The Oregon Exchange Company and Territorial Gold
Residents of Oregon and Washington Territories were excited when the Gold Strike hit California. Neither the Federal government nor the Oregon Territorial government provided any gold coinage to the Oregon Territory.
Because of that, the private Oregon Exchange Company took matters into its own hands and began to strike coinage for use in the Oregon Territory. Machinery was fabricated or purchased and shipped to their building in Oregon City.
The coinage dies were crudely made and even though they contained errors, the errors were much ignored. For example, the initials “T. O.” on the obverse should have been reversed as “O. T.” representing “OREGON TERRITORY”.
The 8 initials on the obverse above the beaver on a log are not random, they are the initials of the last names of the 8 members of Oregon Exchange Company – Kilborn, Magruder, Taylor, Abernethy, Wilson, Rector, Campbell and Smith – though Campbell was represented by a “G” rather than a “C”. The Beaver on a log is the central vignette. Branches are on both sides of the date “1849” at the bottom periphery.
The reverse is just text with “130 G.(rains) NATIVE GOLD 5 D.” in 4 lines and “OREGON EXCHANGE COMPANY” around the outer periphery.
The first coins made their appearance in commerce in Oregon City in March of 1849 and were well received. The flawed dies did not stop the company from releasing the coins because the demand was so great.
The success of the $5 gold coin was so great that they began engraving a $10.00 gold coin version, which they envisioned would also be successful. This coin would be a tad more professional in appearance. The “T. O.” was changed to the correct “O. T.” The “G.” initial was changed to a “C” and the “A” and “W” initials were dropped as those partners didn’t contribute to the new venture.
Unlike most California gold coins, these Oregon coins were pure Gold so they were not as durable as most of their California counterparts. But because of the unalloyed native gold, they were worth 8-19% more than the coins being cranked out by the US Mint in San Francisco. The $10 gold coins were obviously twice the size of the $5 and much more presentable.
The obverse now bears fewer owner initials and the “O. T.” is now correct. The only changes to the reverse are “TEN D.” for the denomination, and numerically “10. D. 20. G.”
The timing for these new coins and for this business venture could not have been better. Gold dust rose in price from $12 an ounce to $16 and the “Beaver Coins” were accepted not only in the Oregon Territory but also all over California.
It is estimated that approximately 6,000 of the $5.00 gold coins and 2,850 of the $10.00 gold coins from the Oregon Exchange Company may have been struck. But the mint was in operation for less than six months. That is because several of the principles decided to go into mining again and seek their fortune digging for gold rather than by smelting and striking it.
As that was happening, the fur trade, which had steadily declined for decades affected the entire Oregon Territory. Even the venerable Hudson’s Bay Company left Oregon for Canada. So these Oregon Beaver gold coins served their purpose well until the San Francisco Mint struck enough gold coins to satisfy all of the West Coast of the United States.
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