The First Gold Coins of the United States

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North Carolina
It started fairly unspectacular, the number of gold rushs that helped the United States of America attracting settlers from all around the world: the son of the deserted soldier Johannes Rheidt from Hesse found a rock that was then used as a doorstop in a farm house. Only three years later a jeweler bought it for $3.50. That was just a fraction of its true value because the rock consisted of pure gold. Yet it was enough for the Reeds, as Reidt had begun to call himself in the New World, to continue searching. On their land they discovered a profitable gold mine that made them rich. The Reed Gold Mine was operating until 1912.

A forty-niner peers into the slit of California’s American River. Photo: Wikipedia.

The Reeds were only the beginning. The whole of North Carolina turned into a “gold state” where “large lumps of precious metal were found”. They attracted thousands of immigrants who wanted to make their fortune. They came from the British Isles, from Germany, Poland and several other countries. Up to 30,000 people worked in the gold fields at peak times.

The Bechtler Dollars
With rich gold findings on the one hand but a cumbersome supply of cash on the other hand economic life was not that simple in North Carolina. Another immigrant from Germany, though, had a brilliant idea.

USA / NORTH CAROLINA. 1 dollar n. d. (1831-1834). CAROLINA GOLD. Issued by Christopher Bechtler. Fb. 7. Very rare. Auction sale Künker 258 (January 29, 2015), 811. Estimated at 10,000 euros.

Christopher Bechtler (1782-1843) from Pforzheim came to the United States of America in 1829. He was a watchmaker and developed a lucrative business concept on the gold fields of North Carolina. He bought the gold that had been found on the site and used it to mint gold coins which he sold at a high profit afterwards. Quickly they established themselves as a widely accepted currency because their gold content slightly exceeded their nominal value.

USA / NORTH CAROLINA. 2 1/2 dollars n. d. (1834-1837). CAROLINA GOLD. Issued by Christopher Bechtler. Fb. 8. Very rare. Auction sale Künker 258 (January 29, 2015), 812. Estimated at 7,500 euros.

Bechtler and his family produced more than one million coins in the denominations $1, $2.50 and $5 that even stood the severe test of the United States Treasury. The government had realized that the private coinage had a higher gold content than the official one. That was why the Bechtler dollars were allowed to circulate. The Charlotte Mint that started working in 1838 did not have a damaging effect on the Bechtler business, either. It was his sons who stopped coining in 1852.

At that time, the monopoly in the North American gold production North Carolina used to have for more than two decades was a thing in the past. Meanwhile, gold had been found in the Appalachian Mountains, hence in nearby Georgia. Since 1829, gold seekers flocked to the state to make their fortune. But the territory belonged to the Cherokee, an unacceptable situation that was resolved in a Wild West manner: the government confiscated the Indian land in order to distribute it amongst the white people. Anyone interested in a share was obliged to buy a lottery ticket for $10,000. Every ticket won. His owner was allocated a parcel of land in the size of 40 acres (161,880 square meters or 16,188 hectares, respectively) in the “gold land”. By the way, the government provided no guarantee that gold could be discovered on this parcel of land at any rate.

USA / GEORGIA. 5 dollars n. d. (1834-1837). GEORGIA GOLD. Issued by Christopher Bechtler. Fb. 9. Rare. Auction sale Künker 258 (January 29, 2015), 796. Estimated at 5,000 euros.

Anyway, in Georgia gold worth almost 2 million dollars was found between 1830 and 1837 and that was an enormous sum of money back then. But Georgia had the same problem as North Carolina: the amount of gold was faced with a shortage of cash. Sometimes it took up to 3 months to exchange gold for money at the official State bureau. Local gold buyers picked up the slack and made a pretty penny when they bought the gold against cash at a significant discount.
So, Bechtler became active in Georgia as well. He minted his gold dollar coins with great success. And when the official mint of Dahlonega began operation in April 1838, the gold rush was already over.

The gold seekers from Georgia who had become jobless were to be amongst the first who started out for California in 1848, where gold had been found on the territory of Johann August Sutter, a native of the German state of Baden. The story of the Californian gold rush has been told very often which is why we need not recount it at this point. People flocked to the territory that had only recently been seized by the US government. Amongst the newcomers were Chinese, British, French, Germans, Americans of course, and even some Cherokees that had been driven off Georgia.

USA / CALIFORNIA. 5 dollars 1849. CALIFORNIA GOLD. Issued by Norris, Grieg & Norris, San Francisco. Fb. 60. Very rare. Auction sale Künker 258 (January 29, 2015), 807. Estimated at 10,000 euros.

Again the gold seekers were faced with the problem that they possessed enough gold but no cash. This time the engineers Thomas H. Norris, Charles Grieg and Hiram H. Norris broke the first ground.

USA / CALIFORNIA. 5 dollars 1850. CALIFORNIA GOLD. Issued by Moffat & Co., San Francisco. Fb. 49. Rare. Auction sale Künker 258 (January 29, 2015), 804. Estimated at 3,500 euros.

USA / CALIFORNIA. 10 dollars 1849. CALIFORNIA GOLD. Issued by Moffat & Co., San Francisco. Fb. 50. Rare. Auction sale Künker 258 (January 29, 2015), 805. Estimated at 2,000 euros.

They were followed by companies like Moffat & Co., where the New York metallurgist John Little Moffat produced little gold ingots at first which, however, did not win acceptance as means of payment. Hence, Moffat took the US American gold coins as model for his coins that were sometimes not easily distinguished from the originals. The legend on the obverse reads SMV (= Standard Mint Value) CALIFORNIA GOLD. In the diadem of Liberty on the reverse not her name was subtly hidden but the company’s name Moffat & Co.

USA / CALIFORNIA. 20 dollars 1853. SAN FRANCISCO CALIFORNIA. Issued by Moffat & Co., San Francisco. Fb. 51. Very rare. Auction sale Künker 258 (January 29, 2015), 806. Estimated at 12,500 euros.

That name likewise appears on an extremely rare 20 dollar piece from 1853. The wording on the side of the coat of arms is SAN FRANCISCO CALIFORNIA / TWENTY D.

USA / CALIFORNIA. 10 dollars n. d. (1849). CALIFORNIA. Issued by the Miners Bank, San Francisco. Fb. 48. Very rare. Auction sale Künker 258 (January 29, 2015), 803. Estimated at 20,000 euros.

Amongst the rarest coinages of that era are the emission of the Miners Bank, an institution on which comparatively little research has been done yet, that was headed by Stephen A. Wright in San Francisco between 1849 and 1850.

USA / CALIFORNIA. 50 dollars octogonal 1851. Assayer of Gold, Augustus Humbert, San Francisco. Fb. 36. Very rare. Auction sale Künker 258 (January 29, 2015), 800. Estimated at 15,000 euros.

USA / CALIFORNIA. 10 dollars 1852. Assayer of Gold, Augustus Humbert, San Francisco. Fb. 33. Rare. Auction sale Künker 258 (January 29, 2015), 801. Estimated at 2,500 euros.

On September 30, 1850, Congress decided to establish an official bureau for assaying and purchasing gold in California as well. Strictly speaking, there were no plans of a US American coinage, but the New York government commissioner August Humbert, in cooperation with Moffat & Co., created the first official currency in California. The reverses bear strong resemblance to contemporary watch cases which might be due to the fact that Humbert was a trained watchmaker. In 1852, John Moffat left the company. In 1853, Humbert was recalled as well, because Congress had decided the year before to open its own mint in San Francisco.

USA / CALIFORNIA. 20 dollars 1854. SAN FRANCISCO CALIFORNIA. Issued by Kelogg & Co., San Francisco. Fb. 37. Rare. Auction sale Künker 258 (January 29, 2015), 802. Estimated at 5,000 euros.

Yet, the inauguration was delayed. A former employee of Moffat took the opportunity to mint gold coins under the name Kelogg & Co. until 1855 when the official mint was already releasing official gold coins.

USA / UTAH. 5 dollars 1849. TO THE LORD HOLINESS. Issued by The Mormons, Salt Lake City. Fb. 56. Very rare. Auction sale Künker 258 (January 29, 2015), 814. Estimated at 10,000 euros.

USA / UTAH. 5 dollars 1860. DESERET ASSAY OFFICE PURE GOLD. Issued by The Mormons, Salt Lake City. Fb. 59. Extremely rare. Auction sale Künker 258 (January 29, 2015), 815. Estimated at 35,000 euros.

A little footnote to the Californian gold rush is the coinage of the Mormons that was likewise accomplished by using Californian gold. Members of this religious movement had dug in California and had brought the gold with them to Salt Lake City. With that, an extremely rare emission of coins was produced that depicts Mormon symbols like the three-peaked Phrygian cap of the priest above the all-seeing eye of God.

Pike‘s Peak
The gold rush of Pike’s Peak is hardly known outside of the United States of America. It dates to 1858 and led to the foundation of Colorado three years later and the establishment of the US mint at Denver which is still operating. Roughly 100,000 gold diggers rushed to the southern Rocky Mountains to make their fortune there. The territory of California Gulch, which got its name after the rich yielding of the previous gold rush, alone brought gold worth 8 million dollars. But only some few got rich.

USA / COLORADO. 10 dollars 1860. PIKE’S PEAK GOLD. Issued by Clark, Gruber & Co., Denver. Fb. 19. Very rare. Auction sale Künker 258 (January 29, 2015), 797. Estimated at 20,000 euros.

The “Fifty-Niners”, i.e. the first ones to arrive at the site, quickly exploited the superficial deposits. For systematic mining, in contrast, most of the adventurers who had arrived at the scene later lacked the financial means, the equipment and the patience. Only a couple of men stayed. They tapped the subterranean gold deposits that are still being exploited by internationally operating mining companies.

USA / COLORADO. 5 dollars 1860. PIKE’S PEAK GOLD. Issued by Clark, Gruber & Co., Denver. Fb. 22. Auction sale Künker 258 (January 29, 2015), 798. Estimated at 2,000 euros.

Yet the same thing as in North Carolina, Georgia and California happened there. In Pike’s Peak, too, there was more gold than cash available so that a private company soon resorted to issuing coins in the denominations $2.50, $5, $10, and $20. The company was Clark, Gruber & Co. Bank & Mint. This enterprise had been established in 1860, by the brothers Austin M. and Milton E. Clark who had made their fortune by selling articles of daily use and groceries to gold seekers. On their coins they depicted the symbol of the gold rush, Pike’s Peak, or readopted the pieces Moffat had issued ten years earlier, respectively. Clark, Gruber & Co. continued minting until 1863 when the US Treasury bought up the company.

Up to the present day, the mints at Denver and San Francisco bear witness to the legacy of the gold seekers. Additionally, the private coins that had been issued between 1831 and 1863 are a numismatic testimony to one of the most intriguing periods of American history.

If you are interested in the coins featured in this article, you can go directly to the Künker Berlin-sale, where they are on offer.

Of course, CoinsWeekly is also offering an auction preview of this sale.

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