1849 $5 Oregon Exchange Company “Beaver,” Oregon, California Gold, PCGS XF40. Last offered as a part of the Stack’s J.A. Sherman Collection sold in August of 2007, where it received a full page description…”Medium yellow gold with some inviting deep honey highlights in the protected areas. Traces of natural mint luster can be seen among the legends, beneath the beaver and around the date. Tiny scattered mark’s are present on the obverse, with similar marks on the reverse, these being somewhat more prominent. An issue that is often a little rough in appearance, due to the low rims which left the surfaces more vulnerable to abrasion. Nicely struck, with about half of the beavers fur still visible, and with complete definition of the peripheral details. The planchet seems to have been of good quality, in contrast to some Oregon exchange company issues found with limitations and other flaws. A highly coveted rarity, distinctive in design and always in demand. Typical examples are in the Very Fine to Extremely Fine category, and PCGS has not graded a single example finer than AU58. This piece offers nice quality and good aesthetic appeal, and is a very respectable example in every regard.”
Since that description written over ten years ago, a NGC MS62 appeared at auction in 2014 which looks as though it may have crossed over to PCGS. We recently decided to see what NGC would grade this coin, cracked it out an resubmitted it. As you can see by the images, it received an XF45 grade. We decided it was better in a PCGS holder since there aren’t a whole lot of PCGS available – definitely more NGC.
The U.S. Congress sent two expeditions to the Oregon Country in the 1840s to survey and then connect the earlier over land explorations of the continent, done by people like Lewis and Clark, with the coastal explorations. However, the real purpose was to settle the area before the British could – it became America’s greatest land development scheme.
Congress charged Colonel John Fremont with leading the expeditions, and Fremont in turn hired Kit Carson as pathfinder and scout. It was the longest expedition ever completed in the United States. It was also the most reported. More than 250,000 copies of Fremont’s journal were printed and it became the most widely read, distributed and quoted publication of its kind in the country. It was said by one newspaper of the day, that after news of the expedition spread, that the “emigration poured like a torrent down upon the vale.”
In 1842, fewer than 100 pioneers had attempted the difficult land route to the new Oregon Country. By 1860, more than 300,000 emigrants made the trek.
Soon after the discovery and subsequent mining of gold in 1848-1849 California, gold-dust became the most important medium of exchange in Oregon Territory. Almost simultaneously with their neighbors to the south, the settlers in Oregon developed a need for gold coin to replace the hard to handle dust. Petitions were made to the provincial legislature, and early in 1849, an Act was passed establishing a mint in Oregon City, the largest town.
At about the same time, Oregon was formally brought into the Union as a Territory. When the new territorial governor arrived on the scene, he prudently declared the coinage act unconstitutional. Following this set-back, a private organization was formed called the Oregon Exchange Company, which promptly made arrangements to strike five and ten dollar coins, as originally contemplated. This company was formed of eight prominent citizens, named William K. Kilburne, Theophilus Magruder, James Taylor, George Abernethy, William H. Wilson, William H. Rector, H. Campbell and Noys Smith.
The private mint was erected at Oregon City, a blacksmith, Thomas Powell, making the necessary coining apparatus from scratch. Partner Hamilton Campbell engraved the dies for the five dollar denomination, which were crudely executed, containing minor errors upon both obverse and reverse. A different engraver, Victor Wallace, was employed to make the ten dollar dies, which were of clearly superior quality, resulting in coins of more finished appearance. Both Oregon gold coins portrayed a beaver upon the obverse, and have long been designated “Beaver coins of Oregon” for this reason. The private Oregon mint coinage was issued in limited quantity, and a considerable number were bought up and remelted, undoubtedly because of their high intrinsic value.