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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: Ga. gold becomes large part of nations currency in circulation
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Roger Allen - photo by Special

    Note: The following is part of a series of columns looking at how hard currency was introduced in Georgia and Bulloch County.

    Private jewelers also made a business out of minting gold coins. One such family was Christopher Bechtler Sr. — originally from Baden, Germany — and his son August of Rutherford, North Carolina.
    Their “Territorial Gold Coins” made from Georgia and North Carolina gold were minted between 1834 and 1837. Their coins were the longest lasting private coinage in America.
    Bechtler made his coins “heavy” with gold. His $2.50 “Georgia Gold” piece contained 64 grains of 22 karat gold; and his two different $5 “Georgia Gold” pieces contained 127.6/134.4 grains of 22/21 kt. gold.
   
Miners needed
    Georgia newspapers actually attempted to discourage Georgians from heading west to seek their fortunes. Dahlonega’s “Mountain Signal” printed the “Letter from an Experience Miner,” which sounded a dire warning to those who ventured westward: “Hundreds of Georgia’s noble sons lie in California soil along the rivers, in the canons, ravines, gulches. Some have long since been sluiced, or washed away. Their bones are scattered, and none but the Great I Am can ever collect them again.”
    Curiously, unlike the California gold rush (1849), the Colorado rush (1859), the Black Hills rush (1876) and the Alaska rush (1897), the Georgia gold rush did not become part of our nation’s popular history.
    In the first several years, it was reported that more than 27 tons of gold was extracted from the Georgia mines. In 1835, U.S. mints were established in Dahlonega and Charlotte, North Carolina.
    The government had quickly discovered that safely moving that much gold all the way from Georgia to the Philadelphia Mint was virtually impossible. They then opened the two North Carolina mints closer to where the gold was actually being mined.
   
Exporting gold
    The U.S. set its exchange rate at 15 ounces of silver to 1 ounce of gold in 1792. As the market exchange ratio was 15.3 to 1, an American one-dollar gold coin was worth more than one dollar in silver.
    To correct this inequality, in 1834 Congress adopted a new ratio of 16.002 to 1, with 23.2 grains of gold in a dollar. This required impossible amounts (13/129ths and 179/1644ths) of the main alloys to mint the new gold coins.
    Therefore, Congress made another adjustment in the exchange ratio to 15.988 to 1, so that coins now contained a manageable 10 percent of alloys.
   
‘Small change’

    The next "new" small-value coin was the 1851 three-cent piece (also called a “trime.”) Composed of 75 percent silver and 25 percent copper, its main purpose was to pay for the new three-cent postage stamp.
    The first American coin containing only "base" metals — that is, no gold or silver — was the 1857 “Flying Eagle” small penny (made of 88 percent copper and 12 percent nickel).
    Next were the 1864 one- and two-cent pieces, made of 95 percent copper and 5 percent tin and zinc. These coins were also called “Pollock’s Bronzes,” after James Pollock, then Director of the Mint.
    The last series of these metal coins were the 1868 one-, two- and three-cent pieces, made of mostly copper and some nickel. These coins were used primarily to retire all of the small fractional paper bills still in circulation.
       
    Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at rwasr1953@gmail.com.

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