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All Posts Tagged With: "Oregon Territorial"

Coin Profile: 1849 Oregon Exchange Company Five Dollar Gold Territorial Coin

The news of the discovery of gold in California reached the Oregon Territory in late July 1848. That news was confirmed in Oregon City, seat of Clackamas County, on August 9 of that year, when the brig Henry docked with gold dust, arriving from San Francisco, and by October more than two-thirds of the men in Oregon had departed to seek treasure in the gold fields of California.

The Oregon Spectator, founded in 1846, one of the first newspapers west of the Mississippi River, was forced to stop publishing in 1848 “because its printer, with 3,000 officers, lawyers, physicians, farmers and mechanics were leaving for the gold fields.” (Kagin, Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States.)

By spring of the following year, gold dust had almost entirely replaced beaver and other fur pelts as the primary medium of exchange, although it traded at a substantial discount to silver coins (when available) and to its value at the Philadelphia Mint. Miners were losing money.

Against this backdrop, the Oregon Exchange Company was formed, with the express purpose of weighing and stamping gold.

Although Oregon was officially declared a territory of the United States on March 3, 1849–rendering any plan to coin gold clearly unconstitutional–several prominent residents determined to proceed with the plan.

PCGS Video:David McCarthy of Kagin’s tells the story of the 1849 $5 Oregon gold piece

The surnames of those residents were Kilborn, Magruder, Taylor, Abernethy, Willson, Rector, (Gill) Campbell, and Smith. Their initials K. M. T. A. W. R. G. S. appear around the rim of the five dollar gold pieces, which also picture a beaver on a log and a laurel wreath. In error, the initials T.O. (rather than O.T., for Oregon Territory) were stamped on the obverse.

The five dollar contains the reverse legend OREGON EXCHANGE COMPANY around the periphery, with 130 G. / NATIVE GOLD. / 5 D. in the center. The initials of two men were omitted from the ten dollar pieces struck later, and the T.O. was corrected to O.T.

The gold coinage was unalloyed with silver or copper, and succeeded in raising the price of gold dust from $12 to $16 as the pieces circulated. Alloy was purposely omitted to ensure that the pieces would be accepted regardless of variances in the purity of gold dust, but their inherent softness caused them to suffer in contact with the harder alloyed gold coinage from California–and their higher intrinsic value caused them to soon be melted. (more…)