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
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
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.