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Territorial or private mint gold

Allen Rowe

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In our countries history coinage has changed in some very interesting ways. We started out primarily using the English monetary system in the colonies, but in 1793 the United States began coining currency of its own. Legal tender changed and other currencies were phased out. In the West, the Spanish coinage system adopted in Mexico circulated well past the mid-19th century. During this period, of roughly 75 years, there was one other type of currency that was born giving today’s numismatists a very specialized and exciting area to collect, territorial gold.

The name territorial is kind of a misnomer in itself. These coins were not struck under the authority of any territory or state, but the numismatic community has adopted the name nonetheless. These coins were all made in gold rush areas and the coins made were all gold. Private coiners used the newly found resources to make coins that ended up circulating as currencies in those regions until the infrastructure of that area was able to grow.

First was in the Georgia and North Carolina region during the 1830s. A few coiners arose and struck gold coins to appease the need for currency in the area. In 1838, two official mints were opened in Dahlonega, Ga., and Charlotte, N.C. Next came two western gold rushes, the 1849 California gold rush and the less known Oregon gold rush. In 1849, the Oregon Exchange Company struck $5 and $10 gold coins. And a host of companies struck versions of their own coins in California. Close to 20 different companies struck California gold coins that were $5 to $50. The mint coming to San Francisco in 1854 put an end to these private coiners and the last of these larger coins were struck in 1855. Interestingly enough, some of them appeared to circulate for many years afterward.

During the Western gold rush the Mormons in Salt Lake City began striking their own gold coins. Coins from $5-$20 were struck from 1849-1860. These coins were primarily struck to circulate through the Mormon Territory and its settlers.

The last era of territorials we see comes in 1860-1861. Gold was discovered in Colorado and once again a few coiners made coins to help conduct commerce. This era was short lived as the country was growing at an exponential rate. The telegraph connected east to west in 1861 and the continental railroad was shortly behind. With the country connected all things came easier to the newly expanding west.

When it came to these private coins not all of them were accepted by their peers. If people were skeptical of the coins they often were melted or destroyed. Whether low production numbers or high levels of destruction, the survival rate of many of these coins are extremely low making them difficult to locate.

Overall there were a number of companies that struck gold coins on their own. Some lasted longer and struck more coins than others, and some ended up striking relatively few, but all of these territorial gold coins are prized by numismatists everywhere. Not everyone will endeavor collecting these rarities but for those that do it can become a lifetime of searching. Chasing the same gold our predecessors spent their lives in search of.

Allen Rowe is the owner of Northern Nevada Coin in Carson City.