Private, Pioneer & Territorial Gold

Private, Pioneer and Territorial Gold coins

Although only the Federal Government was given the constitutional authority to coin money to be current throughout the United States, the tremendously rich discoveries of gold in the south eastern and far western parts of the country before 1860 created an emergency situation. The economy of the Carolinas, Georgia, and those areas soon to be incorporated into the Union as the states of California, Colorado, and Oregon required some form of circulating medium. Remote as they were from the more populous areas of the Atlantic coast, there was little the Government could do immediately to meet the needs of pioneer communities overwhelmed by a flood of raw unprocessed gold.

The solution to the problem was left in the hands of the pioneers themselves. Enterprising private individuals were quick to grasp the need to have the virgin product of the mines translated into some manageable form. The result was the production of a fascinating series of gold tokens, bars and ingots, many of which resembled coins and many of which did not.

The first private coinage on the American scene was produced from the gold panned in the hills of Georgia and was designed by Templeton Reid, a local jeweler. When gold was discovered in North Carolina just after the Georgia strike, the Bechtler family began to produce gold coinage from gold dust and nuggets extensively throughout the 1840’s.

In 1848, when the Gold Rush of California occurred, many private mints were established and several competed with each other for the business. These private mints operated without any official control. It is hardly surprising that the urge their owners felt to make a fast profit resulted in the issues, particularly the earliest, being notably underweight in relation to the ostensible value stamped upon them. But Californians, in particular, were quick to learn. A few of the overly profit minded mint operators were literally run out of town. Others gracefully retired from the business in time and went on to become among the most distinguished and wealthiest citizens of the new State.

The discovery of gold prompted other districts to strike coins. California gold made its way back to Oregon where coins were struck bearing a wonderful beaver design; the Mormons returned from Sacramento to the Great Salt Lake, where they struck gold coins dated 1849, 1850, and 1860. Later still, in the early 1860’s the Colorado-based firm of Clark, Gruber & Co. produced gold denominations from $2.50 to $20.

Private, Pioneer and Territorial gold coins are highly prized by dealers, collectors and investors today. Most surviving examples remain in circulated grades from Very Fine to AU. Mint State examples are rare, except for certain issues. Few American series embody as much history and romance as do these numismatic souvenirs from the last century. They are the numismatic equivalent of folk art.

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