America’s first gold rush took place in the Piedmont area of North Carolina and Georgia in the 1820s and ’30s. The expanding economy of the region desperately needed a more dependable medium of exchange than the miner’s gold dust could provide. To fill this need, Christopher Bechtler, a German-born goldsmith and watchmaker, established a private mint at Rutherford, North Carolina to process gold dust from the region into useful coinage. Beginning in 1831, Bechtler and his family began producing gold coins of simple design that circulated widely in the Southern United States until the Civil War. Bechtler was a competent metallurgist and his accurate assays ensured his coins were of full weight and value. His reputation for honesty was paramount in securing public trust throughout the region.
Bechtler began marking his coins with their exact weight and/or gold content in carats with his second series of coinage in 1831 (the first “weightless” series was struck during a few months in the summer of that year). The design for his second series five dollar gold piece, later classified as K-15 by Territorial specialist Don Kagin, was described by Henry Chapman in lot 438 of his catalog of the Zabriskie Collection (6/1909):
“(1831-34) $5. C. BECHTLER, ASSAYER. * RUTHERFORD COUNTY. R. NORTH CAROLINA GOLD. * in center 5 DOLLARS 20. CARATS. 150. G. Borders of dots. Edge milled. Extremely fine, slight proof surface. Perfectly struck. One of the finest known specimens. Excessively rare. See plate.”
The lot sold for $420, a strong price for the time.
Bechtler’s five dollar coinage was found to include slightly more gold than the standard half eagles struck at the Philadelphia Mint in the 1831-1834 time period. Congress lowered the specifications for U.S. gold coinage in 1834, to prevent the widespread hoarding and melting that had kept gold coins from circulating since 1821. This measure made the second series of Bechtler coins even more overweight for their face value. Within a few years, nearly all the second series Bechtler fives had been culled from circulation and melted, making the issue extremely elusive at an early date. On PCGS CoinFacts, Ron Guth notes there are auction citations for 11 different examples known today.
Our upcoming March 13-16 Dallas Signature Auction features an especially attractive PCGS-graded Choice AU specimen with bright yellow-gold surfaces that are remarkably free of distractions and show a few hints of olive patina. The fields are slightly prooflike and the design elements are sharply detailed throughout, with just a trace of high-point wear. The beaded border is bold and complete, if just slightly off center. The die alignment is about 160 degrees.
This rare second series example should find a home in a fine collection of Territorial gold.