Pioneer, South Eastern US region, Bechtler gold, 1830-1842

The Bechtler Coinage, North Carolina, 1831-1846 

The assay office and mint established by the Bechtler family in 1830 at Rutherford County and Rutherfordton has the distinction of being the earliest and longest operating private gold mints in the United States.  Up until the California gold rush of 1848, it struck more coins than any other private mint, totaling $2,241,850.50 in coinage from January 1831 to February 1840 alone.  Although the Bechtler family continued to conduct business until 1846, perhaps even until 1852, not only did their output of gold coinage rival that of the Philadelphia mint, Bechtler coins circulated within the Southeastern United States more frequently than those struck by any of the United States mints.  During the Civil war many Confederate contracts specified payment in Bechtler gold rather than Confederate currency or federal specie.  Furthermore, the Bechtlers introduced the gold dollar into circulation, seventeen years before the United States government issued the same in 1849 at the Philadelphia, Dahlonega, New Orleans and Charlotte mints.

It all started when a boy near a farm in Cabarrus County found the first nugget in 1799.  Weighing nearly 17 pounds, it was used as a doorstop for three years until it was sold by the senior family member for $3.50 one day during a visit to town.  Had he known of the nugget’s true value, it could have brought nearly $3,600 at that time! Gold was being discovered in numerous counties in North Carolina from the turn of the century on, specifically between 1803 and 1840, prompting prospectors and miners to come from as far as Europe and South America. As early as 1804, gold mined from local farmland, creek beds and hillsides in North Carolina was sent to the Philadelphia mint for assay and coining at great risk of theft and malfeasance.  This practice continued for over twenty years until ore from Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia was discovered between 1829 and 1830.

At this same time, Christoph Bechtler immigrated to the United States.  He landed in New York on October 12, 1829 and within six months had moved from Philadelphia to Rutherford County, North Carolina.  The notable increase in gold mining production in the south and the flow of nuggets to the Philadelphia mint could have been the reason why the Bechtler family moved so quickly. After all, the Bechtlers were skilled artisans.  They set up as jewelers and also worked as gunsmiths, miners, and precious metal refiners.

On July 2, 1831 an advertisement appeared in the North Carolina Spectator and Western Advertiser that C. Bechtler would be able to smelt, refine and coin the raw gold from the local and surrounding mines of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia – and create new dies specifying the region from which the gold came if necessary (an easy task, since all the dies and machinery for striking the coins were made by members of the family).  This advertisement ran until November of 1831.

The mint operated at its peak form 1831 to 1842. Christopher Bechtler, Sr. died in 1842. His son, Augustus, is reported to have passed away in late 1843 or early 1844. The Bechtler mint, however, continued output until the mid 1850’s, although at a reduced output. It seems that the Bechtler nephew, Christopher Bechtler, Jr. played an important role in the daily operation of the mint, the transition between father and son and in assuming the affairs of the mint after their demises.

One popular belief among historians is that Christopher Bechtler, Sr. struck coins bearing his name, “C. Bechtler” up until he handed the business over to his son on July 6, 1840.  In fact, according to the Carolina Gazette dated August 1, 1836, “Christoph” Bechtler had moved his business, called in all bills due and continued in the jewelry trade.  By that time, surely it was public knowledge that the U.S. Government had laid plans as early as 1835 to construct southern branch mints at Dahlonega, Georgia, Charlotte, North Carolina and New Orleans.  Business shifted from the Bechtlers as the first deposit of gold to the Charlotte branch was made on December 4, 1837.

Therefore, there is good reason to believe, however, that coins stamped “A. Bechtler” may have been engraved and struck alongside his father’s coins as early as 1835. His apprenticeship would make perfect sense, especially since his son worked along side his father and demonstrated talent as an accomplished gunsmith.

If Christopher Sr. did in fact retire from the coin trade in 1836, then it makes sense that coins continued to be marked “C. Bechtler” could have been created by the nephew. We find evidence of this by use of a colon on certain later denominations. The use of such a “signature” would allow for future identification, if necessary. If this is the case, the son and nephew acted as apprentices to Bechtler Sr. starting as early as 1834. This theory is supported too, by the increased amounts of gold coming in from the hills for assay. One man could not have struck as much gold as the Philadelphia mint during this time without a great deal of help.

The geographical inscriptions found on the Bechtler coins were used to indicate the quality of the gold used, with some exceptions.  Those of 20 carats were stamped “North Carolina Gold”; those of 21 carats, “Carolina Gold”; while the highest grade of 22 carats was marked “Georgia Gold.”  They were issued in the three denominations of $1.00, $2.50 and $5.00.  All the pieces were somewhat undervalued and were found to be acceptable weight, especially between 1835 and 1841.

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