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In the 1840’s in the Oregon Territory barter was used as the most common means of exchange. Beaver pelts and wheat were legal tender. In 1848 gold dust from California came on the ship Henry and within two months only one third of the Territory’s male population remained in Oregon. The rest joined the California gold rush. About $400,000 worth of gold dust reached Oregon by January 1849. As in other areas, the dust proved to be an inconvenient means of exchange, and the citizenry petitioned for a local mint to establish true weights and fineness. The Oregon legislature passed a law in February 1849 that set up a mint in Oregon City, which is north of Portland. James Taylor was to be the Director, Truman Powers the Treasurer, George Curry the Assayer, and W.H. Wilson the Melter and Coiner. Two denominations were authorized, the half eagle and the eagle. They were to show the territorial arms and were to be inscribed OREGON TERRITORY 1849. With gold valued at $16.50 per ounce, the coins would be profitable for the Territory. The profit would then be used to finance the cost of a local Indian uprising, the Cayuse War.

Unfortunately before the dies could be made, the first Territorial Governor, Joseph Lane, arrived and declared the area a territory of the United States. The coinage act was nullified because according to Lane, only the government of the United States could mint coinage.
Although a state or territory could not issue coinage, there was no prohibition on private coinage. The Oregon Exchange Company was formed by eight businessmen in Oregon City. Their intention was to make gold coins out of dust. Some of them were the same men who tried to have the Territory make gold coins earlier. James Taylor was again the Director, William Rector supervised the manufacturing of the dies, and W.H. Wilson was the Assayer. James Gill Campbell was the coinage designer. Other members of the company were George Abernethy, William K. Kilborne, Theophilus Magruder, and Noyes Smith. Their specific responsibilities were not listed, but presumably they were responsible for obtaining funds to purchase equipment and supplies. Thomas Powell was hired by William Rector to build the press and other necessities using scrap iron. Both Rector and Powell did the lathe work on the dies, and Reverend Hamilton Campbell engraved the half eagle dies using drawings made by James Gill Campbell.

The dies contained several errors. Instead of O.T. for Oregon Territory, they read TO for Territory of Oregon. Of the eight partners James Gill Campbell’s initial G is used instead of his last initial or perhaps to distinguish him from Reverend Hamilton Campbell, who was not a partner. Despite these errors, the dies were used for the five dollar coin. It is believed that 6,000 pieces were struck.
Victor Wallace engraved the ten dollar coin. He used O.T. for Oregon Territory and C for Gill Campbell. He also left out initials for Abernethy and Wilson, since they were not part of the group that put up extra money for the new equipment. The mintage of the ten dollar coin is believed to be 2,850.

Since parting acids were not available in the Territory, all Oregon Territorial issues are mad from unalloyed California gold. To make up for possible fineness issues, the coins are made at a higher weight than federal standards. They were assayed in Philadelphia and valued at $5.50 and $11.00 respectively and melted for their gold content, which adds to their rarity. In September 1849 both crucibles broke, and coinage stopped. By the next year, California gold coins were in circulation and the need for local private coinage ended.
Because the unalloyed gold is quite soft, the coins are usually found with nicks, scratches, and dents. Their color is not at all uniform from piece to piece.

The both coins depict a beaver facing right. The five dollar coin has the letters T.O. below the beaver with the date, 1849 below. A sprig of laurel is on each side of the date. Above the beaver in an arc are the initials of the men who comprised the Oregon Exchange Company. They are K for Kilborne, M for Magruder, T for Taylor, A for Abernathy, W for Wilson, R for Rector, G for Gill Campbell, and S for Smith. The reverse of the five dollar coin has the inscription OREGON EXCHANGE COMPANY encircling 130 G., NATIVE GOLD with the denomination written as 5D.

The ten dollar coin has the letters O.T. below the beaver and the date and sprigs as on the five dollar piece. It has the initials K, M, T, R, C, and S, correcting the error on the other piece. The reverse of the ten dollar piece has the encircled inscription 10.D 20 G, NATIVE GOLD, TEN D.



Oregon Gold Oregon Gold Coins The Oregon Exchange Company

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