns of Silz, Haming and Zams. They said goodbye to their relatives on the 16th of March 1857. At the port of Antwerp the Tyrolese met with Germans from Moseltal and Wiedtal; the number of people leaving increased to 300. On March 30th 1857 they all left on board of the British ship Norton. After 4 month at sea the immigrants suffer the first of a long series of bitter disappointments. After their arrival at the port of Huacho by Lima they learned that the trail from Cerro de Pasco in the Andes that was supposed to bring them to Pozuzo the new colony had not been build as had been promised by the contract signed by the Peruvian government.

Many unmarried craftsmen decided to leave the group and settle elsewhere in Peru. The families though had to stay together and decided to build the trail themselves under tremendous hardship. After having spend the first rain season in Acobamba they moved their makeshift camps to Santa Cruz and from there in May 1858 finally some of the men arrived to the place assigned to them on the Huancamba River. There they began clear the jungle forest, divide the land and started building small huts. It wasnt until early summer 1859 after two years with a population decimated to 165 from the original 300 that a permanent settlement the Colony of Posuzo finally began. They had arrived at their destination but they stood in the middle of the jungle far away from the settlements in the high Andes with few indigenous people in the area that where struggling themselves for survival.

Today: Pozuzo a town of 750 inhabitants also gives the name to the district in the department of Pasco. The district 140.000 Hectares between 500 to 3000 meter of altitude has around 7000 inhabitants and 58 small settlements of which around 40 can only be reached by foot or with mule, the population is about 50/50 between locals and descendants of the Austro German Colonists. Geographical isolation the 80Km road from Pozuzo to Oaxapampa was only build in 1975 is often closed for weeks during the rainy season October to April due to mud slides has condemned the region to an economy of subsistence farming. Poverty and unemployment are a feature of the region with many people leaving to search for better opportunities in the cities or abroad.
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