Because many love gold and many love Mormon history, Chuck Larson said he decided to mint a replica of a rare $10 Mormon coin from 1849.
And he learned much of what he knows about making replica coins from perhaps Utah's most famous replicator - Mark Hofmann, the infamous forger of historical LDS Church documents.
But Larson doesn't hide the fact that his coins are replicas, and he makes the coins to provide people with a taste of history that all can afford.
"Mormon gold coins are so rare and so valuable that only very wealthy people can own them," Larson said.
Brigham Young designed the original coin, which bears the words, "Holiness to the Lord" and the symbol of liberty, a floppy beret. On the reverse side are clasped hands.
The original 1849 coins were the first to be generated from California gold dust. Because dust was difficult to handle, most people liked to convert it to a coin. Most used the coins to purchase items from the East. When the coins reached banks, they were sent to the U.S. Mint to be melted.
Larson's replica coins look authentic but only weigh about half as much because they are made of copper, not gold. Still, he says they are a high-quality heirloom that are part of LDS Church history.
"There's a lot of history just dripping from them," said Larson, an Orem historian. "I touch one of them, and it is like a catalyst to transport you historically."
Larson's interest in minting the coins basically comes from his former work as a block sergeant at the Utah State Prison and from research he's done for a book he's writing on forgery.
From 1986 until 1988, Larson was the block sergeant for Hofmann, the forger of LDS Church documents who is serving time for killing those who could have exposed his scheme. Larson had many long talks with Hofmann.
"We talked about forgery, Mormon history and things like that," he said. "I showed him a little bit of the research I was doing into numismatic forgery at the time and he told me it was a shame we didn't know each other on the street."
Larson is even using one of Hofmann's original forgery tools to create his replica Mormon coins. The electroplating machine Larson plates his coins with is the same one Hofmann used as a teenager to forge U.S. coins that were mismint-marked. Larson received the machine as a gift a few months ago from Brian Rust, son of Alvin Rust, who Hofmann sold many misminted coins to.
Larson is minting the Mormon coin replicas for America's Freedom Festival at Provo, using machinery he constructed by hand to mirror tools early Utahns used.
"We make everything here, you can't get any of it at Kmart," he said.
Through research, he learned to create replicas of the tools early Utahns used to mint coins.
"I could go and make a perfect replica of a Mormon coin of 1849 and if I did not learn anything from it, then all I would have is a good replica," he said. "Now I have a good replica and better historical insight into what those people had to do to meet that challenge than anybody who has not done this."
Now an agent for the Utah Office of Recovery Services, Larson has spent the past six months building his minting tools. He has constructed a pedestal, die holders, a 16-foot-long gravity hammer, a planchet cutting machine, gravers, punches and stamps.
"I've been working on those darn things, splitting my fingers and bleeding, virtually every minute that I have not been doing anything else, ever since last February."
Larson will exhibit his coins and tools at the Heritage Park portion of Picnic in the Park on Friday and Saturday at Orem City Center Park, 300 E. Center. The event, designed to show the lifestyles of those who lived during the Colonial and Revolutionary periods, begins each day at 10 a.m. and is free to the public. Larson's coins will be available for purchase for $15.
Events on tap at Provo Freedom Festival
Through July 5 - Self-guided Historic Provo Tour; brochures available at the Provo City Library, Provo City Utilities, Historic County Courthouse and Chamber of Commerce.
Through July 5 - Patriotic Art Exhibit open all day at the Harris Fine Arts Center at BYU; admission is free.
July 2 - Children's parade at 7 p.m.; route begins at Provo Memorial Park.
July 3-4 - Balloon festival launches at 6:30 and 7 a.m. at the Freedom Field; tickets required for breakfast.
July 2-4 - Arts Festival on Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Utah County Complex.
July 3 - Interfaith Prayer Breakfast at 9 a.m. in the Provo Tabernacle; breakfast begins at 7:30 a.m. at Tabernacle Park.
July 3 - Freedom Awards gala at 6:30 p.m. in the BYU Wilkinson Center Ballroom, $30 a person.
July 3 - Volleyball tournament at 7:15 a.m. (check-in time) at Scera Park in Orem, entry fee.
July 3 - Fireworks in the Park at dusk at the Orem City Center Park, free.
July 3 and 4 - Picnic in the Park from 11 a.m. to dusk on Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Orem City Center Park, free.
July 3-4 - Heritage Park Living Exhibit from 11 a.m. to dusk on Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday at Orem City Center Park, free.
July 4 - Freedom run at 7 a.m. at Timpview High School for the 10K, at Provo's Kiwanis Park for the 5K and at the Provo Tabernacle for the one-mile run, entry fee.
July 4 - Grand Parade at 9 a.m., route begins at 960 N. University Ave.
July 4 - Stadium of Fire at 8:15 p.m. in Cougar Stadium featuring Huey Lewis and the News, the Flying Elvi sky divers and fireworks show, $24, $20, $15, or $10 a person.
For more information on all Freedom Festival events, visit the Web site at (www.-fredomfestival.org) or call the hotline at 370-8019. Call 378-BYU1 for tickets to the Freedom Awards Gala and Stadium of Fire.