Golden Present
COINage Magazine|December 2020 - January 2021
Memories of Gold Dollars for the Holidays
R.W. JULIAN

When I was growing up in the early 1940s, my maternal grandfather gave me a silver dollar each Christmas.I still have these, in memory of him. When I was a teenager, and after my grandfather had died, I made inquiries among my older cousins if they had been treated the same. The answer was yes, and no.

In fact, the older cousins had bee gi each Christmas a silver dollar, but before 1933 — when gold was call in — they had been presented with a gold dollar. I saw several of these coins, one cousin having more than a dozen of them. It was a pleasant tradition, one that can never again happen. In the 1950s, I made inquiries among older neighbors, and they too had been given gold dollars at Christmas before 1933. Othe s had been given silver dollars, indicating how widespread a dollar coin’s practice at Christmas had been.

HISTORIC ACCIDENT BRINGS HAPPINESS

Little known outside collecting circles today, in some ways, the gold dollar of 1849–1889 was a historical accident, something that never should have been. Even though the public used it for a few years in the 1850s, after that time, it was rarely seen and served mainly as presents to friends and relatives.

The immediate cause of this curious little coin was the California Gold Rush of 1848–1849. Many men dreamed of making their fortunes in far-off California, and by the tens of thousands, they abandoned jobs and families t h d f El Dorado. And some of this came from the area surrounding t city of Charlotte in North Carolina.

As early as 1838, the United States Branch Mint at Charlotte had begun to strike gold coins for the country’s southeastern region. Unfortunately, this branch’s existence was at best tenuous because many of the placer mines in that area had begun to play out, and there were not enough diggings to support the local mint. By the late 1840s, Charlotte's very existence was a topic o ate. Thus, when many local miners he added West, there was something approaching panic at the Charlotte Mint. A lack of miners clearly meant that even less gold would be deposited for coinage; moreover, some saw its retention as a matter of civic pride. Moreover, Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson had already made more than one effort to abolish this mint.

To find a solution to this problem, Charlotte’s city leaders met with Congressman James McKay. Many of the participants in these discussions knew that the Bechtlers, who had struck private gold coins nearby, had made gold dollars as late as the early 1840s, and some of these pieces were still circulating. If the Charlotte Mint were to regularly strike such coins, then the available bullion would stretch much further.

McKay agreed with Charlotte officials and presented a bill to the House of Representatives authorizing the production of gold dollars. This decision may seem to be nothing more than an early pork-barrel project, but such was not exactly the case. The sudden availability of gold had created an imbalance in the United States’ monetary system. Silver was suddenly worth more than its face value as coinage, the result being that bullion dealers bought up the silver for melting and shipment to Europe. By the early 1850s, there were serious shortages of silver coins in the marketplace. Both business owners and the public were demanding that something is done about the problem.

McKay duly introduced his bill into the House of Representatives in January 1849, and at first, there was a limited measure of support. However, despite the silver problem, Mint Director Robert Patterson saw the whole matter for exactly what it was, nothing more than an attempt to perpetuate the existence of a mint that he wished to abolish.

SILVER SHORTAGE PROMPTS GREATER EYES ON GOLD

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