Written by John Dale
It’s as good a day to have a song stuck in my head, and this time, it’s “The Virginia Company” from the turn-off-your-mental-fact-checker-and-enjoy-the-ride Disney film Pocahontas. The Jamestown expedition never found any gold, either in the film or reality, but while eastern Virginia was not the promised land of gold, there was gold in the southeastern United States, most of it found in western North Carolina and northern Georgia, in areas corresponding with the southern part of the Piedmont region.
The twin gold rushes in the southeastern United States were the first in the still-young nation’s territory, beginning at least two decades before the much more famous discovery of gold in the then-California Territory. In fact, a number of the earliest California miners to arrive from outside the territory came from the gold fields of Georgia and North Carolina. The start of the private coinage associated with gold fields (commonly called “Territorial gold” collecting, though this term is less inclusive than “private gold issues” collecting) is also a Southeastern native, as Christopher Bechtler (or C. Bechtler, as his name appeared on the coins) opened his private mint in Rutherford County in western North Carolina in the early 1830s.
His gold dollars, such as the Kagin-1 30-grain piece coming up in our October 2009 Dallas Signature Auction, date from a period between 1831 and 1834. It’s well worth noting, as the cataloger does, that Mr. Bechtler’s gold dollars, which proudly state they are made from Carolina gold, were first struck a full 18 years before Congress, reacting to the news of California gold, authorized the gold dollar as an official U.S. coinage denomination.
The Bechtler coinages span across two decades, from 1831 to 1852, and the Bechtler mint was a family operation, with Christopher Bechtler’s son August, and a nephew also named Christopher, producing coins in $1, $2-1/2 and $5. They eventually struck both Carolina and Georgia gold, even after the opening of official U.S. Mints in Charlotte, North Carolina and Dahlonega, Georgia in 1838.
The Mulkin Collection, an upcoming featured collection for our October 2009 Dallas Signature Auction, contains the Kagin-1 C. Bechtler gold dollar as well as a whole host of other private gold and U.S. Mint issues. Keep watching the previews to see what’s been added to this exciting coin auction event… cataloging the Mulkin Collection alone has been quite the adventure!
(Postscript: I spend much of my time thinking about coins, but this past week, they weren’t much on my mind. I’ve been taking a vacation, visiting family and friends in northern Indiana and southern Michigan. Northern Indiana is where I grew up, in a fairly small town called Logansport surrounded by farms and fields. It used to have a railroad-themed fair each summer. They called it the Iron Horse Festival. Then most of the trains left town, and one year the Iron Horse disappeared from the Iron Horse Festival. Eventually, the festival left, and so did I.
Anymore, the trains pass through Logansport more often than I do, except in my memories. One weekend summer night, I was nodding off as I stared out the window of my mother’s minivan, watching passing headlights land on the tall corn along one side of the highway. The last song I remember on the radio, Jo Dee Messina was singing “Heads Carolina, Tails California.” That sounds just about right, doesn’t it?)
-John Dale Beety