Goldberg Coins and Collectibles

Sale 62

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Lot 2408

1849 Oregon Exchange Co. (Oregon) $5 Gold "Beaver". NGC graded AU-55. A decent strike for this great rarity with faded rose color overtones. During the generations before the California Gold Rush, the inhabitants of the Willamette Valley, Oregon, like those of the entire Pacific Northwest, managed to survive on a barter economy. The primary media of exchange, in addition to a meager supply of foreign silver and gold coins, were beaver pelts and wheat; the latter became legal tender by act of the Provisional Government of 1843. By the spring of 1848, the area's population had grown to 13,000, its largest settlement being Oregon City, population 800. On Aug. 9, 1848, gold dust from California arrived aboard the brig Henry, and within two months an estimated two-thirds of the Territory's male population had left for the California mining district, where they founded Hangtown (later called Placerville). By mid-January 1849, some $400,000 in gold dust reached Oregon, with the usual results: perpetual disputes over its weight and fineness, the necessity of weighing and testing, and petitions by the residents for a local mint. The Oregon Exchange Company stepped up to the plate as the first private mint producer in the region; the mint's output comprised 6,000 $5 pieces, along with 2,850 of the $10 gold.

The present example shows light rub and strike softness on the beaver and log, along with assorted small scuffs and surface nicks characteristic of the soft, unalloyed gold. A bit of softness is also visible around OREGON and the N of NATIVE. Much luster remains, we might add, and the surfaces tend to be otherwise very appealing.

Concerning the unusual lettering along the obverse rim, the Oregon Exchange Company consisted of several prominent residents of the area: Kilborn, Magruder, Taylor, Abernethy, Willson, Rector (Gill) Campbell, and Smith. Their initials K. M. T. A. W. R. G. S. on the five dollar gold pieces, which also depict a beaver on a log with two laurel sprigs (bordering the date). The initials T.O. (rather than O.T., for Oregon Territory) are above the date. The five dollar contains the reverse legend OREGON EXCHANGE COMPANY around the periphery, with 130 G. / NATIVE GOLD. / 5 D. in the center. Pop 2; 1 in AU-58; 1 in MS-61; 1 in MS-62.

Historic note: All the "Beaver Money" coins were made from unalloyed California gold without attempt at assay or standardization, explains the Breen encyclopedia. "To make up for any possible deficiencies in fineness, the partners set the coins' weight at well above federal standards. Philadelphia Mint assays valued them at $5.50 and $11; California bankers, at $4 and $8, doubtless to make profit on melting, and contributing to their rarity. Coinage operations ended about Sept. 1, 1849, when both crucibles broke, following less than six months' use. By 1850, California gold coins were becoming available to supplement the Beavers, and the emergency which had led to the latter was over.

"Both denominations are unusually soft, commonly with nicks, dents, scratches, and planchet chips or flakes; they also vary greatly in color."
Estimated Value $65,000 - 75,000.

Realized $71,875

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